#TheStories, part 3Editorial
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 details withheld at the author’s request.
The following was submitted by Canadian mezzo-soprano Kimberly Barber, who asked that I exclude all other names.
I was first hired in a production led by a renowned opera director at Vancouver Opera. I was led to believe that this director truly believed in my talents as a singer and artist, and was given several opportunities by him to audition for important persons in the business.
Ultimately, I was hired by a prominent company in Europe to perform in a production that would be directed by him. Around the same time, I was also singing in Frankfurt (at the beginning of my fest contract in 1989) in a production that he was directing.
Because he had shown interest and support in my career up until that point, I didn’t think anything of it when he invited me to dinner, ostensibly to discuss “my future”. I thought this was a business meeting. I became somewhat uncomfortable when I arrived at the appointed restaurant and it was clearly a romantic evening that was planned - candlelit, intimate restaurant, wine, the whole bit.
I really admired him artistically and liked him as a person.
I kept trying to bring the conversation back around to my career trajectory, but he seemed only to want to talk about personal things - I should add, this man was married with at least two children at the time. I felt like I successfully navigated away from any inappropriate territory, but he was clearly flirting with me and made various suggestive innuendos.
Finally, the evening was over and he offered to take me home in a cab. When we arrived at my apartment, he reached over and attempted to kiss me, pressing his body against me. I brushed him off and pushed him away, saying I didn’t want that and that I was in a relationship. He backed off and he drove away.
The next day I was scheduled for a costume fitting where he was to be in attendance. I had told a colleague (who was also present at the fitting herself) about the incident the night before. The director came into the dressing room and was observing us in our costumes. He looked at me in such a leering way that I blushed and turned away. After he left, my colleague said, “if I hadn’t known what you told me, I would have thought the two of you were sleeping together”.
This was so demeaning and made me feel worthless. It haunted me for years.
Nothing more ever occurred, though we did work together on another occasion a year later, at the company where he was the Artistic Director. This was just before I was to be married. In several instances, he was quite pushy with me about why I was getting married, asking me if I thought the guy was the right one, and what a mistake it was to get married generally. Super uncomfortable!
After that gig, he never hired me again. Who knows why?
What I remember most about this incident is the shame I felt, but also, most acutely, that I felt dirty. I felt that I must have done something to attract this kind of attention. I also felt naive: how could I have been so stupid as to think he was actually interested in me as an artist of merit? He may well have been, but it seems his primary interest was sexual. This was so demeaning and made me feel worthless. It haunted me for years.
Even if we refused, we felt badly about ourselves, rather than thinking that they had put us in a terrible situation.
I really admired him artistically and liked him as a person. But the word on the street was that he was a “bounder”—known for his philandering and womanizing. Guys like this could act however they wanted (see: Domingo) whenever they wanted and with whom they wanted, without fear of reprisal. No one would ever say anything, because they were like gods. They had power over us because they were in a position to make our careers if they wanted.
And we accepted that gambit, really. Even if we refused, we felt badly about ourselves, rather than thinking that they had put us in a terrible situation and behaved inappropriately.