The Metropolitan Opera said in court documents Friday (May 18) that it found credible evidence that conductor James Levine engaged in sexually abusive or harassing conduct with seven people that included inappropriate touching and demands for sex acts over a 25-year period.
The Met fired Levine as its music director emeritus on March 12, citing evidence of misconduct, but it did not make public any details. Levine sued the Met three days later for breach of contract and defamation, which the opera company denies.
The Met filed its reply and counterclaims on Friday in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan. It is seeking $5.86 million in damages for what it called breach of loyalty.
Levine, who turns 75 next month, was the Met’s music director and/or artistic director from 1976 to 2016 before the shift to an emeritus position. He was suspended on Dec. 3 after allegations of misconduct in reports by the New York Post and The New York Times. He has not been charged with any crime.
In its court filing, the Met claimed it learned during its investigation of improper conduct by Levine from 1975 to 2000. The Met identified the individuals only by number but described them as including a musician, an opera singer, an artist, two people who were 16 years old and a member of its Young Artists Program.
Levine’s lawyers filed an answer to the Met’s papers saying the company “has chosen to create sensationalized allegations … all of which have no legal or factual basis whatsoever.”
The Met said it found evidence of conduct that included discussion of pornography, groping, kissing and mutual masturbation.
In one instance, the Met accused Levine of inappropriately touching a musician starting in 1979 and six more times until 1991. In another 1985 incident, Levine is accused of groping and kissing an opera singer he was giving a ride home in his car against that person’s will. Levine later placed the person in a prestigious program at the Met, the filings stated.
In 1986, Levine sexually abused a 16-year-old and arranged an estimated $50,000 in payments to the person through his brother, the filings stated.
The last incident described in the filings occurred in 1999 when Levine inappropriately touched a member of the Met’s Young Artists Program “on his knees, legs and hands” and then the following year invited the musician to his dressing room to engage in sexual activity, according to Friday’s court filings.
Levine’s lawyers called them “only vague and unsubstantiated accusations of sexual misconduct supposedly engaged in by Levine decades ago, made by unidentified individuals, all in an attempt intentionally to smear Levine’s name, reputation and legacy, while at the same time making it difficult for Levine to defend himself with any specificity against anonymous accusations.”
The conductor’s lawyers said “Levine did not commit any acts of sexual misconduct against any individuals, much less the unnamed individuals.” They added “the Met had no basis whatsoever for suspending and ultimately terminating Levine. The Met’s so-called ‘investigation’ of Levine’s conduct was nothing more than a pretext for the Met to suspend, fire and defame him.”
Levine conducted 2,552 performances at the Met from 1971 through Dec. 2.
Prosecutors in Lake County, Illinois, said in December they had investigated a 1980s sexual abuse allegation but concluded that they could not bring charges, citing factors including the age of consent — 16 — at the time.