New York's Metropolitan Opera to probe alleged teen sexual abuse by famed conductor

A file photo showing US conductor James Levine and the Boston Symphony Orchestra performing Hector Berlioz's Damnation of Faust during a rehearsal at the Salle Pleyel in Paris, on Sept 4, 2007.
A file photo showing US conductor James Levine and the Boston Symphony Orchestra performing Hector Berlioz's Damnation of Faust during a rehearsal at the Salle Pleyel in Paris, on Sept 4, 2007. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - The Metropolitan Opera announced Saturday (Dec 2) it would investigate claims that its music director sexually abused a teenage boy decades ago, as the US avalanche of misconduct allegations spread to classical music. 

“We are deeply disturbed by the news articles that are being published online today about James Levine,” said the New York house, one of the most prestigious opera companies in the world. 

“We are working on an investigation with outside resources to determine whether charges of sexual misconduct in the 1980s are true, so that we can take appropriate action,” it added. 

Accusations from a unnamed man, printed in The New York Times and New York Post, quoted a 2016 Illinois police report as saying the alleged abuse began in 1985, when the alleged victim was 15-years-old and Levine 41.

The alleged victim, who was not named, told police in Illinois that the abuse continued until 1993, leading the unidentified man to the brink of suicide, The New York Post reported.

The Post said the opera company's general manager was informed of the allegations in 2016.

"He inflicted shame and guilt on me," the paper quoted the now 48-year-old alleged victim as having said in a statement to police. "Emotionally I have been hurt by this and confused and paralysed."

A titan in classical music, Levine made his Met debut in 1971, going onto lead more than 2,500 performances of 85 different operas, and working with greats such as Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo.

He was music director at the Met for 40 years before retiring at the end of the 2015-16 season for health reasons - he has Parkinson's disease - but has stayed on as music director emeritus.

He conducted a performance of Verdi's "Requiem" at the Lincoln Center on Saturday, shortly before the Post published the allegations.

The alleged victim told police in Lake Forest, Illinois that Levine would masturbate in front of him and kiss his penis, the Post said.

The allegations cannot be criminally prosecuted as the state's statute of limitations has expired, but the Post said police investigated and submitted findings to the local state attorney.

No charges have been brought.

'Alone and afraid'

The Post said the alleged abuse began while Levine was guest conductor at the Ravinia Music Festival in Chicago's posh North Shore suburbs, where the man first met the maestro as a four-year-old.

Over subsequent years, Levine sent him gifts such as conductors' batons, before in 1985, driving him home and stopping the car in his family's driveway, the newspaper reported.

"He started holding my hand in a prolonged and incredibly sensual way," the Post quoted him as saying. "I was very uncomfortable."

The man reportedly said Levine first fondled his penis when he was aged around 16 at a luxury hotel in Lake Forest, which he claimed was the scene of "hundreds of incidents" over the years.

The alleged abuse "nearly destroyed my family and almost led me to suicide. I felt alone and afraid. He was trying to seduce me. I couldn't see this. Now I can," the paper quoted him as telling police.

Since an avalanche of sexual assault allegations broke against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in early October, a torrent of misconduct claims have shattered the careers of a growing list of powerful men, including Oscar winner Kevin Spacey, comedian C.K. Louis and morning television news anchors Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose.

Nominated for 37 Grammy Awards and winner of 10, Levine also conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for Disney's "Fantasia 2000" movie.

The alleged victim said the encounters continued until 1993, some of them taking place in New York, and that Levine gave him $50,000 in cash over the years, the Post said.

 

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