Just a day after the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London announced that Charles Dutoit would be vacating his posts as artistic and principal conductor ahead of schedule following multiple allegations of sexual assault, another six women have come forward with further accusations, one of them alleging rape. The new accusers told the Associated Press they were angered by Dutoit’s denial of the initial allegations made by three singers and an instrumentalist, wanting to make public the scope of his sexual misconduct throughout a lengthy international career. They claim that Dutoit assaulted them in Paris, Montreal and the United States over 40 years, beginning in the late 1970s.
Charles Dutoit. Photo: Robert Ghement/EPA.
Asked not to be identified, the woman accusing Dutoit of rape said it occurred in 1988 when she was auditioning for an orchestra that he was guest conducting. She alleges that when they were staying at the same hotel, Dutoit called her and asked her for a tool that would fix his broken luggage. When she entered his room, the conductor offered her a drink, which she declined, then forced himself on her.
Associated Press quotes her as saying: “He came close to me and tried to kiss me, and held my head so strongly it ripped my earring out”, said the musician. “He pinned my wrists to the wall and pushed me to the bed”.
“His pants were down in a split second and he was inside me before I could blink”, she said. She recalled that she began crying, urged him to stop and said she was married, but that it made no difference. It was only when she said she was not on birth control that he pushed her out the door and said “I’ll get some condoms and I’ll get you back”.
The Associated Press spoke with two musicians who said she confided in them immediately after the alleged rape. One of them remembered she was scared to be alone, and that he took care to chaperone her at subsequent concerts, while the second musician said he urged her to report Dutoit to police but that she never did. “I was so afraid I would never be asked to play again”, she told the AP.
A third man who joined the orchestra after the attack said he was aware something had occurred for years, but did not learn of the details until ten years ago. All three spoke to the AP anonymously in order to protect the alleged victim’s identity, as well as to protect their own jobs within the industry.
French soprano Anne-Sophie Schmidt told the AP she was assaulted by Dutoit in May 1995 while singing in Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. She alleges that before the incident, Dutoit (who was conducting the opera) offered her rides home and left messages on her answering machine telling her that he desired her. She claims that he became angry when she ignored his advances and began humiliating her in front of the orchestra.
Finding herself in an empty hallway with the conductor the day of a dress rehearsal at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, she alleges “he came out of his dressing room and he jumped on me, pushed me against the wall and started to touch me everywhere, on my chest, between my legs. He forced me to kiss him. I fought back, and I pushed him away”. Not long after the opera’s run came to an end, Schmidt said Dutoit dropped her from upcoming engagements around the world. Two of her friends have told the AP that she had confided in them several years ago.
Musician Mary Lou Basaraba was a journalist in her early 20s in 1977-78 when the Montreal Symphony Orchestra asked her to interview Dutoit, its then artistic director, for an in-house publication. Basaraba said that she was informed Dutoit had specifically requested her for the interview, which was to be held at his apartment.
She alleged that within minutes of her arrival, Dutoit forced himself on her, kissing her and touching her breasts and crotch. She pushed him away, insisting she was there in a professional capacity. “It was so uninvited, it was so crass”, said Basaraba, now the chorus master for the California Philharmonic and Golden State Pops Orchestra.
Canadian soprano Pauline Vaillancourt also told the AP that in March 1981 Dutoit tried to force himself on her while driving her home after a dinner he had scheduled “to discuss work”. She alleges Dutoit pulled the car into a dark spot, groped her breasts and legs and invited her back to his room. She told the AP she pushed him away and insisted he drive her home.
“When I opened the car door to return home, he told me, ‘I need this after a concert. I need a woman to come home with me’”, she said. “He said it like he was angry that I had taken away something he needed”.
Vaillancourt’s brother said she told him of the assault the next day. Dutoit “…made it clear that if she wanted to pursue her career it would help if she was more cooperative with him, which she declined”.
The other women named by the AP, Jenny Q. Chai and Fiona Allan, spoke out about the conductor not long after the initial allegations were made public. Chai claims Dutoit assaulted her in the early 2000s when she went backstage at a Philadelphia Orchestra concert. Allan, an Australian, was an intern at the Tanglewood festival in 1997 when Dutoit allegedly assaulted her in his dressing room.
These accusations come at a moment many perceive as a long overdue reckoning with sexual assault and harassment within the insular classical music industry and in the arts more widely.