Poor decisions & professional consequences

Poor decisions & professional consequences

Jenna Simeonov

This week, we learned of a disturbing story involving Korean tenor Alfred Kim, who was given an 8-month suspended sentence and an €8000 fine after he dragged a woman by her hair and banged her head against a toilet seat “to the point of breaking it” in temporary apartment/hotel in Toulouse. The tenor was in town to sing in Ernani at the Théâtre du Capitole, and following Kim’s arrest, the opera house cancelled its final performance.

Though he didn’t quite blame it on alcohol, Kim explained that he had drunk a lot of white wine, and he’s quoted in La depeche as saying, “Je n’ai pas l’habitude de boire” (“I’m not in the habit of drinking”, or “I’m not used to drinking”).

Not good. There’s no word yet of consequences concerning Kim’s upcoming gigs, which include singing in Turandot at the Royal Opera House and in Aida in Chile.

It’s easy to imagine why fewer people may want to work with Kim following his charges; yet it’s harder to say whether or not his future contracts should be cancelled in response to his actions. Technically, his work and his violent behaviour are separate things; yet long-time readers of Schmopera may remember our support for the professional reactions following soprano Tamar Iveri’s posting of pretty horrific words of homophobia on her Facebook page.

Violence towards another person is not a lesser offence than homophobia, and perhaps Kim’s behaviour indeed deserves some career consequences. There’s something to be said for adding personal comportment to the long list of must-haves within the competitive industry of opera; with so many great singers vying for coveted professional spots, why give the gigs to the man who drinks so much that he smashes peoples’ heads against toilet bowls?

Maybe it’s only because there are fewer of them than there are mainstream pop singers, but opera singers are comparatively well-behaved among professional musicians. There are the famed allegations of domestic abuse made by Angela Gheorghiu about her ex-husband, Roberto Alagna; in 2004, a Utah tenor was arrested after arranging a sexual encounter with what he thought was a 13 year-old girl online (in fact, he arranged it with an undercover cop). Otherwise, the bad behaviour of opera singers is limited to things like busking-related noise complaints and Montserrat Caballé’s tax evasion charges.

It’s a stretch to say that opera singers are, by nature, better-behaved than any other demographic of musicians (or maybe they have better PR teams). But perhaps because they’re not such household names, opera singers aren’t as well-protected as other mainstream stars who transgress in a serious way.

Singers like Lou Reed, James Brown, and Chris Brown have all faced allegations or charges of domestic violence - they’re also all Grammy Award winners (Chris Brown won his Grammy after he beat up Rihanna, believe it or not). And in terms of general illegal behaviour like drug and alcohol abus, there’s an enormous - enormous - list of famous musicians who behaved “badly”, including Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane, Keith Richards, Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Ozzy Osborne, Whitney Houston, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix - *inhale* - David Bowie, Bob Dylan, John Bonham, Steven Tyler, Iggy Pop, and Elvis Presley.

The relationship between the deliquent and the artistically-inclined is old, obvious, and sometimes glamourised. There are indeed levels of “badness” - we’d argue that substance abuse on its own is a lesser offence than violence - but it’s fascinating to see the lenience given to people who make great art. When it comes to substance abuse, one can argue that the illegality and danger are outweighed by the positive effect that drugs and alcohol have on the art itself. Would we truly “have” The Beatles or Pink Floyd without drugs?

And depending on how beloved their music is, people are willing to forgive the sins of violent abusers, clinging to the separation between their actions and their art.

Readers, does an opera singer like Alfred Kim owe his audience a pristine character, on top of a pristine voice? Do singers “deserve” to make poor decisions and maintain their careers? When companies respond to public outcry - like Opera Australia did with Tamar Iveri - are they saving themselves, or making a moral statement?


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