Can the Met be trusted to investigate James Levine?

Can the Met be trusted to investigate James Levine?


norman lebrecht

December 18, 2017

It’s exactly two weeks since the Metropolitan Opera suspended the conductor James Levine and called in its lawyers, Proskauer Rose, to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct dating back almost half a century.

Proskauer Rose LLP is a New York corporate law firm with offices in several countries. It represents the board of the Metropolitan Opera in hardball negotiations with the unions.

The man nominated to conduct the sexual abuse inquiry is Robert J Cleary, head of the investigations practice at Proskauer Rose. Cleary is a former US attorney for the district of New Jersey and the souhern district of Illinois. He was lead prosecutor in the Unibomber case. He joined Proskauer Rose in 2002. So far, so fine.

But let’s be under no illusions here. The job of Proskauer Rose is, in the normal run of things, to make the Met board come up smelling of roses. The board is its client in this case.

The test will be how it treats the complaints. In a normal inquiry, the first action is to interview all parties to the allegations and then to work outwards to others who might have information. Two weeks have passed and we see no sign of inquiry team members calling on complainants or issuing appeals for others to come forward. It may be that there is a mountain of paperwork to be examined before formal interviews can take place, but unless we see a rustle of activity from the lawyers early in the New Year, the objectivity of the exercise may be called into question.

The same test must be applied to the Boston Symphony, which has not announced a formal investigation but ought to be looking into multiple allegations at Tanglewood concerning more than one conductor. Institutions need to examine more than just their current procedures before faith can be restored.





  • Tom Moore says:

    If crimes were committed, shouldn’t that be the business of the DA?

    • Sid says:

      I believe statutes of limitation limit the extent to which a criminal case can be filed about Levine’s actions during his tenure at the MET.

    • herrera says:

      A private law firm, unlike a public prosecutor or the police, has no legal authority to do anything in a simple investigation (i.e., not a lawsuit), like compelling witnesses to appear or to produce records, or even as basic as compelling witnesses to speak under oath.

      A private law firm, unlike the prosecutor or the police, can also be sued if it comes out with an incomplete or inaccurate report, not just sued by James Levine, but by the accusers, and even by its own client, the Met if it acted on a bad report.

      So the final report will be very, very, very circumspect about its findings and conclusions, whose first aim is to protect the law firm itself against being sued.

      And frankly, if I were contacted by the law firm, in exchange for coming in to speak with the lawyers, I’d ask for a first class tickets for two to New York, to be put up at the Plaza, and free box tickets at a few performances at the Met.

      As long as the Met is throwing millions at the lawyers (believe me, the top lawyers are charging $1,000 per hour, flying first class to Chicago and Cleveland to investigate, and they are not staying at the Holiday Inn), they can certainly spare a few bucks for the poor musician witnesses.

      Anyway, an “investigation by our law firm” is just a PR, cover-your-ass move, understood both by client and my law firm.

      Can you imagine the Met’s own lawyer telling Gelb, “You are going to pay me $1,000 an hour and I am going to interview every GM and staff member and member of the Board from 1960 through 2014, under penalty of perjury, starting with you Mr. Gelb, now, raise your right hand and swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth”


      • maureen says:

        the law firm does have a legal duty to act in the interests of its client. the Met.

      • Mark says:

        Mr. Lebrecht, “District” of New Jersey, not “Director”. For non-US readers, a US attorney is a federal prosecutor.
        In such investigations, parties frequently sign a non-disclosure agreement to be in effect until the investigation is completed. So it is unlikely that Mr. Cleary would publicly announce his daily schedule.
        Generally, I suspect the investigation isn’t so much about these incidents in summer camp, as it is about any possible events that might have taken place during Levine’s tenure at the Met. If no credible evidence is found (and therefore no danger of a civil law suit against the Met), this silly show would end.

      • Charles Fischbein says:

        100% Correct. Thank you

  • Ungeheuer says:

    What I’d like to know is when, not if, Gelb and the board will tender their resignations. After all, they sat on a police report on Levine for over a year and kept the matter hush hush all the while engaging him to conduct. Only when the story broke public did Gelb take action by “suspending” (not firing) Levine and by initiating the so called “investigation”. In other words, Gelb acted as Levine’s personal GM and not as GM for the institution he was entrusted with. I’d also like to know if anyone has reached out to Joe Volpe and members of his board during his tenure. Because complicity.

    • Mark Henriksen says:

      My guess is the MET did nothing because there was no legal case against Levine. Then, a year later, the “me-too” climate erupted and ruined Levine’s brand. They didn’t want to suffer guilt by association, so they broke with him. Now, the MET is having their legal team investigate their liability, if any, during his tenure.

    • Save the MET says:

      Proskauer Rose under the late Jim Fuld was the retained attorney for the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera for years. He kept both out of trouble for many years. I knew Jim and he used to have great stories, but that was all pre-Gelb. Gelb [redacted] has somehow managed to hang on despite his abject failures as a general manager. His HD has ruined their subscriber retention, one can play horse shoes down the aisle on any given night for many performances. The vast majority of his productions are gimmicks and not for the long term, which is extremely costly. The new traditional Tosca was forced down his throat by the board as his last one was such a bloody disaster. The Ring Cycle SNAFU cost the Metropolitan Opera untold millions in stage reconstruction and set reconstruction, not to mention the fact that some of the leading singers in the World for the roles will not sing with that production any more out of fear for their safety. His store is a disaster as he never understood the clientele. Metropolitan Opera employees are not happy with him and the house suffers because of it. The problem with the Board is they represent some of the wealthiest, most powerful people in the Country and getting rid of them will be next to impossible, but dumping ” ‘Lil Pete” is actually pretty easy. Lots of qualified, quality people to replace him in a heartbeat.

  • Jasper says:

    Was there ever a press release from the NY Phil acknowledging the departure of Philip Meyers?


  • Vaquero357 says:

    The law firm is investigating to find out if there is any potential liability for the Met – i.e., to protect them from, or at least prepare them for, lawsuits. It is NOT to clear James Levine’s name and get him back on the podium. Either way, his career is done – no institution is going to want to brave the PR storm that’ll ensue from engaging him. Period.

    If his accuser(s) themselves can’t prove his wrong doing, how can he possibly prove, to the satisfaction of the Court of Public Opinion, that he DIDN’T do it?

    Furthermore, Peter Gelb has telegraphed pretty clearly that the Met can, and is ready to, move on from the Levine Era. I suspect he wasn’t super thrilled a year and a half ago when Levine hung on for the emeritus title. I don’t see Gelb as going out of his way to manage a cover-up for JL, either now or in the past.

    The law firm investigation covers the Met’s due diligence obligations; they’re hoping it doesn’t turn up anything actionable against them. And THE MET MOVES ON. End of.

    I’m curious as to the discussions in the offices of DG/Universal Music as to what to do with their huge Levine back catalog….

    • Yes Addison says:


      All Levine had in his favor at this point anyway was reputation, with people still reflexively reading Wilford’s talking points (“The orchestra is inspired by Jimmy,” etc.) There’s not exactly a shortage of untainted conductors without progressive and debilitating health problems to lead the standard repertory that is all he can manage now.

      • Mark says:

        The loss is ours – there are many conductors, but great talents like Levine appear very rarely. And he posseses a wealth of experience, which is priceless.

  • Nick2 says:

    I am confused. When the first Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey allegations were aired, it did not take more than a day or so before the floodgates metaphorically opened. The threads on this blog are filled with allegations about sexual abuse and harassment by JL of young men (and perhaps even younger) over a 40+ period. These allegations are not new; they have appeared elsewhere in print sometimes stretching back decades.

    Yet the number of men coming forward publicly is little more than a handful. This makes me wonder – why? Or why not more? It has been stated that some were paid off, perhaps by the Met itself, and non-disclosure agreements signed. If that was restricted to a relatively small number, I’d understand. But does someone with an interest in very young men restrict his activities to just a handful over that very long period? That seems totally to stretch belief. Are we then supposed to believe that all others possibly involved were paid off? How much would that amount to over a 40+ year period? As we await the Met lawyer’s report, I wonder what happened to the floodgates?

    • Tom Moore says:

      how many do we need? dozens?

      • Nick2 says:

        That, with respect, would be a very significant underestimate of the total numbers allegedly involved by many posters here over a 40+ year period. Were there many dozens or more? Or just a handful? If there are no more than those men who have come forward, then it seems to me, however appalled one is with even one case, certain statements recently made here should be quickly retracted.