#TheStories, part 14

#TheStories, part 14

Jenna Simeonov
This is one part in a series of personal accounts of harassment, abuse, and assault in the opera and classical music industries. These stories are published as told to me, with some names and details withheld at the author’s request.

About four years ago, at the beginning of my career, I was cast opposite a male singer in romantic lead roles in a famous opera with a small opera company in Europe. This was still early on in my career and it was a good opportunity to do the role. The male colleague, however, is in his fifties and married to a very successful singer who is having a big career, which he is not.

He had huge difficulties with the role, and ending up giving up half of the performances to another singer (something he made a huge drama about, but more about that later).

The harassment started before I even arrived for rehearsals. He had found me on Facebook when I was cast, and started messaging me. At first, the messaging was innocent, but then they started getting flirty. I asked a few friends and colleagues if this was normal…they said it wasn’t. I replied politely, but tried to ignore the flirtier aspects of the messages.

He began to struggle with the role, and it was then that he started complaining about me to the director, suggesting that I had a “vendetta” against him.

The first couple of rehearsals went relatively smoothly, although I did feel quite a lot of attention from him. Nothing alarmed me too much, except when he would refer to our onstage kisses, and how we had mentioned in newspaper articles that we had “kissed,” as if it were all real.

Then one night, the cast went out for some drinks at a local bar. He started drinking fairly heavily, and started sitting next to me and pushing his leg against my leg and touching me. I didn’t like it. I decided to leave early, he offered to walk me home, I refused and got out of there. Nobody else seemed to notice anything out of the ordinary, but then again, I was the only woman there that night.

Things went from bad to worse from here. He began to struggle with the role, and it was then that he started complaining about me to the director, suggesting that I had a “vendetta” against him because I didn’t want to touch him onstage or do anything with him onstage. I certainly did touch him onstage and performed to the best of my ability. It was also at this time that I believe he began sleeping with a couple of the chorus girls.

That night, he was drunk and decided that I was fair game. He insisted that we go to the bathroom together and have sex.

From here, I had to have numerous meetings with the director and others to convince them that I was not sabotaging his performance. Luckily, they believed me and could see that it was he who was struggling. At this point he started to physically hurt me onstage: for example, digging his nails into my shoulders and neck while we were singing or squeezing my hands very hard. I tried to have a word with him to ask him to stop several times, but then he went back to the team saying that once again, I was trying to sabotage him.

Then, the conductor and team decided to let him go, as he was not delivering the goods. However, this was when his wife stepped in – demanding that he at least do half of the performances. He also staged an intervention with the whole team to protest his being fired, while also alluding to the fact that I was “against him from the start.” The situation resolved itself with him splitting the performances with another singer.

The performances with the other singer went very well, and then when he came back, the performances went more or less smoothly, he was polite, and I thought things were fine.

I was wrong.

When I kept rebuffing him, he got angry and started asking why I had sabotaged him in this opera, and that everyone was soft on me for various reasons, and that I would never work again.

After the final show, the cast and others went out for drinks and a party. I was talking to one of the chorus girls, and found out that she had been sleeping with this man. She was 19, clearly distraught about whatever situation he had put her in, and clearly not old enough to know exactly what she was doing. I also heard that he had slept with two other chorus girls, but I don’t know how old they were.

That night, he was drunk and decided that I was fair game. He insisted that we go to the bathroom together and have sex. I kept laughing it off, but he was persistent to a point that it started to make me uncomfortable. He even put his hands down my shirt when I bent down at one point. I tried to keep the mood light, but I was not happy and I tried to get away from him.

He kept finding ways to be next to me. When I kept rebuffing him, he got angry and started asking why I had sabotaged him in this opera, and that everyone was soft on me for various reasons, and that I would never work again. He then got physical and grabbed me and tried to force himself on me. I managed to get away from him and ran out of the place, asking one of the other cast members to walk me home, not telling them what had happened. I don’t believe anyone saw any of this happen.

Luckily, his threats did not stop me working…but it is still a fear.

That was the last time I saw him, but not the last time he contacted me. About a year ago, he found out where I was performing and sent me an email with just a smiley face in the subject line, and the words “Toi toi toi” in the content. I was about to perform that night. I was so terrified that he had found where I was and was going to show up, I started hysterically crying and couldn’t leave my apartment. Luckily, the email was just that – an email, and he wasn’t there.

I haven’t told people about this, and those I have, I have been very cryptic about names. This is because this man’s wife is very prominent in my business, and although a part of me would love to go up to her and tell her exactly what kind of a man her husband is, I am too scared that she would not believe me, and would do her best to make sure I never work again. Luckily, his threats did not stop me working…but it is still a fear.

This is an all too familiar story that I’m sure many people can understand, and even more have experienced something similar.

If you have a true story of sexual harassment, abuse, or assault within the opera and classical music industries, you can send it to me at [email protected]chmopera.com.

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