Met Opera Investigating Legendary Conductor Accused of Sexually Abusing Teenager

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Photo: AFP/AFP/Getty Images

The Metropolitan Opera is opening an investigation into James Levine, its famed former music director, for allegedly sexually abusing a teenage boy, the New York Times reports. As has been the case with Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, and countless other powerful men who have faced sexual-misconduct allegations in the past few months, Levine’s inappropriate behavior was reportedly an open secret.

The accuser, who has chosen to remain anonymous, filed a report to the Lake Forest, Illinois, police department in 2016. He alleged that Levine started acting inappropriately toward him in the 1980s when he was a teenager. As a child, the man said he had dreamed of being a conductor, and that Levine told him he wanted “to see if you can be raised special like me” after they met at the Ravinia Festival.

Levine, who retired last year, served as Ravinia’s music director from 1973 to 1993, and he was the music director of the Met for four decades. He’s considered to be one of the world’s most influential conductors and has a great deal of power, which he apparently knows how to wield.

In the police report, the accuser wrote that Levine held his hand in an “incredibly sensual” way when he was 15 and Levine was in his early 40s, and the following summer, Levine touched his penis. The abuse allegedly went on for years, and the accuser told the police “this pattern repeated itself hundreds of times.” He detailed the following specific scenario in his report:

The abuse escalated the following summer, the man told the police, when he would visit Mr. Levine at the Deer Path Inn, a hotel near Ravinia. “I would get there and the lights are off, and he would say to me after I came in and after a hug ‘take your clothes off,’” the man wrote in a statement to the police. “On various occasions he would ask me how I touched myself and then he would touch me the way I touched myself,” the man wrote. “I was never able to be aroused by this. But then he would masturbate himself at his bed or in the bathroom.”

The accuser told the police that Levine had paid him around $50,000 over the years, and he also handed over to the police a college recommendation that Levine had written for him in 1987. The Times reports that in the letter, written on Met stationery, Levine wrote that he’d known the accuser for “almost fifteen years.” According to the police report, the accuser’s “musical mentorship potential” ended after Levine invited him to New York for an audition to be a conductor, and Levine told him that he should focus on his other interests. “The promise of his raising me ‘special’ like him never ended,” the man wrote in his police report.

Rumors about Levine’s alleged abuse have circulated for years, and in 2001, Johanna Fiedler, who was the Met’s press representative for 15 years, touched on the subject in her book Molto Agitato: The Mayhem Behind the Music at the Metropolitan Opera. “Starting in the spring of 1979, these stories came to the surface at more or less regular intervals,” she wrote. “Each time, the Met press office would tirelessly point out the cyclical nature of the gossip and the complete lack of substance.” While Met officials said that recent media inquiries prompted their investigation, they also admitted they had been aware of the accuser’s police report since he filed it in 2016. Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Met, gave the following statement to the Times:

“This first came to the Met’s attention when the Illinois police investigation was opened in October of 2016 … At the time Jim said that the charges were completely false, and we didn’t hear anything further from the police. We need to determine if these charges are true and, if they are, take appropriate action. We will now be conducting our own investigation with outside resources.”


The Met Opera also addressed the allegations on Twitter.

Levine has not yet responded to the Met’s request for comment.

Met Opera Investigating Conductor Accused of Sexual Abuse