Met Opera fires longtime conductor James Levine after sexual abuse investigation

This July 7, 2006, file photo shows Boston Symphony Orchestra music director James Levine, right, conducting the symphony on its opening night performance at Tanglewood in Lenox., Mass. 


Last Updated Mar 12, 2018 8:46 PM EDT

NEW YORK -- The Metropolitan Opera said it fired music director emeritus James Levine Monday after three month investigation found "credible evidence" that he "engaged in sexually abusive" conduct toward artists. It said more than 70 people were interviewed in the probe.

In a statement, the Met said the investigation found that Levine, 74, abused "vulnerable artists in the early stages of their careers," adding that it would be impossible for him to continue his working relationship. The statement said rumors that opera's board of directors were involved in a cover-up were "completely unsubstantiated."

Levine was suspended by the Met in December pending the investigation.

"We recognize the great concerns over these issues that have been expressed by the Met community both inside and outside of the opera house, and wish to provide the assurance that the Met is committed to ensuring a safe, respectful and harassment-free workplace for its employees and artists," the statement concluded.

Levine made his Met debut in 1971 and became one of the signature artists in the company's 135-year history, conducting 2,552 performances and ruling over its repertoire, orchestra and singers as music or artistic director from 1976 until he stepped down two years ago due to Parkinson's disease. He became music director emeritus and remained head of its young artists program but was suspended on Dec. 3 after accounts in the New York Post and The New York Times of sexual misconduct dating to the 1960s.

The Met hired former U.S. Attorney Robert J. Cleary, now a partner at Proskauer Rose, to head its investigation.

"The investigation uncovered credible evidence that Mr. Levine had engaged in sexually abusive and harassing conduct both before and during the period when he worked at the Met," the company said in a statement. "The investigation also uncovered credible evidence that Mr. Levine engaged in sexually abusive and harassing conduct towards vulnerable artists in the early stages of their careers, over whom Mr. Levine had authority. In light of these findings, the Met concludes that it would be inappropriate and impossible for Mr. Levine to continue to work at the Met."

The Met did not release specifics of the evidence.

Tim Fox of Columbia Artists, who represents the 74-year-old conductor, did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Levine has not been charged with any criminal offense. The Lake County state's attorney's office in Illinois said in December it investigated a sexual abuse allegation of misconduct dating to the 1980s but concluded "no criminal charges can be brought" and cited multiple factors, including "the relevant age of consent in Illinois at the time of the alleged incidents."

Levine's downfall follows that of 81-year-old Charles Dutoit. After The Associated Press reported sexual assault allegations against him, the Swiss conductor resigned as artistic director and principal conductor of London's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and engagements were canceled at numerous orchestras. Dutoit has denied the allegations.

The Met said in its statement "the investigation also found that any claims or rumors that members of the Met's management or its board of directors engaged in a cover-up of information relating to these issues are completely unsubstantiated."

Following the death of Leonard Bernstein in 1990, Levine was regarded as the top American conductor and was given a starring role in the film "Fantasia 2000." Many of his performances were televised by PBS, and singers rearranged their schedules to appear in his performances or even to audition for him.

He was revered by the Met's orchestra, board and patrons during a reign as chief conductor (1973-76), music director (1976-86 and 2004-16) and artistic director (1986-2004). In addition, he was music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Ravinia Festival from 1973-93 and the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 2004-11, and chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic from 1999-2004.

Instantly recognizable by his bushy frock of hair and towel draped over a shoulder during rehearsals, he regularly conducted at the Vienna Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, Bayreuth Festival and Salzburg Festival.

His power waned only because of health problems.

Levine started conducting from a chair in late 2001 and tremors in his left arm and leg became noticeable a few years later. His health worsened in 2006, when he tripped and fell on the stage of Boston's Symphony Hall during ovations that followed a performance and he tore a rotator cuff, which required shoulder surgery. Levine had an operation in 2008 to remove a kidney and another in 2009 to repair a herniated disk in his back. He then suffered spinal stenosis, leading to surgeries in May and July 2011. He had another operation that September after falling and damaging a vertebra, an injury that sidelined him until May 2013.

Yannick Nezet-Seguin was hired two years ago to replace Levine as music director starting in 2020-21, but last month the Met said it had moved up the start of his tenure to next season.

"While this termination of the Met's relationship with Levine obviously brings a certain degree of closure, it is our hope that the Met's early introduction of Yannick Nezet-Seguin portends a willingness to invest more robustly both in talent and creating a healthy workplace culture," clarinetist Jessica Phillips, chair of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra Committee, said in a statement. "Such commitment to the future is essential if the institution wishes to attract the world's finest musicians, several of whom have already departed due to wage cuts, among other workplace issues. The artists of the Metropolitan Opera, like workers in every industry, deserve a safe place of work."