Famous conductor Charles Dutoit accused of sexual misconduct

Paula Rasmussen was just starting out as an opera singer when she landed a principal role in "Les Troyens" at the Los...

Posted: Dec 24, 2017 7:14 AM
Updated: Dec 24, 2017 7:14 AM

Paula Rasmussen was just starting out as an opera singer when she landed a principal role in "Les Troyens" at the Los Angeles Opera in 1991.

"It was one of my first noticeable, nice roles at L.A. Opera," Rasmussen said. She had been rising through the company's ranks, beginning in the chorus before moving on to other roles.

NEW: The conductor denies the allegations, describing them as "shocking"

Paula Rasmussen and three others accuse famed conductor of sexual misconduct

"As a new, rising artist, it was a fun time," Rasmussen told CNN, "a good time."

But that changed one night during a dress rehearsal, she said, when conductor Charles Dutoit asked her to come to his dressing room. She thought nothing of it, she said, assuming he wanted to go over some notes with her about the show.

Rasmussen told CNN that a longtime soprano had warned her earlier to be careful around the conductor.

"I thought I could just smile and be nice and be professional and nothing would occur," she said. "But when you're 25, you think you can handle everything."

After talking a few minutes, Rasmussen said she got up to leave, but Dutoit was behind her.

"And I turned around, he pushed me against the door, grabbed my hand, shoved it down his pants and shoved his tongue down my throat," she said.

"I was stunned," she said. "I was just sort of frozen."

A knock at the door provided Rasmussen an opportunity to leave Dutoit's room, she said, and she ran out. A stage manager followed her -- "I guess I looked shocked," she said -- and asked her, "Do you want to report this?"

Rasmussen said no.

"It wasn't necessarily that I was afraid of him," said Rasmussen, now an attorney in the Bay Area. "But I didn't want to raise waves in the company because I was just starting out at L.A. Opera."

Dutoit would call Rasmussen back to his dressing room following that initial incident, she said. But she would either refuse to go or have a colleague accompany her.

At one point, she said he told her she had kissed him back in what she believes was an attempt to "insinuate there was a desire on my part ... that somehow I asked for this or had given signals for this."

CNN has made multiple attempts to reach out for comment from Dutoit or his representatives through various orchestras, but those efforts have been unsuccessful.

Orchestras sever ties

Rasmussen, two other singers and a musician have accused Dutoit, a famed conductor who has worked with premier orchestras around the world, of sexual misconduct.

The Associated Press first reported the allegations from Rasmussen, soprano Sylvia McNair and two others who asked to remain anonymous.

The London-based Royal Philharmonic Orchestra -- where Dutoit is an honorary conductor and conducts nearly 30 concerts a year -- said Friday it jointly agreed with Dutoit "to release him from his forthcoming concert obligations with the orchestra for the immediate future."

"These accusations are taken very seriously by the orchestra and the RPO believes that the truth of the matter should be determined by the legal process," the orchestra said in a statement.

"The immediate action taken by the RPO and Charles Dutoit allows time for a clear picture to be established. Charles Dutoit needs to be given a fair opportunity to seek legal advice and contest these accusations."

In an earlier comment, the orchestra said as far as it knows, claimants have not commenced "formal legal proceedings."

In statements sent to CNN on Thursday, both the Boston Symphony Orchestra, where Dutoit has been a guest conductor, and the San Francisco Symphony said they have severed ties with him.

The New York Philharmonic said in a separate statement that Dutoit had informed the group he was withdrawing from concerts he was set to conduct in January, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association said he'd withdrawn from conducting concerts next spring.

On Friday, the Philadelphia Orchestra Association said in a statement it had also ended its association with Dutoit, who was a Conductor Laureate with the orchestra.

"The Association does not tolerate harassment of any kind and is committed to providing a safe, supportive, and respectful work environment," the statement said.

Kathy Olsen, a representative for McNair, said that "Sylvia's interview (with the AP) accurately portrays her experience," but she did not want to talk about the subject further.

Rasmussen 'never planned' on going public

Today, in the midst of the #MeToo movement, Rasmussen said she feels differently about speaking up regarding her experience.

"I never planned on talking about it publicly," she said, but "when somebody asks me point-blank about what happened, I don't see why I should not speak the truth."

Rasmussen told CNN that the stories coming out about sexual misconduct in Hollywood remind her of the opera world. She described it as an environment where people in positions of power use their authority to intimidate young women who are trying to make a career for themselves.

"I do think that my purpose and my desire in this is to shed a light on a greater concern, which is that this happens all the time," she said, adding that "it really does start from the top down."

"As soon as a director or conductor starts to sexualize a relationship with an artist, it gives license to everyone else in the room to act in the same way," Rasmussen said. "What's important is that the opera world is not different. It's not exempt. And I would like to see young artists that are doing this career to actually feel like they can say no and not suffer repercussions."

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