Performing Arts

Florida Grand Opera director and company part ways after allegations of sexual assault

Former Florida Grand Opera Director Bernard Uzan has been accused by four women of sexual assault in a Washington Post exposé.
Former Florida Grand Opera Director Bernard Uzan has been accused by four women of sexual assault in a Washington Post exposé. International Arts

Florida Grand Opera director Bernard Uzan — who was accused of sexually harassing and assaulting four women in a Washington Post exposé — announced Wednesday he is leaving the opera, a move seconded by the board, who stated he was “no longer affiliated with the company in any capacity.”

The announcement was a departure from the company’s initial reaction last week, when it said in a statement that Uzan was a “valued member to the company,” noting the allegations were “over a decade ago.”

In a press release Wednesday from his agency, Uzan International Artists, Uzan, 73, said he was retiring as a stage director of FGO.

“I come from a very different culture, I am of the sixties generation, which is not an excuse, but simply a fact, and I have made my mistakes throughout my life,” Uzan wrote in the release. “If I have offended any of you, I deeply apologize. The world has changed tremendously and continues to change every day at a fast speed. While I still deny the recent allegations, I am realizing that it is very difficult, practically impossible, for me to adapt to the new rules of behavior and human relations.”

On Sunday, Uzan and his wife, Diana Soviero, issued a joint statement, saying they would be resigning from their positions as co-artistic directors of the FGO, Studio Artist Program.

Uzan is also retiring from his position as director of his New York agency — leaving his daughter, Vanessa, in charge.

Uzan’s resignation comes less than a week after the Post published a story about sexual harassment in the classical music world, naming him, along with two other prominent men — Cleveland Orchestra concertmaster William Preucil and internationally renowned conductor Daniele Gatti — as alleged perpetrators. In the exposé, first published online July 26 and in print Sunday, four women shared their stories of sexual harassment and abuse by Uzan.

The women, who spoke on the record, spoke of inappropriate propositions, comments and groping, with some of the women saying they paid a high price in their careers for rejecting the director’s advances.

According to the Post story, Uzan was contacted by phone before the story’s publication and denied the charges.

“Groping, that I deny completely,” he told the Post. “Yes, probably I have been flirting with women, that’s possible. Did I insist or push somebody? That’s not possible. Did I push somebody verbally to sleep with me? Absolutely not. Did I blackmail somebody? Absolutely not.”

Despite these allegations, Uzan was still listed as director of the company’s spring production of “Werther” as of Tuesday, which FGO spokesman Kal Gajraj confirmed to Miami Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago.

“None of these allegations happened at Florida Grand Opera,” Gajraj told Santiago. “They happened decades ago.”

The company’s CEO echoed that last week.

“In regards to the recent allegations about Bernard Uzan,” Susan T. Danis, the company’s general director and CEO, said in a statement after the Post story was published, “Florida Grand Opera holds itself to the highest standard against sexual harassment. It is our obligation to ensure that every one of our employees feels safe, valued and protected. The alleged allegations are over a decade ago and Mr. Uzan remains to be a valued member to the company.”

But the growing backlash about the Post article apparently led to a change of heart. By Wednesday, Uzan was no longer the director of “Werther.”

FGO also issued a new statement Wednesday from the company’s board of directors, which Gajraj sent in an email to the Herald:

“Our company takes any allegations of sexual harassment, workplace discrimination or bias seriously and has policies in place to protect our artists, crew and staff,’’ the statement said. “Our number one priority is to provide a safe and welcoming environment in which to create world-class opera for our audiences. As of August 1, 2018, Bernard Uzan is no longer affiliated with the company in any capacity.”