10.09.2020 Europe

French culture ministry weighs in on #MeToo Opera sexual assault case

LISTEN SEP 10, 2020

France's culture ministry said it was serious about tackling sexual abuse in the music industry, after it this week weighed in on a case involving a soprano who said she was repeatedly assaulted during opera rehearsals in several French cities.

The French culture ministry statement said that in addition to sending a report to the national prosecutor, it intended "to demonstrate its determination to examine sexist and sexual violence in the musical field".

In August, 32 year-old soprano Chloe Briot accused a French baritone of repeated sexual aggression, which she described in a letter to La Lettre du Musicien, a classical music journal.

Briot alleges that between October 2019 and February 2020, the baritone repeatedly groped her during performances at the Opera-Comique in Paris, Rennes, Nantes and Lille.

The artist in question played Briot's husband in the contemporary opera L'inondation directed by Joel Pommerat, based on a 1929 novel by Russian author Yevgeny Zamyatin.

In her interview with La Lettre du Musicien, she said she wanted to break the "law of silence" in the opera world, much like female artists have done with the international  #MeToo movement, calling out sexual harassment in the cinema industry.

Slow to react
While acknowledging that they were called to portray scenes of sexual intercourse during the performance, Briot said it had gone beyond what the director had suggested, and her initial complaints were ignored.

"During rehearsals and filming, I couldn't tell my colleague that I didn't like the way he touched me," she told the press, adding that she was afraid of spoiling the performance schedule.

A lawsuit has also been filed with the prosecutor Etienne Manteaux's office in Besancon, eastern France, which has jurisdiction over the singer's home address.

Briot said the singer's behavior did not change until Olivier Mantei, head of the Opera Comique, dropped him from future performances until 2024.

The accused has in turn filed a complaint for malicious falsehood, his lawyers told AFP.

Culture ministry to conduct study
The Ministry for Culture said it would be undertaking an information and prevention campaign in close collaboration with the National Music Centre and agents in the coming weeks.

“The results of this project will be presented by the minister Roselyne Bachelot, at the end of 2020,” a statement said.

The affair is just the latest in a series of allegations of rape or sexual assault against high-profile figures in the entertainment industry.

Opera star Placido Domingo, facing multiple allegations of sexual harassment, in February this year, apologised for "the hurt" caused to his accusers, saying he accepted "full responsibility" for his actions, although he didn't specifically confirm any of the allegations which emerged in August 2019.

Domingo's statement was released a day after Hollywood mega-producer Harvey Weinstein was convicted of rape and sexual assault but acquitted of the most serious predatory charges in a verdict hailed as a victory by the #MeToo movement.

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