The Metropolitan Opera has suspended its peerless former music director, James Levine, in the wake of on-the-record allegations of sexual misconduct reported in the New York Times. The suspension will preclude Levine’s participation in several high-profile events crucial to the nonprofit’s financial health, including the upcoming New Year’s Eve debut of a new production of Puccini’s Tosca.
The suspension was announced Sunday by Met general manager Peter Gelb, who said Levine’s upcoming engagements with the company have been canceled and that Robert J. Cleary, a partner at the Proskauer Rose law firm who was previously a U.S. attorney in New Jersey and Illinois, has been engaged to investigate the claims.
The disturbing allegations, including assertions that Levine engaged in sexual activity with teenage boy musicians in ensembles he conducted, go as far back as 1968, when Levine was a member of the summer program faculty at the Meadow Brook School of Music in Michigan.
The suspension of one of the best-known and most revered figures in the classical music world is the latest bombshell to strike the worlds of culture, politics and media in the wake of allegations of sexual abuse and assault that began with the testimony that brought down film producer Harvey Weinstein.
Levine has been associated with the Met Opera for more than four decades, stepping down in 2016 as music director. His influence extends far beyond the company’s Lincoln Center home, with its Austrian crystal chandeliers, marble grand stairway and Marc Chagall paintings. During that time, he re-shaped the Met orchestra into one of the world’s best – and most recorded – ensembles, guest conducted most of the top orchestras, served simultaneously as music director of the Boston Symphony and continued working despite crippling physical challenges, including Parkinson’s disease, that often had him conducting from a specially built wheelchair.
Levine’s popularity has helped the Met – with its annual budget in excess of $300 million, the U.S.’ largest nonprofit – stay afloat in perilous times for all classical music enterprises as audiences seek less expensive alternatives and public and private subsidies dwindle. In recent months, Gelb has overseen staff buyouts and other moves to trim the company’s budget.
The Met will also have to confront the fact that Levine’s off-podium behavior has for decades been another of those “worst-kept secrets” within their cultural, political and media spheres. The investigations they have prompted are likely to reveal a systemic blind eye to unacceptable and possibly illegal activities when they involve powerful, charismatic leaders. Gelb told the Times that previous accusations regarding Levine had been brought to the board’s attention, but that Levine had vigorously denied improper behavior.
“While we await the results of the investigation, based on these news reports the Met has made the decision to act now,” Gelb told the Times, adding that the Met board supported the moves. “This is a tragedy for anyone whose life has been affected.”