It became longer in the end, but I rewrote my text to defend Vittorio Grigolo, because he
has been reported of committing a sexual harassment, which is full of misunderstandings.
As a conductor (though I sometimes direct for the stage), I have tried to avoid releasing my
thoughts, reviews or critics regarding other musicians’ concerts as an audience member as
much as possible up until now.
However, I decided to write one here as I couldn’t possibly put up with something: it’s about
Gounod’s opera “Faust” staged on September 18th at the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan.
Right after I had posted the first text on this blog page, I got surprised by the news about
Grigolo being replaced (because of his ill health) for the Kanagawa Kenmin Hall
performance on September 19th, as he had been doing quite well the previous day. And
later I got surprised again as I was informed about an article in The Telegraph by my old
friend living in London. It begins with the headline “Opera star investigated by Royal Opera
House for Groping colleague admitted 'I'm a sex addict'”. It means he was replaced due to
the Royal Opera House (ROH)’s investigation. Here’s the beginning of the article:
Opera star investigated by Royal Opera House for groping colleague admitted 'I'm a sex
Patrick Sawer, Senior News Reporter
24 September 2019 • 11:38am
A singing sensation suspended by the Royal Opera House for allegedly groping another
singer onstage had previously admitted he was a sex addict driven by the need for love and
one night stands.
Vittorio Grigolo, an Italian singer once compared to Pavarotti, is being investigated by
Covent Garden's ROH after reportedly grabbing a female member of the chorus in a sexual
manner, despite colleagues urging him to stop.
The 42-year-old is accused of having groped his colleague on stage, in front of the
audience, during the curtain call at the end of a performance of Faust in Japan last
Grigolo - nicknamed Il Pavarottino after performing with Pavarotti aged 13 - was the star of
a two-week tour of the country by the ROH.
But he was immediately dropped from the role after the allegation was made about the
incident and replaced by Georgy Vasiliev for the final performance in Yokohama on Sunday
The article continues but I’ll leave it there.
Incidentally, when I was awarded the prize called “BraVo” in Moscow this year (I was the
second prize winner as a conductor after Teodor Currentzis and the first winner), I met
Grigolo during the ceremony and backstage. We clicked with each other for some reason
and took pictures together, which also encouraged me to go to see his performance. I was
looking forward to it, convinced that it would be a wonderful performance since he was to
play Faust, the main role.
The orchestra of the ROH led by Pappano was playing in a steady, earnest manner. And on
stage, only Grigolo was living in the theater, trying to live the character of the drama. So, it
was worth going there……
HOWEVER, as for everything else such as other singers, crowd, ballet (of the famous
ROH, alas!), set design, costume and lighting, I left the theater speechless, wondering how
it’s possible for them to be so “business” like. Even the subtitles (which are extremely
important when we stage operas in original language in Japan) had some problems. For
instance, the translation didn’t clarify which subtitles were for which roles during the songs
for several singers, and different ways of speaking were not translated enough to highlight
each solo character’s personality.
The audience welcomed them with a storm of bravos……but it seemed to me to be even
masochistic. It appeared that they were giving applause to recover their expense for high-
David McVicar's theatrical production (I hear it was premiered in 2004) and Charles
Edwards’ set design have some old-fashioned, insufferable aspects as if saying “You know,
this is opera”. By contrast, they also include zombies and a scene evoking London’s West
End style cabaret to follow the trends of the time (2002). Also, the statue of Christ falls on
stage, which reminds me of a Lloyd Webber’s musical. In addition, in the quite tasteless
scene (that has nothing to do with Gounod’s music) where people lick off the blood running
out of the statue of Christ, we see half-way topless men playing the role of devils with clean
bodies but monkey-like choreography. And barefoot ballerinas of uneven height (I don’t
know why) for Adam’s “Giselle”-like corps de ballet and male black dancers (directed in a
too discriminative way with gigantic bodies to be staged in the US, probably) raise a weird
cry and boo the dancer in the role of pregnant Marguerite (It’s too obvious that she has a
ball under her costume)…… Everything were there as if saying boldly “Hey audience,
actually, you all like this kind of thing!”
Anyway, this production’s “Walpurgis Night” is every inch a vulgar one with a choreography
simply staging an intercourse but not something we can call dance.
Devils leaking off the blood? No no, the director may have “licked” the audience, I suppose.
Well, that’s still the director’s region. He can do as he likes. But in the end, I was shocked
the most by Méphistophélès (though his singing was not bad), because he was not
demoniac at all, and his manner reminded me of a lower-rank bureaucrat. I don’t know if it
was intended or not. On the other hand, Marguerite, singing not very brilliantly, would never
look her beloved Faust in the eye. Because of the costume, her belly looked swollen even
before being pregnant. Is this intended, too?
After that fateful encounter with Faust in the second act, which must be a short but effective
scene, even before Faust (Grigolo) finished singing about his impression of her, Marguerite
exited stage left “strangely in a hurry”, simply because, I guess, she had been asked to
“leave the stage at this timing”. What a stage direction without a glimmer of rationality it is.
Eh? May it possibly be intended? No kidding! If not, it should be the revival director’s
responsibility. In any case, I had no idea if Faust was ditched, or ignored, or Marguerite was
a shy girl. She disappears in a hurry, as if everything was an imagination of Faust as an
elementary student, because of his first love. I would have got it if she vanished into thin air
In the latter half, the audience is not provided any information about the reason why
Marguerite killed her child of her beloved Faust…… Why does she suffer in agony then?
Only because it’s an opera?
Furthermore, an unusually too big coffin for a newborn baby (no matter who looked, it was
on the prompt box) was carelessly placed, without any situational explanation, where there
had been a jewel box (looking like a Chinese wok) during the third act……this was a mere
school theater event.
The prison room Marguerite was held in is surrounded by the latticed wall (looking like a
grid for barbecue) coming down from above with a bright lighting. Several women, maybe
prostitutes, were there walking around with a vacant stare, evoking a revolving lantern (I
know this notion doesn’t exist in Western culture) or a merry-go-round.
When moonlight is the theme of a song, we saw on stage some shantytown of Paris of
which only the third floor was leaking a terribly bright light off. And then, some stars of two
meters wide were coming down twinkling in a light and gentle manner. What a stale idea.
But here we can find that “Hey audience, you know, this is opera” attitude, too……
Valentin, Marguerite's brother, is a good role, yet he becomes zombie. This must be also an
effective use of the trend. The breeches role Siébel limps, but he doesn’t show any signs of
a complex. Then why does he need to limp? Furthermore, this role should be manlike but
simply sung femininely, which was incomprehensible.
And this time, the out-of-date lighting did almost nothing but following the main roles with
the spotlight. Also, smoke effects were used many times, merely to make rays of light
visible, I guess.
During that famous waltz and the scene of “Walpurgis Night”, Mr. Pappano kept looking at
the score, maybe because he didn’t want to see the stage, though he made eye contact
quite often during the scenes with soloists......
Now, I would like to tell you about what I want to criticize the most: choir! Also, each choir
member’s attitude as a part of the crowd. When the men sing, the women stay there
without doing anything. And when the women sing, the only thing the men do is to be there
without bothering the women. When they start to move, they just do so only because the
stage director told them to do so, without any other consideration. Nobody tries to impart
their current personality to the scenes, with the spirit of hired labors in a negative meaning.
In opera in general, is it only important when they sing looking ahead to the audience?
As with extremely busy musicians of symphony orchestras performing over 160 concerts
per year, the ROH’s choir members only stayed without smiling behind the soloists during
the applause after the last act. They all looked like they were thinking about what they
would eat after that……
Do they hate this production? If so, I understand all their attitude very well, but……
As for the child actors hired in Japan (probably the parents of child actors in London didn’t
want them to go on the trip, or they themselves didn’t want to come because they were
scared of earthquakes, or the local board of education protested against their travel to
Japan…… that’s my bad joke… they were maybe too costly to bring), these brilliant kids
(only Asians in the cast) were surprisingly noticeable as they did a professional job as
actors. That’s contradictory, as child actors are necessary for the stage primarily because
they are different from adults. Anyway, these Japanese kids were on stage superbly.
Is the art of opera over to the degree where an old guy like me has to point out such
Or, as the matinee I watched was the third performance at the same venue (Tokyo Bunka
Kaikan), were performers bored with it completely? If so, dear NBS after Mr. Sasaki’s
demise, please reduce the ticket price to less than half for the third day, it’s no joke! Further,
they announced the replacement making Grigolo lie. People say a necessary lie is
In Japan, reviews won’t be released shortly. In this respect, the Japanese side’s “business”
like level is the same as today’s performance. Hey audience, do you sometimes give
applause to recover your expense? Or, well, “The cast were foreigners and then they
looked realistic somehow with costumes, so that was enough”……If you say so, you sure
have a point there.
Yes, that’s funny!
On that day during the applause, I happened to see Grigolo touching slightly the belly of the
dancer with a ball under her costume standing right behind him, and it appeared he tried to
show this gesture to the audience. I don’t think he did that because she is his favorite. To
me, he seemed to want to cheer up the chorus members applauded with their grumpy
boring faces, as if saying “Now let’s express our gratitude to the audience. We are indeed
in horrible costumes, but everything was imaginary in the end. Let’s say ‘See you again’ to
the audience!” In a true Italian tenor manner. The dancer was also smiling, but apparently
someone said “Stop it!” Probably by intuition, Grigolo had sensed this kind of dull
atmosphere of this “Faust” performance with such attitude.
The world of today has no longer Stalin, nor Hitler, nor Ceaușescu. Roosevelt who
authorized the internment camp of Japanese Americans and Japanese people of my
parents’ generation who discriminated thoroughly against Korean people are no longer
alive. However, our society has become a stifling one, as we have the convenient Google
Maps, surveillance cameras for security, drive recorders in case of car accident and the
satellite photographs taken from space showing clearly who are walking now. In such
circumstances, the performing arts and all other arts lose their meaning to exist once they
cease to be a bulwark of free, unrestricted expression of human nature.
Also as a conductor who has attempted to express things in front of numerous people year
around, I cannot leave as is, this news of sexual harassment based on misunderstandings.
Even the headline of the above-mentioned article is misleading. It quotes Grigolo’s past
answer of harmless fun to a banal question from the reporter asking him, “What is sex for
you?” He said his name is Vittorio so he might be a “sex addict”, as a joke.
Grigolo’s first name Vittorio reminds all Italian people of Vittorio Emanuele II (Victor
Emmanuel II), King of Sardinia who had eight children with his wife and many mistresses,
just like the “Sun King” Louis XIV of France.
Honestly, I can’t bear it!
How chagrined Grigolo was in his dressing room after the performance! Indeed, he is not
docile. And me, too.