#TheStories, part 10Editorial
As a young singer, I sang primarily soubrette repertoire. I’m top-heavy, and my breast size was often the focus of a scene. Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro was once something I sang quite often, and many times the staging during the trio with the Count and Basilio involved groping me while I was passed out (because that’s apparently “funny”). I was never asked privately for my consent by a director, though most of the time my colleagues were very respectful.
Several years ago I was cast in a production opposite a tenor I had briefly dated. After the breakup he had harassed me and my friends, so I was dreading seeing him, but figured that as he was cast as Basilio, we wouldn’t have too many scenes together.
It was uncomfortable at best, scary at worst.
He began coming to all my stagings when he wasn’t called. When we went out as a cast, he would silently stare at me with such hatred that my cast members were frightened that he was going to hurt me (I was lucky enough to have several friends in the cast who shielded me). It was uncomfortable at best, scary at worst.
When it came to staging the trio, I was a nervous wreck. The male director said “I’m going to have them rub your chest while you’re passed out, ok?” and went immediately on with the staging. I didn’t think I could say no; it was in front of all of my colleagues and someone I was frightened of.
I told the director about it during tech week. He laughed and said “Well, that’s awkward!”
In the rehearsal room, it was uncomfortable, but mostly stayed tame. When we got on stage, it went off the rails. This tenor began to go much further below where he had been directed, and attempted multiple times to stick his hands inside my costume. The baritone who sang the Count was a friend, and I begged him to play interference, preferring that someone I trusted grope me instead of someone I was afraid of.
I told the director about it during tech week. He laughed and said “Well, that’s awkward!” As far as I am aware, he never gave the note to stop or talked to the tenor.
The performances were sickening. He felt emboldened to do whatever he wanted because he knew I couldn’t do anything about it in performance. Despite my friend doing what he could in real time, this tenor put his hands inside the front of my costume and touched me wherever he wanted.
I was relieved to know that I wouldn’t be cast as a sexy young thing anymore. It’s safer.
I felt disgusted and angry at myself for not being strong enough to speak up more confidently. I cried at every performance.
I’m in my 30s now and I believe that if this happened today I would be more prepared to defend my bodily autonomy, but as a very young singer, what power did I have? The message to young singers, especially sopranos, is that you’re replaceable.
While this is the worst example, there are many others from my early career. I was never asked privately if it was ok. When I transitioned to a different fach, I was relieved to know that I wouldn’t be cast as a sexy young thing anymore. It’s safer.