#TheStories are coming out, and here's why

#TheStories are coming out, and here's why

Jenna Simeonov

You might have spotted in your recent feed my call for stories of abuse, harassment, or assault in the opera and classical music worlds. #MeToo stories, essentially.

I got my first submission within an hour of posting, and they continue today.

It was like watching a car crash, reading these stories. Some were piecemeal anecdotes: the voice teacher who gets old-school handsy with his female students, or the coach who crosses the line between career advice and intimacy. There were the inevitable “open secrets”, about music administrators with a history of sexual harassment, and how Barenboim is a general nightmare.

I also received full, personal accounts by young artists, describing extended grooming and abuse - in some cases, assault - from a professional superior.

They were all pretty hard to read. Often they were about people I know, but most of them wanted to stay anonymous. Some of them were just heartbreaking and put me on a rollercoaster of anger and pity.

Some of them freaked me out a bit, because they were really familiar: denial that it was happening, guilt after it had happened, and opting to not tell a soul. I put myself in this situation, goes the common excuse. If I tell people, I’ll be deemed a slut and no one will want to work with me.

I think a lot of people in the opera world felt a bit of a catalyst in the accusations aimed at Pl├ícido Domingo. Somehow, it felt less isolated than the Levine stuff, and more personal than the Daniels stuff; it was as though, without realizing it, we were counting on someone like Domingo - who stands for the top tier of opera - to be a good guy, and keep opera’s #metoo problem a matter of a few bad eggs.

But no. The fish certainly rots from the head down. And with the usual outrage and side-taking that happens in these cases, there also felt a good dose of apathy: Of course he’s creepy. He’s a famous man and the opera industry has worshipped him for decades. Why wouldn’t he be a creep like the rest of them?

I guess I’d just had it. We won’t - and shouldn’t - stop the uncovering of this shitty behaviour as more victims decide to come forward and name their abusers. But it’s a slow, inefficient way of smoking out all this garbage from the industry, and I guess I just wanted to speed it up a bit.

Honestly, I wasn’t even sure what I meant to do with these stories even as I was receiving them by the hour. What was to be gained by telling more stories of horrid behaviour? More cynicism? Even a boycott of opera?

But it’s the recurring theme of a power imbalance that has convinced me to publish these personal accounts in a series I’m tagging, #TheStories.

It’s not about pointing fingers. This series is about upending that power imbalance. As I read these stories, I started to think of these abusers as a sorry lot. What kind of boss ignores their employees’ physical boundaries, even after they’ve been asked to stop? What kind of teacher uses his power - and private studio - to comment on a student’s breasts? What kind of functioning, grown-ass adult lures a younger person to their home, feeds them drugs and booze, and rapes them - and then smiles at them the next day?

This is not the behaviour of people who warrant respect. These are the bumbling, desperate, insecurities of people who punch down. These people do not hold the power they want you to believe they do. Not anymore, at least.

To quote one of my sources: “Tell the whole fucking world.”

So, as this series begins, bear in mind my goal: I want potential victims to learn what abuse looks like, and be able to spot it early. I want them to be confident in their decision to report abuse. I want them to have someone to report it to. I want potential abusers to hear from these victims, in the hopes that they’ll recognize themselves in their stories and smarten up in the future.

Most of all: I want the opera industry to know that it is not special. It is full of people with large emotional spectrums, who are brave and even eccentric - but artsy as it may be, the industry is still exactly that: a workplace. And these fuckers can no longer turn their studios into their own personal sexual fantasy.

Okay. Here goes… #TheStories, Part I

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