After defending, then suspending, and then investigating longtime music director James Levine, the Metropolitan Opera has definitively fired him, citing “credible evidence” that he “engaged in sexually abusive and harassing conduct” at some point during his more than 40 years with the company. The statement implies that, as the artistic director of the Met’s Young Artists program, a hyperprestigious stepping stone from student status to a professional career, Levine abused his power over young and vulnerable singers. That, surely, is an understatement: Levine was arguably the most powerful man in the opera world and few singers could afford to displease him and remain employed.
After the New York Post broke the story about one man who told the Lake Forest Police about an incident in the 1980s at the Ravinia Festival, outside Chicago, the Times’ Michael Cooper persuaded several other men to go on the record with similar accusations. In an exhaustively reported investigation, the Boston Globe’s Malcolm Gay and Kay Lazar described Levine’s early years, when he led the student orchestra at the Cleveland Institute of Music. There, he led a cult-like group of teenaged musicians, merging life lessons, rehearsals, and group sex.
The Met claimed ignorance of all that, but appointed Robert Cleary, a partner at the law firm Proskauer Rose, to investigate. Three months and 70 confidential interviews later, the company has issued a statement:
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 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 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.
That terse self-exoneration raises a lot of questions about the Met’s role in furnishing the power that Levine abused. Among them:
• How many people did Levine allegedly harass or abuse? Did the alleged abuse take place at the Met or elsewhere?
• If some of his victims have identified themselves to investigators, does the Met accept any responsibility toward them?
• The Met has a renowned children’s chorus: Did Levine target any of its members?
• How long did the alleged abuse and harassment continue? Did it stop at some point, and if so, when?
• Did Levine vindictively destroy the careers of artists who evaded him or reward those who complied? Did some artists refuse to work with him after being subjected to his harassment and/or abuse?
• The statement asserts that rumors of a cover-up are “unsubstantiated.” Does the Met claim that nobody at the company was aware of the allegations? Or is it that staffers were aware, but their inaction simply doesn’t rise to the level of cover-up?
• Levine had assistants, some of them Met employees, who practically lived by his side, and were involved in arranging many details of his life. Did the report conclude that they had knowledge of his activities?
• When journalists asked about rumors of Levine’s sexual abuse, the press office denied that there was any substance to them. Did anyone at the Met ever make any effort to determine the truth of those rumors?
• Did the Met ever have a policy, even an informal one, to avoid exposing the vulnerable to potential abuse? For instance, were young artists ever advised to avoid being alone with him?
• Now that the investigation’s finished and Levine’s career is too, does the Met’s board or management feel the need for any further action?
These questions matter because the company’s future depends on its prestige and the goodwill of all those who buy tickets, perform there, or give it money. The company and its chief conductor were intertwined for decades, and each boosted the glory of the other. It’s simply not enough for the Met to say, We didn’t know! But, hey, it’s cool now: James Levine doesn’t work here anymore, and leave it at that.