The Met kicks back against James Levine’s lawsuit

The Met kicks back against James Levine’s lawsuit


norman lebrecht

March 16, 2018

The Metopolitan Opera last night issued an angry rebuttal of a lawsuit by its former music director, claiming $5.8 million for unfair dismissal.

Its lawyer, Bettina B. Plevan, said: ‘The Met terminated Mr Levine’s contract on March 12 following an in-depth investigation that uncovered credible and corroborated evidence of sexual misconduct at the Met, as well as earlier. 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.’

The bellicose language in this statement – ‘shocking’, ‘lash out’, ‘untruths’ – reads as much as an indication of corporate anxiety as of determination to fight. Nobody wants this case to come to court.

One of Levine’s two lawyers, Elkan Abramowitz, has acted in the past for Harvey Weinstein and Woody Allen. Levine accuses Peter Gelb of scheming for at least three years to remove him. This is getting personal.

More from the Met statement: ‘During the course of the investigation, Mr. Levine was offered numerous opportunities to be interviewed, beginning in December. It was only when the investigation was wrapping up, upon realization that termination was imminent, that he agreed to be interviewed, but on impossible terms, asking that the identity of his accusers, who had been promised anonymity, be disclosed.’


  • Anon says:

    English is not my mother tongue, but isn’t the mastership of language by Bettina Plevan substandard for a lawyer?
    Like what’s the point to attribute ‘credible’ to evidence? That’s a tautology. If evidence weren’t credible, it wouldn’t be evidence in the first place.
    And if your rational thinking is really so overwhelmed by your emotions that you find this ‘shocking’, maybe your place is not in dealing with legal issues?

    • Sanity says:

      There is a difference between evidence within and without a court of law.

    • AKP says:

      Evidence is an indication and as such can be weak, strong, false, overwhelming and certainly credible – or not.

      • Anon says:

        I understand that the PERCEPTION of evidence can come in many forms, but evidence itself is simply that, evident…
        The legal implication is here, that the Met apparently claims a perception problem with the evidence, not denying that they knew about evidence all the time. In other words, they claim we didn’t believe that the evidence was true. Ears closed, eyes closed, mouth closed, like the three monkeys.

    • Olassus says:

      No, the above quote is perfect English, and without redundancy.

      • Anon says:

        ‘credible evidence’ is still a tautology though.

        • laurie says:

          no and it’s not a matter of perception – but a matter of factual basis. of weight. evidence can be compelling, credible,circumstantial, insufficient, etc. the criminal standard for conviction requires evidence and thus belief in guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. civil judgements require belief that there is a preponderance of the evidence.

          using evident as a proxy for evidence is simply incorrect in the legal context.

        • Una says:

          No, the English is fine even for someone British rather than American.

    • Mark says:

      Legally, credible evidence means evidence that a reasonable person might believe. Alternatively, it’s evidence worthy of being presented to the trial jury. But it DOES NOT mean that the matter which is supported by such evidence has been proven – that can only happen in court.

    • Robert Eshbach says:

      Oh, there are many kinds of evidence. There is, for example, circumstantial evidence. And even with that, there are many flavors. “Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.” — Henry David Thoreau

      • Anon says:

        Sure there is. Still ‘credible evidence’ is a tautology.
        Definition of evidence: something that makes you believe, something is true.
        Adding the attribute ‘credible’ then makes this to:
        Something believable that makes you believe. Nonsense. 😉

        • Seriously? says:

          You’re really going to play games with definitions to criticize someone’s use of a phrase that has been used countless times in a legal context? Google the exact phrase “credible evidence” and see how many search results come up.

  • AKP says:

    Of course they can claim that they didn’t believe it – juries do it all the time. You seem to be completely misreading what the statement is saying – it certainly doesn’t say that there is a perception problem with the evidence on their part.

  • Sharon says:

    On YouTube is either a Charlie Rose or CBS 60 minutes 2013 interview in which Levine stated how grateful he was for the Met (and I believe that he may have mentioned Gelb) to take him back on as maestro in spite of scheduling difficulties when he recovered from surgery. He sounded sincere. What happened between 2013 and 2015? Did he start canceling performances (I do not remember this). Was his conducting becoming worse?
    I also remember another interview after he became conductor emeritus which was in 2015 in which he seemed to imply that the semi retirement was his choice. Was Levine just acting and saying what he believed he had to say? What was going on?

  • Peter says:

    On the contrary, it really should come to court. Then accusations, counteraccusations etc. can all be examined and decided upon. As is supposed to happen before newspapers, commentators, subscribers, management and just about everyone else decides upon someone’s guilt with proper process.

  • Caravaggio says:

    Ms. Plevan said: “It is shocking that Mr Levine has refused to accept responsibility for his actions….”. That much is true. But she didn’t articulate the other side of the coin: “It is shocking that Mr Gelb and the Board have refused to accept responsibility for their inactions.”

    In other words, how do you spell T-I-T-A-N-I-C and I-C-E-B-E-R-G?

  • Lyle Standish says:

    These are coordinated attacks on people in the arts, probably of Russian origin.

  • George says:

    Apart from the terrible stories, what kind of boss was James Levine ? How did he treat orchestra members, soloists and staff, male/female? Just curious.

    • Mark says:

      He is beloved by most. He is non-confrontational (never raises his voice), very generous with his time and treats the singers, musicians, and the Met personnel with respect.

      One day after his dismissal was announced, I ran into two young singers I know from the Lindemann program. Both were almost in tears, saying that one lesson with Jim teaches them more than all their previous teachers did in years ….

      • Jeanne says:

        Levine is the Tullio Serafin of our day. Serafin was the Italian conductor who coached just about every great singer of the past century, including, but not limited to, Ponselle,
        Tebaldi, Callas, Olivero, DeStefano, DelMonaco, Sutherland, and on and on. Levine too coached not only great international artists like Birgit Nilsson (who considered Levine “her” maestro), Jon Vickers, but also many European singers who came to the Met specifically because they would get to work with Levine. The Met often did not pay as much as European houses, but Levine was the draw. If you were one of “his” singers, you would get the best…until, that is, you were expendable. Then you’d get the heave-ho.

      • Robert W says:

        Maestro James Levine was and to those who worked with him during his hey day, absolutely adored! Warm, inspired, inspiring ( so many heads in that company are over paid bullies ) kind and supportive to all the talent and to my knowledge all employees period. This is a very painful and divisive action that management has conjured up for the company. Maestro Yannick Nezet-Seguin is wonderful of course, but to treat our Jimmy this way is unforgivable after his decades of World class service, for which the Metropolitan Opera is a far, far greater company than it ever could have been without him. The hypocrisy is appalling. The company knows bloody well who it wants gone. Cataclysmic decline over past decade is all the evidence you need.

      • Una says:

        I can understand that oint if view very well.

  • Bill Ecker says:

    At this point, Levine’s reputation is in shambles and it cannot be restored; this part of his life is over and the coffin is nailed shut. The only reason he would sue is to get a settlement. Further, if there is a morals clause in his contract and that is likely the case, he can be terminated without the Metropolitan Opera having to fulfill the balance of his contract. The reason he can expect a settlement is if he possesses clear evidence the Board covered up his “activities”, especially if there are any members who are currently on the board. At that point, they will capitulate and pay him off to go away. If the case does not make it to court, one can expect this to be the case. Then donors will have to decide if their money is being spent wisely with the current General Manager and Board configuration. It would seem that the General Manager and the leadership of the current Board would best step down to save the company as there will be a rough road ahead anyway, but even more so if they remain. The Metropolitan Opera now needs clean hands.

    • Una says:

      Seems everyone on here is an expert, and knows exactly what should be done. A mixture of fact and heresay.

    • Cyril Blair says:

      The NYT reported that there is not a morals clause in his contract. (Astonishingly!) The Met could very well lose this lawsuit.

  • Elvira says:

    The tragedy is that geniuses are sometimes born with impurities like diamonds.
    Do we accept this fact and go ahead or….not.

    • Jon H says:

      Well, that’s the problem. If you listen blindfolded, a Levine performance is decent, no problems – but when statements like “greatest American conductor alive” and “genius” are thrown around, expectations are often set too high. There is some talent there to be sure, but any conductor who put in Levine’s years could be a Levine… Genius is really someone who does something which is beyond reason and logic how they could do it – that’s more Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler…

      • David R Osborne says:

        More relevantly, Kleiber!

        • David R Osborne says:

          Carlos, of course.

          • Olassus says:

            Carlos Kleiber’s opera repertory:

            La belle Hélène
            Der Bettelstudent
            La Bohème
            Les Contes d’Hoffmann
            Don Carlos
            I due Foscari
            Edipo Rè
            Die Fledermaus
            Der Freischütz
            Hänsel und Gretel
            Die lustige Witwe
            Madama Butterfly
            Prodaná nevěsta
            I quattro rusteghi
            Der Revisor
            Der Rosenkavalier
            La traviata
            Tristan und Isolde
            Der Vogelhändler
            Der Waffenschmied
            Wiener Blut

    • J R J E says:

      In addition to the victims of Mr Levine’s abuse, the tragedy is that there are also persons with as much “genius,” who could have accomplished as much as Mr Levine, had he not been occupying the director’s chair while at the same time using that position of power to malevolent advantage. Better to bury finally this Romantic notion of genius and, in so doing, the excuse it provides those with clearly flawed consideration for the rest of us mere mortals.

  • Olassus says:

    American opera companies and symphony orchestras should consider term limits: nobody gets to stay in any conducting job for more than 10 years. It always gets icky after that much time, if not sooner.

    • msc says:

      Sorry, but I can think of a great many good relationships between conductors and orchestras that lasted more than ten year. I’m not quite sure what you mean by icky…. Stagnation can set in, but playing musical chairs every ten years is also an unlikely recipe for artistic success.

      • Olassus says:

        • James Levine
        • Charles Dutoit
        • Carl St Clair
        • Seiji Ozawa
        • Gerard Schwarz

        … all overstayers. My point is that it becomes more about a relationship with a Board, i.e. schmoozing and money, than about art.

        • Jon H says:

          Agreed. The first thing after about 10 years is routine sets in. It’s OK to come back once a year after that.

      • Jon H says:

        There was a time when having a Stokowski around for 26 years was good, but at that time it was easier to replace players as well. The days of “improving” that way are over – now it’s give the players more money, which doesn’t necessarily involve the music director at all.

  • Simon says:

    How is he still on the CAMI website? Is Tim Fox going to book him for boys choirs?

  • Don Hohoho says:

    I hope he kicks their butt in court.