Three opera singers and a classical musician say that world-renowned conductor Charles Dutoit sexually assaulted them — physically restraining them, forcing his body against theirs, sometimes thrusting his tongue into their mouths, and in one case, sticking one of their hands down his pants.
In separate interviews with The Associated Press, the accusers provided detailed accounts of incidents — including one in Philadelphia — they say occurred between 1985 and 2010 in a moving car, the two-time Grammy winner’s hotel suite, his dressing room, an elevator and the darkness of backstage.
The Philadelphia Orchestra Friday said it has severed all ties with Dutoit, one of its favorite guest conductors of more than 35 years. It has also removed his honorary title of conductor laureate.
The orchestra is committed to “providing a safe, supportive and respectful work environment,” according to a statement from spokeswoman Ashley Berke. She said the orchestra will “respond with the utmost seriousness and sensitivity” to “anyone in our organization who has experienced inappropriate conduct of any type.”
The four women have accused the 81-year-old artistic director and principal conductor of London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of sexual misconduct on the sidelines of rehearsals and performances in five cities — Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Saratoga Springs, New York.
“He threw me against the wall, shoved my hand down his pants and shoved his tongue down my throat,” retired mezzo-soprano Paula Rasmussen recounted of an incident she said occurred in his dressing room at the LA Opera in September 1991.
Dutoit did not respond to multiple attempts to reach him through the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and his office in Montreal. The Royal Philharmonic said Dutoit was currently on vacation, but that it had forwarded the AP’s emailed requests for comment directly to him. The AP also reached out to Dutoit’s office with several phone calls and emails.
In a long, distinguished career, he also has led highly regarded orchestras in Paris and Montreal, and traveled the globe as a guest conductor.
Citing the “extremely troubling” allegations contained in the AP story, the Boston Symphony Orchestra said later Thursday Dutoit would “no longer appear as a guest conductor.”
The Philadelphia Orchestra Association was “horrified to learn of the deeply troubling accusations of sexual misconduct,” Berke said.
All four women said the Swiss-born conductor either lured them to a private place to discuss or practice music, or simply seized a moment alone to make his move. The women all said they resisted him and escaped.
The AP spoke with colleagues and friends of each accuser who confirmed the women shared details of their experiences at the time.
The women said they never filed formal complaints because they were young and Dutoit was the maestro, but felt inspired to come forward now by all the women speaking out about sexual misconduct by powerful men in other industries and by the Metropolitan Opera suspending conductor James Levine earlier this month after misconduct accusations surfaced.
Rasmussen said Dutoit summoned her to his dressing room repeatedly after attacking her, but that she never again went alone.
Baritone John Atkins, who was part of the production, said he stood guard for her after the incident “as a witness, for lack of a better term.” Atkins said he still remembers the cold stare from Dutoit. “He looked at me like, ‘Why are you standing here?’ And I looked at him like, ‘You know why.'”
Soprano Sylvia McNair, 61, herself a two-time Grammy winner, said Dutoit “tried to have his way” with her at a hotel after a March 1985 rehearsal with the Minnesota Orchestra.
“As soon as it was just the two of us in the elevator, Charles Dutoit pushed me back against the elevator wall and pressed his knee way up between my legs and pressed himself all over me,” said McNair who was 28 at the time. “I managed to shove him off and right at that moment, the elevator door opened. I remember saying, ‘Stop it!’ And I made a dash for it.”
McNair went on to perform with many of the world’s major orchestras and opera companies and said she does not feel traumatized by Dutoit’s behavior 32 years ago. “But what he did was wrong,” she said.
The other two accusers — both of whom say Dutoit assaulted them in 2006 — did not want to be identified, saying they feared speaking up because the power the famous maestro wields could lead to them being blacklisted from the industry.
One was a 24-year-old musician with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago when Dutoit arrived to conduct. She said he invited her to lunch at a restaurant, but then changed the venue to his suite at the Four Seasons Hotel, where he forced himself on her.
“He was just pushing himself against me, trying to kiss me, grabbing hold of my body, pushing his body on me,” she said. “I absolutely said no, pushed him away, went to the other side of the room.”
The other woman, a soprano, said Dutoit attacked her a few months later when she sang with the Philadelphia Orchestra in Saratoga Springs.
After a rehearsal, she said Dutoit called a meeting in his dressing room and, when others left, pressed her against the wall, restrained her wrists and pushed himself against her. He grabbed her breasts on two other occasions, she said — while they were riding in a car and also backstage, right before they walked on stage to perform.
Four years later, when the soprano performed again with Dutoit in Philadelphia, she said he pushed her against a wall and forced his mouth on hers.
“There is nothing wrong with him as a musician,” she said. “But he has been allowed to operate as a predator off the stage.”