Opera conductor sues Met for millions after sacking over abuse

Conductor James Levine was terminated after the opera house found "credible evidence" that he had engaged in sexually abusive and harassing conduct.
Conductor James Levine was terminated after the opera house found "credible evidence" that he had engaged in sexually abusive and harassing conduct.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (AFP, NYTimes) - Conductor James Levine, a face of New York's Metropolitan Opera for four decades, on Thursday (March 15) filed a lawsuit after he was fired over repeated accusations of sexual abuse.

The suit seeks more than US$5.8 million (S$7.6 million) in damages. It states Levine's 10-year contract as the Met's music director emeritus - a title he took when he stepped down as music director in 2016 - called for him to be paid an annual salary of US$400,000, and US$27,000 for each of his performances.

The premier US opera house, which had faced criticism in some quarters that it had been too slow to respond to Levine's alleged behavior, voiced disbelief at its orchestra's longtime music director and vowed to "vigorously" make its case in court.

"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," said a statement from Ms Betsy Plevan, a lawyer for the Met, said in a statement.

"There is no basis for Mr Levine's assertion that the Met was on a vendetta against him, when in fact the Met supported him through prolonged and repeated periods of illness that kept him from the podium," she said.

The Met noted that it had created a new position of music director emeritus for Levine, who retired in 2016 amid persistent health problems.

The opera house said on Monday that it had terminated its relationship with the conductor after a three-month investigation found "credible evidence that Mr Levine had engaged in sexually abusive and harassing conduct." A number of musicians have come forward to say that Levine inappropriately touched them when they were students.

 
 

The Boston Globe earlier this month reported that Levine became a virtual cult figure at the Cleveland Institute of Music, pressuring students to swear loyalty to him, cutting them off from the outside world and coercing them into sex.

Levine denied wrongdoing but had otherwise said little since the allegations first became public in December amid the rise of the #MeToo movement against abusive men.

The Met, in its response, said that Levine had refused to cooperate with the investigation until the very end when it became clear he would be fired.

Levine set "impossible terms" by asking for investigators to name his accusers, who had been granted anonymity, the Met's lawyer said.