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Levine sues over NY Met dismissal

March 16, 2018

Three days after being fired by the Metropolitan Opera in New York, conductor James Levine has sued for breach of contract and defamation. An investigation into sexual abuse had found evidence against him.

New York Metropolitan Opera
Image: Image/Imagebroker

One of the world's finest opera houses launched an internal investigation last year following allegations of sexual abuse against Levine, who had been the company's music director and a principal conductor since the 1970s. More than 70 people were interviewed.

Levine was fired on Monday after the investigation found evidence to support the claims. Levine had been the central artistic figure at the Metropolitan Opera (Met) for four decades.

In the lawsuit filed in New York State's Supreme Court, Levine is suing the Met for breach of contract and defamation on Thursday, seeking more than $5.8 million (€4.7 million) in damages. He accused the organization of acting only after "vague and unsubstantiated accusations in the press" and denied any wrongdoing.

Read moreMusicians assume harassment is 'just part of life'

The 74-year-old Levine also accused the Met's general manager, Peter Gelb, of "cynically hijacking the goodwill of the #MeToo movement" to seize the allegations as a pretext to force him out of the Met as part of a "longstanding personal campaign."  

One of Levine's attorneys is Elkan Abramowitz, who has represented a number of high-profile clients including Harvey Weinstein.

Sexual misconduct alleged over decades

The Met's lawyers said Levine had been fired because of "credible and corroborated evidence of sexual misconduct."

"It is shocking that Mr. Levine has refused to accept responsibility for his actions and has today instead decided to lash out at the Met with a suit riddled with untruths," attorney Bettina Plevan said in a statement on Thursday.

Read moreRenowned conductor Charles Dutoit accused of sexual harassment 

No charges have been brought against Levine. Prosecutors said in December they had investigated a 1980s allegation, but cited factors including the age of consent, which was 16 at the time, as preventing them from bringing charges.

James Levine conducting in 2010
James Levine conducting in 2010Image: AP

One of the musicians making his accusations against Levine public was the cellist James Lestock. He said he had been abused when he was a 17-year-old student in 1968. Levine said he had received many friendly letters from Lestock, which indicated a "close and warm friendship."

In an interview with The New York Times, Lestock said he had sent Levine letters but stood by his accusations which, he said, he had raised in writing to British ,journalist Norman Lebrecht in the 1990s.

A long association

Defending the Met's action, Plevan said in her statement that the Met "only suspended its relationship with him when Levine was accused of multiple acts of sexual misconduct, charges that have been corroborated following a more than three-month investigation."

The Met itself has faced some questions as to why it took so long to act, especially as a Lake Forest detective contacted the company in October 2016. Denying a "cover-up of information relating to these issues," the Met said it had left any investigation to the police.

Levine made his Met debut in 1971 and became chief conductor in 1973. He was music or artistic director from 1976 until he stepped down two years ago because of Parkinson's disease. He then became music director emeritus and headed the Met's young artists program until his suspension in December 2017.

jm/sms (Reuters, AP)

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