Conductor James Levine was suspended from the Metropolitan Opera on Sunday after accusations surfaced he sexually abused at least three young men. The 74-year-old has worked with the Met for more than 40 years, serving as its music director until 2016.
The allegations go as far back as 1968, when Levine was a 25-year-old faculty member of a summer program at Michigan’s Meadow Brook School of Music. Chris Brown, then a student in the program, claims Levine masturbated him and urged him to reciprocate. Brown was 17 at the time.
“I don’t know why it was so traumatic,” Brown, now 66, told The New York Times. “I don’t know why I got so depressed. But it has to be because of what happened. And I care deeply for those who were also abused, all the people who were in that situation.”
Another man, James Lestock, says Levine also engaged him sexually that summer, when Lestock was 17. It was the first of many encounters between the two.
“He suggested that I take my clothes off, because this would be natural and honest and expand my outlook on the world,” Lestock recalled. “My initial response included the word ‘no.’ I was not interested in that. But he ignored that, and pursued the point, and convinced me to let him masturbate me.”
At one point, LeStock says, Levine convinced a group of students at the Cleveland Institute of Music to put on blindfolds and masturbate partners they could not see. “This was the extent to which he had control.” Both he and the others worried if they stopped the abuse, or told anyone, Levine would destroy their budding careers.
Ashok Pai, another musician interviewed by the Times says Levine abused him starting in the summer of 1986, when Pai was 16. Last year, Pai reported his accusations to to the Lake Forest Police Department.
Rumors about misconduct have surrounded Levin before: In a 1987 The Times interview, he insisted “I don’t have the faintest idea where those rumors came from or what purpose they served.”
The Met was first contacted about Levine’s conduct in in 1979, when then-director Anthony Bliss wrote a board member that, “We do not believe there is any truth whatsoever to the charges,” which he dismissed as “scurrilous rumors.”
And last year, after Pai filed his report, Met general manager Peter Gelb says he was contacted by the Lake Forest Police regarding Pai’s accusation. Levine denied any wrongdoing and, according to Gelb, the Met took no further action.
The opera company has hired an outside firm to investigate the allegations and Levine’s upcoming engagements, including a highly anticipated production of Puccini’s Tosca, have been canceled.
“While we await the results of the investigation, based on these news reports the Met has made the decision to act now,” Gelb said. “This is a tragedy for anyone whose life has been affected.”
Levine is also slated to begin a five-year contract at the Ravinia Festival next summer as conductor laureate. A spokesperson for the festival called the allegations “very disturbing” and said Ravinia “will take any actions that it deems appropriate following the results of these investigations.”