The Metropolitan Opera announced Sunday that it was suspending its relationship with James Levine, its music director emeritus and a monumental figure in the world of classical music, because of multiple allegations of sexual misconduct.
The suspension was a response to a one-two punch of newspaper articles on Saturday and Sunday reporting that three men said they had been sexually abused by Levine, now 74, at different points starting in the late 1960s. “While we await the results of the investigation, based on these new news reports, the Met has made the decision to act now,” Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, said in a statement.
It was the Met’s second update of the weekend about Levine, following an announcement on Saturday, after the New York Post ran the first public allegation, that the company would start an investigation of its own into Levine’s past behavior. The Post article detailed sexual abuse allegations that Ashok Pai, a 48-year-old man, made to the police department in Lake Forest, Ill., last year — allegations that the Met had known about since they were made.
“This first came to the Met’s attention when the Illinois police investigation was opened in October, 2016,” Gelb said in a statement. “At the time, Mr. Levine said that the charges were completely false, and we relied upon the further investigation of the police.”
Gelb could not be reached for comment on why the Met deemed the charges worthy of investigation at this time, but not a year ago.
On Sunday, after the New York Times published accounts by two more men who say Levine molested them when they were underage, the Met cut the cord altogether, relieving Levine of all future engagements. “This is a tragedy for anyone whose life has been affected,” said Gelb.
The Times article said that the Met had known of at least one earlier allegation in 1979, but dismissed it as baseless.
Levine, 74, has held music director positions with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Munich Philharmonic and the Ravinia Festival, the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. But he is best known and most beloved for his 40-year tenure as music director of the Metropolitan Opera, which he is widely thought to have brought to new heights, and from which he stepped down in 2016, assuming the title of music director emeritus, after some years of ill health. He was a Kennedy Center Honors recipient in 2003.
While Levine is a beloved figure in the industry, rumors about his sexual habits have been widespread for years — so much so that he addressed them in a 1987 interview. “I don’t have the faintest idea where those rumors came from or what purpose they served,” Levine told the New York Times’ John Rockwell.
Pai, the alleged victim in the Illinois investigation, has approached reporters from multiple publications over the years and, more recently, posted publicly on Facebook. But the New York Post was the first to report his allegations, followed shortly by the New York Times and other publications.
In his account to the Lake Forest Police Department, Pai said the abuse began in 1985, when he was 16. Levine, he said, used to arrange to meet him for dinner, but would instead take him to his hotel room near Ravinia, where Levine was music director from 1973 to 1993. There, according to Pai, Levine would ask him to remove his clothes, fondle his penis and masturbate in front of him.
Pai told police that this behavior continued for years. Levine, he said, also gave him financial gifts amounting to about $50,000. The encounters left him confused and unhappy, he said, and almost drove him to suicide.
The two other men named by the New York Times reported similar experiences, though not lasting as long — and going back, in one case, to 1968.
Levine has suffered from ill health for years, and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2006, although he did not publicly reveal that until a decade later. Warm to singers but intensely private about his personal life, he today relies on a wheelchair, but had recently stepped up his activity at the Met in his current role after a period of not conducting very often. On Saturday, shortly before the New York Post story was published, he conducted the last of four performances of Verdi’s “Requiem” — a work by a composer who has been one of his touchstones, and quite possibly his final Met performance.
Levine’s management did not respond to requests for comment.