Michigan Opera Theatre conductor Stephen Lord denies sex harassment claims

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

Stephen Lord, the principal conductor at the Michigan Opera Theatre who resigned Wednesday amid published accusations of sexual harassment, denied the allegations Thursday, saying he never was aware of any complaints. 

Michigan Opera Theatre Principal Conductor Stephen Lord

In an email response to The Detroit News, Lord called accusations that he threatened professional retaliation should alleged victims go to authorities "offensive" and "cowardly." 

"I could fight all of this and I still might," Lord wrote. "Yesterday I had two of the world's most famous opera singers, one from Moscow even, call. And three former employers. These are friends and people with whom I have lived and who know me inside and out and they were in tears seeing their friend assassinated." 

The Massachusetts native, 70, also resigned Wednesday as music director emeritus at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, where he'd worked since 1992. Lord joined the Michigan Opera Theatre in 2016.

On Tuesday, the Twin Cities Arts Reader in Minneapolis published a lengthy piece by  Basil Considine quoting numerous unnamed individuals from the opera world who claimed Lord sought to trade help in their careers for sexual favors. 

Spokesmen at his three most recent places of employment -- the Michigan Opera Theatre, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, and the Boston Lyric Opera -- all said Thursday that they never had any complaints about Lord.

A Detroit News review of civil and criminal court records in the jurisdictions where he's worked revealed no lawsuits.

MOT said Wednesday in a release that Lord resigned because of allegations of behavior "which do not align with the company's values and standards."

President and CEO Wayne S. Brown added, "Stephen has had a long and successful relationship with Michigan Opera Theatre, and we appreciate his artistic leadership, especially in his last three years as principal conductor."

Lord said he resigned "because of great respect for Wayne Brown and his Herculean task of getting a company with a sad history reorganized. I was excited to be a part of that." 

The allegations come eight months after the death of MOT's founder and composer David DiChiera.

Lord's resignation leaves MOT without a principal conductor, and still no artistic director in a season of institutional churn. In March, John O’Dell, director of marketing and communications, left for the Cleveland Symphony, while Chief Development Officer Frankie Piccirilli will exit at month’s end.

The quotes in the Arts Reader story, many of which came from emails or electronic communications, were all published anonymously.

"If you sleep with me," read one, "you would have so many jobs."

One vocal coach-in-training said he'd been warned about Lord, and to be careful. "Redirect or ignore" his appeals, the individual said, "but don't report him -- that's career suicide."

Lord did not immediately return calls for comment when the story was published, but on Thursday he replied by email to several questions, but no follow-up questions.

He said he was aware a story was in the works.

"It was very well-planned by whoever it is who wrote it," Lord wrote. "I appreciate the well-meaning MeToo movement and respect its goals. Ruining people must not be one of them." 

Many of the anonymous messages quoted in the Arts Reader suggested that Lord, one of the opera world's most-accomplished and influential conductors, threatened retaliation if a singer spurned his advances. 

"Ha! This was truly a joke," Lord wrote. "I did not read it, but I assure you that has no basis in truth. I have hired so many and always supported them. I didn't even know about charges so how could I threaten to retaliate? This is offensive. And cowardly."

Lord said the allegations won't force him into retirement.

"Are you kidding? A musician is a musician. We don’t retire," he said. "I have been called by the greatest singers in the world the greatest coach in the world and my previous career attests to that. I have actually started a boutique business on the side of people coming for long stretches of time to learn roles properly, unlike what passes for preparation quite often today. They even come internationally.

"I enjoy this old-fashioned approach and so those trying to drum me out will not stop my creativity." 


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