The production of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Stimmung at Long Beach Opera, scheduled to begin March 19, has been canceled, due to the resignation of the show’s director, Alexander Gedeon. Gedeon was one of three recently appointed Black leaders at LBO who announced their resignations to General Director Jennifer Rivera and the LBO board in a December letter alleging “a culture of misogyny, a sustained pattern of racial tokenism, a lack of defined values and principles, a structural failure to process uncomfortable feedback.” The letter has been posted on the Facebook page of Black Opera Alliance.
Gedeon’s hiring was trumpeted by the company as a key piece of their response to the Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. The stage director chose his own job title, slyly dubbing himself “Minister of Culture.” He joined Derrell Acon, who had been hired as associate artistic director, and Education Manager Elijah Cineas in what seemed like a triumvirate that would put LBO in a strong position to address historical inequities in opera and to strengthen the company’s programming and hiring. By December 2021, it seems that, for these leaders, the company wasn’t moving decisively enough on those goals. A key part of their resignation letter reads:
The root cause of the ... problems is that company values and principles are not clear. The jobs we signed up for are not the jobs we are accorded the agency and space to execute. There is a tendency for both executive and artistic leadership to reflect back the values of whoever is speaking in a given moment, leading an employee to believe that they are in an environment that matches their core beliefs. In reality, the company does not currently have the capacity to authentically uphold the values it projects as its identity.”
The company rejoins that its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion are as strong as ever, reiterating that “we acknowledge that creating equity, diversity, and inclusion within an organization requires constant listening, learning, and reassessment.” In response to the resignation letter, the company decided to launch an investigation “to address staff issues and to make certain a neutral channel is available for any complaints. The HR firm is also performing an audit of LBO’s HR policies and procedures and will help provide improved structure and policies for the company.”
The company also cited its production of Anthony Davis’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Central Park Five in 2020, its commissions to BIPOC composers, its outreach “Community Conversations,” and the establishment of “a Community Advisory Committee made up of leaders from the African American and Latinx communities in Long Beach, which established ongoing relationships between the organization and many committee members” as evidence of its commitment to equity and inclusion.
As detailed in Jessica Gelt’s story for the Los Angeles Times, there were no details to these allegations beyond hiring statistics, which the company disputed in its response. But in Gedeon’s personal statement, also posted to the Black Arts Alliance Facebook page, the director said he had tried to move forward with the company to rehearse and stage the production of Stimmung while at the same time holding discussions with the company to address the issues the December letter had raised. He was unsatisfied with the conduct and scope of those discussions and further disappointed by marketing discussions for the show, which raised for him “grave concerns about the lack of access for people of color being able to attend the show, which was a rising concern for the team. This is a cause I had lobbied for at LBO since at least the previous summer, but it was never placed as a priority or clear objective for the company. Additionally, the unfocused marketing strategy raised alarms that the performers would be tokenized.”
Confronted by a few of his production staff who felt that he might be enabling the harms he had protested in the resignation letter, Gedeon decided to withdraw from the production, forcing the company to cancel it. Gedeon maintains that this production, his brainchild, is extremely important to him and hopes to be able to mount it in the summer. The company, meanwhile, is left without an opening production and is offering refunds to its patrons. Their press release says that a replacement production is being planned, so ticketholders may eventually exchange tickets to Stimmung for tickets to that coming show.
SFCV will have a fuller report on the situation when the investigation ordered by Long Beach Opera concludes. But it’s already clear that the path forward in addressing DEI issues and historical racism in opera will not be straightforward.