Stephen Lord Photo by Christian Steiner

Opera Maine has severed ties with the conductor of its upcoming July production after learning of broad sexual harassment charges against him, which led to him resigning from at least two other opera companies this week.

Stephen Lord, who has conducted operas around the country, had been scheduled to serve as principal conductor for Opera Maine’s production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” July 24 and 26 at Merrill Auditorium in Portland. But Thursday afternoon, Opera Maine Executive Director Caroline Musica Koelker announced in an email that Lord will not conduct.

“Opera Maine was saddened to learn of allegations of sexual harassment against Maestro Stephen Lord,” Koelker said in the email, adding that Opera Maine has never received a complaint of sexual harassment against Lord. “In the best interests of Opera Maine, Maestro Lord will not conduct our production of ‘The Magic Flute’ this summer.”

Arlene Palmer Schwind, president of Opera Maine’s board, said in an email that Lord’s departure from the production was the result of a “mutual agreement.”

The performances will continue as scheduled, Koelker said. Opera Maine hopes to name a new conductor for the production by the end of next week, along with the full cast, she said. Rehearsals are scheduled to begin in Portland on July 1.

Koelker said that despite having to find a new conductor a month before the curtains go up, “The production will retain the high artistic standards that Opera Maine brings to all our work.” Opera Maine puts on just one major opera production each year, in the summer.

Allegations of sexual harassment against Lord, 70, were reported by the Minnesota-based Twin Cities Arts Reader on Tuesday. Since then, Lord has resigned as principal conductor at the Michigan Opera Theatre and the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, according to stories in The Detroit News and the St. Louis Post-Disptach. Koelker said the decision to sever ties with Lord was made after a discussion among members of the board of directors.

The report in the Twin Cities Arts Reader asserts that Lord used his position over the years to request sexual favors. The report cites emails and electronic messages in which it claims Lord promised career advancement to singers, pianists and conductors in exchange for sex.

The paper said it had talked to more than two dozen people who made claims against him. One email mentioned in the report reads: “If you sleep with me, you would have so many jobs.” The arts newspaper wrote about Lord as a result of a year-long investigation into sexual harassment and abuse in the opera industry.

John Anderson of Barrett Artists, the New York management agency representing Lord, said in an email his agency had no statement from Lord to release Thursday.

Lord had conducted for Opera Maine before, including “La traviata” in 2017 and “Tosca” in 2015. Koelker said Lord was not an Opera Maine staff member, but worked for the organization as an independent contractor.

A Massachusetts native, Lord is listed on the Opera News website as one of the “25 most powerful names” in U.S. opera. He has conducted with the San Francisco Opera, the New York City Opera and many others. He was music director and principal conductor at Boston Lyric Opera for 17 years. He was associated with Opera Theatre of St. Louis for about 40 years.

Opera Maine, formerly known as PORTopera, is a nonprofit performing arts organization that celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. In addition to its summer production, it produces the Studio Artist Program, which brings semi-staged operas to people across Maine. Recent operas put on by the group have included “Le nozze di Figaro,” “Carmen” and “Rigoletto.” Opera Maine began as Portland Opera Repertory Theater in 1995, led by a group that included former Portland Symphony music director Bruce Hangen and others who lamented the lack of an opera company in Maine.

The group held a dinner gala at Ocean Gateway in Portland in April which raised $34,500 to help fund “The Magic Flute” and $20,000 for other programs. Tickets to “The Magic Flute” are being advertised at prices ranging from $37 to $133. The announced cast is made up of singers from all over the country who have performed with other operas, including Geoffrey Agpalo, Brandie Sutton, Kathryn Bowden and Yeonji Lee.

For its investigation, Twin Cities Arts Reader collected copies of emails and other messages from Lord and others. The findings, the newspaper contends, “not only document pervasive and persistent actions by Lord, but also how the threat of power and prestige silenced his victims.” The online story quotes unnamed sources about Lord, his reputation and his actions.

“I was warned to be careful around Lord – even before I met him. I was told to expect overtures, and to be careful how I acted,” one source was quoted as saying. “Redirect or ignore, but don’t report him – that’s career suicide.”

One singer who worked with Lord in St. Louis was quoted as saying, “I learned to fear Maestro Lord. And to dread his messages.”

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