TORONTO – A Canadian musician who is among several women accusing world-renowned Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit of sexual assault says she is “concerned and nervous” about the legal implications of her allegations, but felt going public was the right thing to do.
Mary Lou Basaraba alleges Dutoit, who was the artistic director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra between 1977 and 2002, forced himself on her when she was a journalist interviewing him in the city sometime in late 1977 or early 1978.
“I’ve been managing a lot of anxiety, I haven’t been able to sleep very well,” Basaraba said Friday, getting choked up in a telephone interview with The Canadian Press.
While The Canadian Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault, Basaraba agreed to have her name published.
“As I’m talking about it to anyone who seems to actually care and have empathy, then I am upset. I have universal empathy for all the women who have come forward.”
Basaraba’s allegations first surfaced Thursday in a story by The Associated Press, which said six more women had stepped forward to accuse Dutoit of sexually assaulting them in the United States, France and Canada, including a musician who says the maestro raped her in 1988.
The women, who also included Canadian soprano Pauline Vaillancourt, said they were compelled to speak out after AP published a story Dec. 21 detailing accusations from three singers and a musician who said Dutoit forcibly restrained them, groped them and kissed them without permission.
The 81-year-old Grammy-winning conductor has emphatically denied all the accusations, but eight major orchestras have distanced themselves from him and two launched their own investigations.
In a statement to the AP, Dutoit said he was “appalled and sickened” to be accused “of the heinous crime of rape.”
“I am shaken to the core by this bewildering and baseless charge. To this, I submit my categorical and complete denial,” he said.
An emailed request for comment by The Canadian Press was not immediately returned Friday.
Basaraba said she first met Dutoit in the summer of 1977, when he joined the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Already an accomplished broadcaster, journalist, musician, singer and actor at the age of 24, she interviewed him in the studio of a Montreal radio station.
Several months later, she said the symphony called to say she’d been personally requested by Dutoit to write an article about him and the upcoming season for its in-house publication. She was told the interview would be conducted at his apartment, where he would cook lobster dinner.
She said she was comfortable with the idea of going to his home, having already done many remote interviews.
When he answered the door, he looked “totally dishevelled” and his pants were undone, Basaraba alleged.
“I thought, ‘Hmm, this is not looking promising.’ But I went in and he took my coat, ushered me to the sofa and immediately got full-body onto me and started groping me. He grabbed my breasts, he grabbed my crotch, stuck his tongue down my throat,” said Basaraba, who was born in Sudbury, Ont., and moved to Montreal with her family when she was nine.
“I, of course, was totally shocked. I had my equipment on the coffee table and I said, ‘Maestro, maestro, no, I’m here for an interview. Get off me.’ He pressed forward but eventually he did get off me.”
Basaraba said she “figured he’d got the message” and suggested they still do the interview, so they went to a nearby restaurant and then returned to the apartment.
“As soon as we went into the apartment again, he did the same thing and I was, of course, absolutely shocked,” said Basaraba, 64, who splits her time between Los Angeles, Toronto and Edmonton.
“I figured I’d made it very clear.”
She said she refused his advances but Dutoit persisted, telling her downstairs as she hailed a cab “something along the lines of, ‘You’re very charming. I’d like you to be the woman I’m with when I’m in Montreal.'”
Basaraba said she refused once again, and finished her interview with him days later at Montreal’s Place des Arts.
The Associated Press reported Basaraba’s ex-husband, conductor Clyde Mitchell, and her friend Nancy Newman corroborated her story.
Basaraba said she continued to encounter Dutoit over the next 15 years while she lived in Montreal.
In 1991, when Dutoit was conducting at the L.A. Opera, she requested an interview with him through the company. She said he immediately called her and invited her to his hotel room. She did not go and hasn’t had contact with him since.
Basaraba said she felt compelled to tell her story after reading the recent accusation of sexual assault against Dutoit made by mezzo-soprano Paula Rasmussen and getting in touch with her.
“I felt very strongly when I read that to support her story, because she was the same age as I was, 14 years prior,” Basaraba said.
“At the time I was ruminating about Paula’s story, I was thinking, ‘Being in her situation at that time would have been untenable, as it would have been for any of the musicians and singers who have now come forward; that he would have had direct influence over their careers.”
Basaraba said she doesn’t have a lawyer and isn’t planning to sue Dutoit but is “committed about having come forward.”
— With files from the Associated Press.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly said Basaraba, in her career as a journalist, had already interviewed Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett and Eartha Kitt at the time she went to Dutoit’s home. In fact, those interviews came later in her career.