Hamburg Pamina cannot fly!

Soprano Julie Fuchs was suspended from the title role of Pamina from the production of the “Magic Flute” by Hamburg State Opera House. An attempt to understand what has happened.

By Opera Views, April 27rd, 2018
Fotos: Facebook pages of the soprano and Hamburg Opera House
The original langudge of all citations was being preserved

The case

On April 20th. 2018 the young and attractive, as well as successful soprano Julie Fuchs, made the following announcement on her Facebook page:

“Today, I have an unexpected announcement to make: The Staatsoper Hamburg has unfortunately informed me just this week that the artistic integrity of the Jette Steckel production of ‘Die Zauberflöte’ cannot be maintained if the soprano singing Pamina is four months pregnant. As you can imagine, I am very disappointed as I am feeling vocally and physically in top form. I am fully committed to fulfilling my contracts as planned and previously announced. I was very much looking forward to making my debut in this role, and singing for all of you in Hamburg. My apologies to those of you who already booked tickets. Whilst I respect the artistic vision of the theatre, I am saddened that we were not able to find a solution to accommodate this slight physical difference which does not negatively affect my vocal or artistic performance. It was my strong desire to find small production changes to make my appearance possible. As is the case with most women, in this second trimester of my pregnancy, I am happy to report that I am feeling full of energy and my good health has been confirmed by my doctors. I look forward to returning to the stage in June to sing Poppea at the Opernhaus Zürich.”

14993444_1136521463070520_6220943382939740249_nLiving in the 21st century and, at least for the last twenty years, being targeted by the media and political propaganda on the topic of equality in pay, employment opportunity and workplace protection, this action by the Opera House might seem surprising and old fashioned. Fueled by the fact that the young woman is vocally in the top shape and has informed the theatre about her pregnancy long in advance (see comment belove), theater had enough time to (re)consider the situation and to make the necessary adaptions to the staging. Considered to be a normal practice (at least in Germany), the Hamburg State Opera House apparently failed to find one, as the announcement by Tillmann Wiegand, the Director of Artistic Management, states:

“The Hamburg State Opera regrets that we are not allowed to fill the soprano Julie Fuchs in the role of Pamina in the Hamburg production of the „Magic Flute“. After a thorough examination, it is not possible to change the staging so that there is no danger for the expectant mother and at the same time the core of the production of Jette Steckel remains. There are a variety of physically demanding scenes in this production, including several flight scenes, which are prohibited in principle for pregnant women. “The legal situation for the protection of the expectant mother is clear and we will never take a health risk, even if only a risky scenic action could take place on the stage,”Tillmann Wiegand, Director of Artistic Management at the Hamburg State Opera.

According to the article on BENTO(in German), the singer claims to have informed those responsible early about her pregnancy:

“I understand that my pregnancy requires certain precautions, which direction and state opera must meet.” That’s why I gave the Hamburg State Opera the earliest possible warning (one month before starting the rehearsals) so that they had enough time to solve potential problems,” she says to bento. She was assured until last week that the stage conditions would be adjusted for her. Then came the news that she was no longer a cast member.”

So? What has happened here?

Ms Fuchs´s post has opened up the heated debate, with, by now, more than 1,000 comments. Here are some pro/contra excerpts:

  • The problem would be solved by having the critical scenes of doubled by extras!
  • … the core of the production endangered ??? Which core? Mozart would turn in the grave …
  • … is true for 90% of all present-day opera productions …
  • … unworthy and destroys the (opera house) positive echoes it had in the last few weeks.
  • … the decision is discriminatory!
  • What a pity for your theatre!
  • … she has to try to defend the decision if it goes to court!
  • But please, this is the only logical consequence …
  • I think even Mozart emphasized the importance of the fight scenes in his time.
  • The company is bound by law. Legally, in this case, she cannot be cast.
  • It is a pity, that the music has to be submitted in favour of the modern staging …
  • … the pregnancy cannot be changed (and that’s a good so). The staging instead can.
  • A “no go”!
  • And how about the director? Is she not an artist and her work is not art enough to protect? I think that’s just as much a “no go”.
  • … a right decision. In the theatre, the protection of physical integrity must be provided.
  • The decision follows the trend that has lasted for decades: singers are exchangeable
    This is a clear case of discrimination, I hope there will be legal consequences for the theatre.
  • I hope that many of your patrons would want to boycott the production.
  • Maybe you should exchange Mrs Steckel (the stage director) if no compromises are possible.
  • … the director is long been gone …
  • … this is absurd – pregnancy is NOT to ILLNESS or a DISABILITY.
  • …. join the 21st century – get out of the dark. Shame on you.
  • … very weak picture, Hamburg!
  • … it is rather a liability issue. It is my understanding that after a musician suffered a miscarriage and then sued.
  • … the labour law in January again sharpened in favour of pregnant women, the theatre must also respond

Legal site 

As clear as it might appear in the first sight, the case is not so easy to understand or explain. To clarify the case  and to get the professional feedback Opera Views has contacted Mr Scharnke, the lawyer from the legal department of the Union of German Stage Members GDBA. The Union’s website offers the first clue to the legal site of this case in the following statement:

“The law is no longer the self-contained norm structure as in the 19th century, but it shares the dynamics of change in its social environment”[5]. This also applies to the “self-contained” maternity protection law in the version in force as of 20 June 2002. This law also contains a ban on employment in addition to the prohibition of employment for expectant mothers. Paragraph 9 (1) MuSchG (Mother Protection Law) provides as follows: “Termination of a contract during pregnancy and until four months after delivery is not permitted if the employer was aware of the pregnancy or childbirth at the time of termination or within two weeks notified after receipt of the termination “.However, this humane provision does not apply to fixed-term employment contracts!”. LAG Berlin-Brandenburg, the verdict from 04.11.2011 – 13 Sa 1549/11 (ArbG Berlin 15.06.2011 – 10 Ca 4964711). Translation by Opera Views.

The last sentence might bear the answer and necessary explanation. Here the “fix-term” definition refers to the German term of the “Gast-Vertrag” (guest contract) or “Zeit Vertrag” (time contract). It strikes though, that the “human provision” apparently does not include an expecting mother with a “fixed-term” contracts, as if she is not the same human being, as the woman with normal, “fest” contract. Well, this is another discussion, I guess.

bd767cfbb7882056e977c68d9cd3c569v1_max_635x357_b3535db83dc50e27c1bb1392364c95a2.jpg
Jette Steckel (imago/DRAMA-Berlin.de)

Mr Scharke confirmed the GDBA statement above, adding that due to an individual nature of every single contract signed, each dispute of this kind should be handled individually, respecting the details of an agreement, and seeking, when necessary the help of the Lawyer. He also defended stage director´s Authors Rights (Authoren Recht) and the protection of her intellectual property (geistiges Eigentum), mentioning that the possible individual terms of the contract between Hamburg State Opera House and Ms Jette Steckel (stage director) might oblige the theatre to keep up with the original staging, without changing a part of it and thus preserving its integrity. Most likely that is what happened in the case of Ms Fuchs. At the end Mr Scharnke named two aspects, that might be relevant for Ms Fuchs:

  1. What is going to happen with the contract itself, as it remains in power, and
  2. The terms of financial commodities, like for example, a pay-off, since, despite the termination of the contract, the financial obligations on the part of the Hamburg State Opera towards Ms Fuchs remain, as the contract was terminated by them.

30698615_1613258812063447_2725007748306567168_nAs much as the emotions might prevail (see comments above) in this a case, the responsibility of the employer toward the life and health security of an employee has been reinforced earlier this year, as apparently, the miscarriage took place in one of the German theatres (unfortunately Opera Views couldn´t find any print or media information on it). According to Scharnke this incident led to an adjustment of the Mother Protection Law (MuSchG) in Germany prohibiting expecting Moms to work after 8 p.m. during the week and completely on weekends. Considering that usuall working hours in the German theatres include morning and evening sessions, sometimes lasting well after 9:30 p.m. and performances taking place on weeekends, national holidays etc., this law makes it legally easy for the theaters to reconsider the pregnant woman to be or not to be the part of the cast.

Opera Views contacted Ms Fuchs for a comment but didn´t receive any answer. The picture of the singer on her Facebook page shows a smiling, healthy, young woman, who is happy and looking forward to becoming a mother. We all wish her and the baby all the best as she will be singing in “Poppea” in Zurich later this year. We only hope she wouldn´t have to fly there too. In Bocca Al Lupo!

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