In the wake of all of the disgusting allegations of sexual harassment and abuse against so many powerful men in the entertainment and music industries (to say nothing of our representatives in Congress and so-called president), I feel compelled to say something about how these revelations have affected my life. Granted I have been a musician for all of my life, and there were the occasional college professors who thought that they could pressure me to come to their homes to "discuss" my grade. Then there was the total stranger who followed me on the street in Philadelphia, and decided to follow me into the vestibule of an apartment house and feel me up (until I thought to scream). And then there was the man in Prague who gave me the wrong directions so that I ended up in an isolated wooded area, where he followed me and put his hands on me (until I fought him off).
Luckily I never auditioned for James Levine, the former music director of the Metropolitan Opera, and he would not have been interested in me if I had auditioned because I don’t have a penis. But I have auditioned for many conductors who were visibly annoyed because I did not flirt with them or pretend to be interested in them romantically. I was young and naïve, and had no idea that this was what was needed to get a job. I just focused on perfecting my craft, and truly believed that if I was good enough, I would be hired. Yes, there were some conductors who were impressed with my work and hired me to perform with their orchestras, and I am truly grateful for their support and their faith in me. Some of them really went out on a limb with their symphony boards to hire a black woman who wasn’t just singing.
|James Levine conducting the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra|
When I read the lurid details of the alleged crimes committed by James Levine, I was almost nauseous – not only because of the confessions of how the victims’ lives have been ruined, but also because of the arrogance of Levine to think that he could use his power and position to surround himself with his victims via hiring them. He even placed a 17-year-old whom he was molesting in the coveted position as “first chair” surpassing other older, more experienced players. The Ravinia Festival Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra were simply Levine's playgrounds where he wielded supreme power. He wasn’t thinking about the quality of the music he was producing. Already a multi-millionaire, all he cared about was his own arousal, and his need to force his underlings to bow to his will.
I am disgusted! The Met has paid millions of dollars in out-of-court settlements to the families of these young men as hush money, money that should have gone toward better sets and costumes, or to compensate musicians in the pit and on stage, or to help lower the exorbitant ticket prices. But no. The CEO and the Metropolitan Opera Board preferred to pay-off Levine’s victims, to keep him in place as music director so that he could continue to victimize more young men.
|Peter Gelb, CEO of the Metropolitan Opera|
It was reported that Levine was scheduled to conduct a New Year’s Eve performance of “Tosca” this year, but now that he has been fired, the Met needs to find a replacement. The story of Tosca is the ultimate tale of sexual harassment and vengeance. As fate would have it, I just began working on the orchestral score as piano reduction of “Tosca” with a soprano, which we plan to perform in Italy next year. In fact, the night we had our first rehearsal was the night when news of this scandal broke in the media. Keep in mind that while I was a student in the master’s program at Juilliard, I also completed the coursework for the conductors’ program because by that point, it had become clear to me that the conductors made the decisions as to who was hired, and what repertoire was performed. After graduating, I continued my work as conducting apprentice under Kurt Masur with the New York Philharmonic, and later with L’Orchestre National de France. Leonard Bernstein performed as a pianist as well as a conductor, so why shouldn’t I be able to do the same? Boy was I naïve!
|Maestro Kurt Masur|
I have also known that most African-American classical musicians need to make a splash in Europe before they are embraced here in the US (our own country!), ergo our plan to take these performances abroad. Soprano Lowri Marie, a former Fisk Jubilee Singer who was a student there when I was a child, has recently been studying in the Adult Education program at Juilliard.
So keep your eyes and ears open for news of this new endeavor. Chances are that I will be able to conduct “Tosca” at La Scala in Milan before it happens at the Metropolitan Opera.
INFEMNITY Productions is documenting the preparation for this concert tour, and we look forward to the completion of a short film following my work with Lowri Marie.
|Teatro alla Scala|