Opera Theatre Staffer Quits After Child Sexual Trafficking Arrest
Damon Bristo, Opera Theatre of St. Louis director of arts administration, resigned from the position after police arrested him last month on sex charges.
St. Louis County Police arrested Bristo on July 22 in Brentwood on suspicion of child sexual trafficking in the second degree, according to a police spokesperson.
Opera Theatre put Bristo on unpaid leave after learning of the arrest, and he later resigned, the organization said Tuesday in a statement. The disclosure came after opera singer and journalist Zach Finkelstein posted Bristo’s mugshot on Twitter and Facebook earlier in the day.
“We were shocked by the allegations of criminal activity, which have no link to his employment or role with us,” the organization’s statement reads.
Opera Theatre leaders declined to comment.
According to a website that collects arrest data in the St. Louis region, on July 23rd, 2020, Opera Theatre of St. Louis @OTSL director of artistic administration, Damon Bristo was arrested and charged with child sex trafficking in the 2nd degree.— Zach Finkelstein (@zachfinkelstein) August 11, 2020
Will @OTSL issue a statement? pic.twitter.com/PV0L4JrzaJ
Bristo has not been charged, and the investigation is ongoing, police said. Child sexual trafficking in the second degree is a felony punishable by a minimum of 10 years in prison.
Bristo’s departure came 13 months after Artistic Director Emeritus Stephen Lord resigned in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations published by Twin Cities Arts Reader, a Minneapolis-based publication.
The allegations pertained to Lord’s time at several institutions, including Opera Theatre of St. Louis. The June 2019 article states that eight artists described harassment by Lord at Opera Theatre, but that none filed official complaints, out of fear of losing professional opportunities.
Bristo joined Opera Theatre in September.
He had a wide portfolio at the organization, including attending auditions for the organization’s prestigious Gerdine Young Artists program for early-career performers.
“In his role,” an announcement of his hiring stated, “Bristo will help to plan, cast, and produce all artistic activities at Opera Theatre, ranging from the festival season to special events and off-season programs.”
Angel Azzarra, a soprano who participated in a reconfigured, online-only iteration of the Gerdine Young Artists program this summer, said: “I mean we’re all devastated. It’s a horrible blow.”
She had a career coaching session with Bristo via video chat and was one of three artists who participated in a roundtable discussion he hosted about a month before his arrest.
“It really was out of left field because he was perfectly fine, you know? There was just no clue that he could have done something this heinous. We thought he was utterly charming and helpful and just a breath of fresh air in the world of opera administration,” Azzarra said. “I do truly believe OTSL when they say that they did rigorous background checks in the hiring process and that there was no whisper of complaints the entire time he was working with them.”
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