The Metropolitan Opera’s former music director and conductor James Levine has been suspended after three men came forward with allegations of sexual abuse.
According to a New York Times report, the Met’s general manager Peter Gelb stated the opera house would be canceling Levine’s upcoming conducting engagements, including a production of Puccini’s “Tosca” scheduled to begin New Year’s Eve, and that they had asked an outside law firm, Proskauer Rose, to conduct an investigation into the allegations.
In a statement posted to Twitter, the Met confirmed Levine’s suspension, referring to the allegations as a “tragedy for anyone whose life has been affected.”
The abuse allegedly took place more than 30 years ago, when all three men were teenagers. Chris Brown, James Lestock, and Ashok Pai each have claimed that Levine assaulted them, with the earliest incident occurring in the early 1960s. Two of the encounters — one of which allegedly occurred repeatedly — took place at the Meadow Brook School of Music in Michigan, and the third, which is also alleged to have led to multiple encounters, in Illinois near the Ravinia Festival, where Levine was the director.
The Times report cites Gelb as admitting that allegations of a similar nature had reached the Met before, with one instance occurring in 1976, when the Met’s then-executive director made at least one member of the board aware of an unsigned letter the Met had received claiming unspecified misbehavior from Levine.
The suspension comes after the Met announced on Saturday that it would begin an investigation into Levine after an article detailed Pai’s allegation, which he reported to the Lake Forest, Ill. police department in 2016 and that the Met had known about since at least that time.
Brown stated that Levine masturbated him when he was 17 years old at the Meadow Brook School after Levine made him the principal bass. “I think it was basically a combination of fatigue and being young that allowed me to go to the bed — it was the bottom bunk — and have him masturbate me,” he said. The 66-year-old added that Levine “almost immediately” asked him to reciprocate, which he did. The next time they saw each other, Brown said, he told Levine he wouldn’t do it again, and asked whether he and Levine could continue to work on his music together, to which Levine said they could not.
Lestock reported a similar interaction, in which, during a private meeting in his dorm at Meadow Brook when he was 17 years old, Levine asked him to take his clothes off. “My initial response included the word ‘no,’” he said. “I was not interested in that. But he ignored that, and pursued the point, and convinced me to let him masturbate me.”
According to Lestock, after he joined the Cleveland Institute of Music, where Levine was an assistant conductor of the orchestra, Levine encouraged the group of musicians to take part in sessions where they would be blindfolded and masturbate people without knowledge of who they were. “This was the extent to which he had control,” Lestock, who is now 67, said.
Pai claimed that he first met Levine when he was five, and at age 16, Levine began what would turn into years of sexual encounters by touching his penis in a motel room.
“I was vulnerable,” said the now-48-year-old Pai. “I was under this man’s sway, I saw him as a safe, protective person, he took advantage of me, he abused me and it has really messed me up.”
Musical organizations that Levine has been a part of over the years, including Ravinia and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, told the Times they not received allegations of improper behavior against Levine.
The Association Musicians of Greater New York, Local 802, AFM chapter released a statement denouncing sexual abuse:
“We are horrified and sickened by the recently reported allegations of sexual abuse by Mr. Levine. The Metropolitan Opera has an obligation to all employees to provide a safe workplace free of sexual harassment and discrimination. Throughout history, artists have stood for our society’s values and priorities. As musicians of the MET Orchestra, Local 802 and members of labor unions, we have the power to bring about positive change. It is incumbent upon our community to decisively and immediately denounce actions of abuse, assault and sexual harassment.”
Variety has reached out to Levine’s representatives and the Met for further comment.