What the Met wants you to believe about Levine and its bosses

What the Met wants you to believe about Levine and its bosses


norman lebrecht

March 12, 2018

1 In more than 40 years as music director, while James Levine ‘engaged in sexually abusive and harassing conduct’, nobody from the board or the management knew anything about it.

2 Despite ‘credible evidence that Mr. Levine engaged in sexually abusive and harassing conduct towards vulnerable artists in the early stages of their careers’, not a whisper reached the ears of successive general managers and board members.

3 That ‘any claims or rumors that members of the Met’s management or its Board of Directors engaged in a cover-up of information relating to these issues are completely unsubstantiated.’

4 That members of the Met’s management who worked with Levine at Boston, Tanglewood and CAMI were also deaf, blind and dumb to any suspicion of misconduct.

In the absence of documents to the contrary, that’s what we are expected presently to accept.



  • Caravaggio says:

    As I wrote in another thread, I am not buying it, for the reasons listed.

  • Frankster says:

    What is hard for me to understand is why the Met continued to make him an increasingly larger part of their structure and image. The stories were common currency around Lincoln Center for decades and it is amazing the public relations disaster has waited this long to unfold.

    • Yes Addison says:

      Seriously. That’s the strangest thing to me, the way they doubled down on making him synonymous with the Met, long after that was a good idea. He should have been eased out years earlier than he was. Does anyone really think he was acting as music director in any meaningful sense since 2011, at the very latest? He must have had powerful loyalists on the board, who were winning that battle until they couldn’t anymore.

      • RS says:

        Or, if they fired him, he would take them down with him. Of course they knew.

        He was certainly shrewd about picking victims just past the age of consent. One could assume he was just as shrewd about everything else.

      • Olassus says:

        He was untouchable.

        Given what we learned this month from The Boston Globe about his 1960s coercion schemes, it is certain that Bing, who first hired him for the Met, knew, or knew the rumors.

        This means that Chapin, Bliss, Crawford, Southern, Volpe and Gelb all knew too.

        Now that the rumors are shown to have been real, the Met claims not that they were false but that they were “unsubstantiated” — which presumably is how the company will defend itself.

        Unsubstantial in my dictionary means “having little or no factual basis.”

        Unsubstantiated is not there, but it would seem to mean that any “factual basis” has not been brought or shown, that the substance has not been provided.

  • MWnyc says:

    I’ll say it on this post as well: However justifiably angry one may be about this mess, we must remember that there has been no evidence brought to light that Levine has committed any offenses with anyone legally underage.

    In other words, based on what we actually know, James Levine may deserve to be fired, and he may deserve to be shunned, but he does not (as some would have it) belong in jail.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      There is evidence that he propositioned staff members for sex and prejudiced the careers of some who refused.

      • Mark says:

        That’s not a criminal offense

        • Bruce says:

          As far as I know there’s no official talk of putting him in jail, right? Just a lot of people saying he deserves it?

          • Mark says:

            As far as I know, there are no allegations of stalking, a use of force or statutory rape (also, there is an issue of the statute of limitations). Other types of sex-related behavior might be objectionable, but aren’t criminal

        • Robert Holmén says:

          “That’s not a criminal offense”

          You will be heartened to know that being fired from the opera is not a criminal punishment.

          • Mark says:

            Try to understand that when people are deprived of their livelihood and/or ostracized on the basis of allegations not proven in a court of law and without the opportunity to confront the accusers we are getting very close to Soviet Russia or Red China.

          • Bill says:

            I can’t reply directly to Mark, but this is close, so it will have to do.

            Mark, people are deprived of their livelihood without conviction in court of law all the time. It’s called getting fired, and most employers in the US can do it freely so long as they don’t do it for the wrong reason. Levine, with a contract, likely had more protection than most.

          • Mark says:

            Bill, yes, people get fired, but usually for the reasons related to their job performance. I am talking about the wisdom and the ideological implications of firing a uniquely talented individual under such circumstances.
            No fund executive (I am an attorney working in finance) would fire a great fund manager because somebody said they pinched some pretty piece of a… (pardon my French) 20 years ago.
            BTW, whether or not Levine’s contract allows termination is an interesting question. Most showbiz contracts do have a “morals clause”. But an expertly drafted morals clause would have a very high triggering threshold (e.g. an indictment).

          • Robert Holmén says:

            “No fund executive (I am an attorney working in finance) would fire a great fund manager because somebody said they pinched some pretty piece of a… (pardon my French) 20 years ago.”

            Mark, Levine wasn’t about one pinch.

            What has been substantiated by the witnesses and the private investigator is a long history of exploitative behavior amplified and enabled by his ability to hire, fire, engage, refuse, promote and dismiss individuals based on their accommodation of his demands for sexual acts.

            You are claiming that is all in a days’ work in your business and so that the standard every other business is obligated to follow. It is preposterous.

          • Mark says:

            @Robert Homen: It’s the standard any business has to follow if they want to make a profit. The only absolute moral notions are the ones society sees fit to codify in its criminal statutes. Everything else is by definition relative. So here a good manger will follow the money.
            I’ve taken an (admittedly unscientific) poll of 10 regular Met attendees I know (two of them are top donors). 9 of them (including the donors) hate what Gelb has done.
            Is he trying to curry favor with the SJW types ? Very few of them care about opera or can afford a Met ticket …

          • Saxon Broken says:

            Mark writes: “No fund executive (I am an attorney working in finance) would fire a great fund manager because somebody said they pinched some pretty piece of a… (pardon my French) 20 years ago”

            No, but the fund manager would be fired if he only invested in companies where the managers had sex with him. Even though it would be legal.

        • roger says:

          but it’s a firing offence.

          • Frankster says:

            Mark, having sex with your wife’s sister or mother is also not a criminal offense but will have impact on your marriage, if you can imagine that.

      • Stephen Diviani says:

        ‘There is evidence that he propositioned staff members for sex and prejudiced the careers of some who refused.’ Regarding the first clause: who cares, if every man (or woman) who had ever done that were to be fired there’d be almost nobody left in their jobs. Regarding the second: that is totally wrong, but it depends on what is meant by ‘prejudiced’ and whether there may have been other reasons for Mr Levine’s actions. Anyway, this is all hearsay, so give it a rest until you have some facts and the ‘evidence’ has been tested in a court.

        • M. Renard says:

          It is a hallmark of defenders of sexual abuse and harassment that they claim to believe “everyone does it.”

          No they do not. That you think so says so much more about you than you know.

          And if everyone old and powerful in classical music is constantly hitting on and trying to seduce or bully young musicians into sex, that’s a damn serious problem in 2018.

          #Timesup for classical music

          • Stephen Diviani says:

            ‘It is a hallmark of defenders of sexual abuse and harassment that they claim to believe “everyone does it.”’ Interesting how you conflate making a pass or a proposition with ‘abuse’ and ‘harassment’. Terms which have become meaningless because they are being applied indiscriminately and mean whatever the user chooses them to mean. And anyone who has the temerity to speak out against this current moral panic you call ‘defenders of sexual abuse’, but I guess the same kind of abuse was thrown at people speaking out against the Salem witch trials or against McCarthyism. I don’t know what kind puritan world you inhabit, but I’d hazard a guess that the overwhelming majority of men & women have made a pass at a work colleague and neither party would call it ‘abuse’ or ‘harassment’.

            ‘And if everyone old and powerful in classical music is constantly hitting on and trying to seduce or bully young musicians into sex, that’s a damn serious problem in 2018.’ Interesting that age comes into it, as it so often did with wealthy, privileged women slamming into the accused man for being fat, ugly or old or all of the above; again, you conflate a number of different words (‘hitting on’, ‘seduce’, ‘bully’) as if you don’t quite have confidence in your argument. And the key part of my argument you don’t address but prefer mob rule: any individual is innocent until proven guilty. #Enoughalready.

    • Anonymous says:

      “I’ll say it on this post as well: However justifiably angry one may be about this mess, we must remember that there has been no evidence brought to light that Levine has committed any offenses with anyone legally underage.”

      Not entirely true. As detailed in the NY Times piece from December, Levine molested two 17 year olds at a music school in Michigan. While 16 is the age of consent, teachers are specifically barred from sexual activity with anyone that they are teaching who is under 18, so this would actually be illegal under that framework.

      However, I believe that law might be more recent than the allegations, which were from the 60s, and it would probably be very hard to prosecute the case anyway, given that it would rest entirely on Levine and the victims’ memories of events 50 years ago. But what he did in that case would constitute a crime now.


  • Mark says:

    Meh, not buying it.
    Anyway, never giving a penny to the Met ever again.

    • Larry W says:

      Mark, you wrote: “No fund executive (I am an attorney working in finance) would fire a great fund manager because somebody said they pinched some pretty piece of a… (pardon my French) 20 years ago.”
      That is offensive in any language. You have said Levine’s actions were “private behavior.” Your comment above is public, along with your using the word “chicks.” With Met contributors such as this, it is little wonder that Levine’s behavior was condoned.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Joe Volpe must have known. Gelb seems to be taking all the flak.

    • David Hilton says:

      “Joe Volpe must have known. Gelb seems to be taking all the flak”. Umm, yes, because Gelb is the General Manager and Volpe isn’t. What’s the point of directing ‘flak’ to someone who can’t resign or otherwise make amends for what you would criticise them for?

  • Edward Friel says:

    As mentioned previously why is Gelb still there??

  • Sheldon Silvers says:

    Look for a big NYTimes story about who knew what when very very VERY soon

  • Peter Burch says:

    Yeah, and pigs will fly, too.

  • Steve dalton says:

    very hard to believe that no one on the Board or around the Board did not know of the sexual harassment. I was a lowly college choir singer in the midwest in the late 70s and had heard much. In any discussion of Levine, after talking about how fabulous he was, and breathing excitement in opera, the next comments were of the rumors heard about aspiring singers and sexual expectations for advancement.

    • Bylle Binder says:

      In 1980 I was a music student in Stuttgart – and I’ve heard about this rumour, too. I really can’t believe I was better informed as people at the met.

      • Ellen Freilich says:

        Hearing a rumor is not equivalent to being informed. Everything I’ve ever heard or read, especially in comments streams about this story, is “I heard.” I have read the accounts of people who had experiences with him that they felt bad about. I give those accounts credence. But those accounts were from long ago when Levine, himself, was barely older than those troubled by their encounters with him. One man recalled that Levine didn’t look at him for the rest of the summer when he rejected Levine’s overtures. The man (then a youth) said he felt frozen out for the rest of the summer because of that. But couldn’t Levine, himself, have felt really awkward and embarrassed after his advances were rejected and that’ why he could not look at this young man? I hate to be getting into the weeds like this, but inexperienced forays into sexual activity are sometimes awkward, sometimes hurtful, and quite subjective. In his years at the Met, Levine worked with many talented, developing artists in the Lindemann program, for example. Many of these artists learned a lot from him. I’d like to hear what participants in this program have to say. Were some of them subjected to advances? If so, did they feel their careers were hurt if they rejected those advances? There’s another thing to consider: which of these artists now are going to speak for Levine when that would mean criticizing the Metropolitan Opera management and possibly jeopardizing future engagements at that opera house?

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Hearing “a rumour” is not the same as having credible evidence. And, I think, this is the key point.

      Nevertheless, it is interesting that Charles Dutoit was denied positions because of the rumours surrounding him, but that similar organisations where willing to risk so much by hiring Levine.

  • collin says:

    The only person capable of implicating Met management and board is…James Levine!

    LOL, how can one defend oneself (I’m innocent!) and yet bring down Peter Gelb (I told Peter!).

    The ball is now in Jimmy’s court. Will he serve an ace right into Petey’s face?

    Or will he double fault, retire, and go quietly into the night?

  • anon says:

    It is impossible that people got paid off. In order to pay people off, there must have been lawyers, nondisclosure agreements, payments, transfers, checks, victims and families that come out and claim more money, in other words, a long paper trail.

    There is no paper trail.

  • collin says:

    The board of the Met consists of precisely the people who make the most monetary contributions to the Met.

    You don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

    You don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

    You don’t spit in your own soup.

    You don’t piss into the wind.

  • anon says:

    I left 2 comments on the New York Times story criticizing the NYT’s coverage, and both got rejected.

    The New York Times is complicit. Anthony Tommasini admitted as much, when he wrote recently he asked Levine during an interview decades ago about the rumors and let Levine’s dismissive response slide without further.

    There is a gay clique in the music world that protects each other, not intentionally, but subconsciously, in that there is a shared feeling that gays were unfairly targeted by rumors of pedophilia.

  • Nick2 says:

    I don’t fully agree with the comment at the start of this blog item. As I read it, the Met statement definitely does not say “In more than 40 years . . . nobody from the board or the management knew anything about it.”

    The one part of the official statement I find revealing is this:

    “The investigation also found that any claims or rumors that members of the Met’s management or its Board of Directors engaged in a cover-up of information relating to these issues are completely unsubstantiated.”

    Surely what is missing here is the phrase which should certainly have come after the words “rumors of the Met’s” – “present and all previous” with exactly the same wording used prior to “Board of Directors.”

    The statement therefore leaves the public in some considerable doubt about the actions of previous management staff and Board members. Then, as we are now witnessing in the case of Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump, the Report gives no clue as to possible aliases, were there – as has been alleged elsewhere – payments made by previous Board members possibly under different names. Did the writer even delve into those allegations and possible payments? We don’t know.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      In other words, the rumours may be true, and the Met may know them to be true (including the current board), but nobody has “substantiated” these claims by providing evidence that they are true.

      Of course, they may be untrue. (And although they have not been clearly stated to be untrue, I am willing to believe them to be untrue until such evidence is provided.)

  • anon says:

    It depends on what “engaged in a cover-up of information” means.

    If it means to pay someone off in exchange for silence, I doubt anyone did that, but if it means, as Peter Gelb did, told by the Illinois police, asked Levine about it, then decided not to inform the board or management or the chorus or the orchestra in order to protect them and their children, well, in my book, that is a cover-up.

  • Sharon says:

    Do you believe that Levine will put out any sort of a statement?

  • A member of the BSO lives near me. Back in 2003 or so, when Seiji Ozawa left as music director, the orchestra “auditioned” several guest conductors, and swiftly narrowed the list to Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos and James Levine. I asked my neighbor how he felt about those two. His response: “It’s great. We can choose between a Fascist and a pedophile.”

    So don’t try to tell me nobody knew. Everybody knew.

    • James says:

      Frubeck de Burgos a fascist? Please elaborate on this slander.
      He was very active in the US, Israel, Germany…all over the place, in fact.
      What is the BSO definition of a fascist? I bet it’s a lulu.

      • I don’t need to elaborate on anything — simply reporting what the BSO member said.

        Burgos actively worked under the Franco regime at a time when many musicians chose otherwise. What he believed personally hardly matters. The joke stuck to Burgos in part because his conducting style was rather dictatorial — an anachronism in today’s orchestras.

        Of course, American audiences and Boards rarely care about such things. Otherwise, Gustavo Dudamel would still be leading a youth orchestra in Caracas.

    • Ellen Freilich says:

      All that comment indicates is that a musician from the BSO can be stupid and cruel.

  • boringfileclerk says:

    How many past or current members of the orchestra and chorus exchanged “favors” with Levine for positions both tenured or not? Is this against the Met’s hiring practice? If not, it should be.

    • They’d have to be in the youth program.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      I am sure the music director does have any say in the appointment of chorus members of orchestral players? Can he veto an appointment?

      • Bill says:

        At least as far as orchestra members is concerned, the music director at the Met apparently does NOT have complete veto power, because the contract states that any Met audition will always result in a player being hired.

  • Reviewing the discussion about whether or not Levine’s behavior was criminal. Most organizations have rules barring sexual relationships between managers and the people who report to them. It does not matter whether the relationship is deemed to be consensual or not. Such relationships are poisonous for two reasons:

    (1) The imbalance of power makes it difficult to assess whether or not a relationship is truly consensual, and

    (2) Such relationships are poisonous, because they create an impression that some people have an unfair advantage.

    In most organizations, Levine would be subject to discipline — in many cases, it’s a firing offense. If management or the Board knew about it, they should have (a) told him to cut it out, and (b) fire him if he persisted.

    • Mark says:

      Mr. Dinsmore – such rules are a fairy recent phenomenon (I’ve drafted & reviewed some employee handbooks in my day). Sir Rudolph Bing married a dancer from the Met, and so did Joe Volpe. Anthony Bliss married one from the Joffrey Ballet. And who knows how many non-public affairs there were – probably hundreds ?

      • Standards are changing, agreed.

      • Sharon says:

        According to his autobiography Bing married his dancer wife in Europe ; they moved to England prior to the second world war and then to New York. I do not believe that she was working under him when they married
        Now Volpe, according to his autobiography married not one but two Met dancers!

        • Mark says:

          Simultaneously? I wonder how this harem thing worked out for him 😉

          • Sharon says:

            No. Not simultaneously! Volpe was divorced from one, according to him because he was too involved in his work, and then married another; the first before he became the executive director, although he was already working in an administrative capacity at the Met, and I believe the second after he became executive director
            If I recall, Bing claimed in his autobiography that when the Met performed in Philadelphia , which was at least once a month during the season for a number of years, his wife had to stay home to take care of their dog, and other females, mainly dancers, would accompany him to functions but he did not have an affair with any of them.
            Volpe in his autobiography said these Philadelphia trips became the breeding ground for many affairs “People got to know each other better, sometimes a lot better”

  • Marcus Clayton says:

    Personally, I doubt that the Met’s board were covering up Levine’s bad behavior for all these years. Surely they were aware of all the rumors, but probably not aware of any concrete, factual evidence of sexual abuse. I would think that Levine himself would have tried hard to keep this type of information from reaching the board.
    Also, if any of his victims were paid off over the years, Levine himself would surely have done so himself, not the board. Thus, the Met would have no “paper trail” of any pay-offs at all. I doubt that any more details of the Met’s investigation will be made public, but it is obvious to me that once the law firm Proskauer Rose started to investigate Levine, they surely came up with a lot of damning evidence against him, leading the Met to finally fire Levine once and for all.
    At least Gelb and the board finally did the right thing. Levine was there for decades too long and hogged much of the repertoire for years. He was a mediocre conductor at best. Good riddance I say. The Met is much better off without him.

    • Mark says:

      Mediocre conductor ? So you are deaf AND stupid ?

      • Marcus Clayton says:

        I am neither deaf nor stupid. I am a classically trained pianist, and in my opinion Levine was a mediocre conductor.

        • Mark says:

          “I am neither deaf nor stupid. I am a classically trained pianist”

          These are not mutually exclusive …

          • Stuart says:

            Mark, you have an uncanny way of undermining your own arguments. I disagree with Marcus’ belief that Levine was a mediocre conductor but defend his right to have that opinion. Resorting to name calling as you often do weakens your case. I have heard Levine in Mahler, Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Beethoven and Schoenberg that is anything but mediocre, and Marcus is entitled to his opinion even if I do not share it.

          • Mark says:

            @Stuart Yes, everybody is entitled to their opinions, including the opinions pertaining to other people’s intelligence

          • Bruce says:

            @Mark – and then other people get to form their opinions about yours, based on the information you provide them. Thanks for all the information! 🙂

          • Mark says:

            @Bruce – sure, happy to bring some joy into an old man’s life 🙂

          • Ellen Freilich says:


      • The View from America says:

        I agree with you that Maestro Levine is not a mediocre conductor. However, I think he was lionized far more than was warranted during his career.

        He’s a fine quality conductor, but many others are just as talented — most of whom have never received the same degree of star treatment over 3+ decades.

        • Stuart says:

          happy to agree, Mark.

        • La Verita says:

          “Just as talented” as Levine? Pray tell – who?

          • Larry W says:

            Yannick, for one.

          • Mark says:

            @Larry W
            Yannick ??? As talented as Levine ?????AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA !!!
            Thanks for being so entertaining!
            You are one funny fellow – do you do weddings or bar – mitzvahs ?

          • Larry W says:

            Die laughing. I’ll do your funeral for free.

          • Mark says:

            @Larry W
            Not before I dance at yours !

          • Larry W says:

            That makes about as much sense as your other comments. Zilch.

          • Mark says:

            @Larry W Baby, you don’t like me anymore ? I thought we had something good going here 😀 Well, ta ta, old boy, it’s been real 😉

          • Larry W says:

            It’s all clear now. You’re an ex-Levinite.

          • Mark says:

            @ Larry W Nope, old p…y, I am much too young for that. Always have and always will admire his talent. Don’t give a damn about your (or anyone else’s) moral vapors.
            The weak are meat and the strong do eat !

          • Larry W says:

            There is a difference between admiring talent and admiring immoral actions. I greatly enjoyed Levine as a conductor, and also his compliments to me personally.
            BTW, I could care less what meat you eat.

          • Yes Addison says:

            The “talent” of Levine only factors into the present discussion as regards what he could contribute to the Met from 2018 forward. That’s what we should be weighing: how much of a loss is this.

            Where complete performances of operas are concerned, there were significant limitations on him. Much of the music closely associated with him in his prime is beyond him now. Orchestra members reported they were “rely[ing] on intuition of what they thought he would want” (Michael Cooper, New York Times, 2016) during those shaky final Tannhaeusers. The prompter, chorus director, and concertmaster were having to take on responsibilities that should have been Levine’s, just to keep the performances from turning into a train wreck.

            What was he be entrusted with in recent times? Revivals of Mozart operas, some early and middle Verdi (Nabucco, Luisa Miller, Trovatore), L’Italiana in Algieri, Fledermaus.

            Now. How difficult it is to find someone who (1) can competently (or more) conduct scores such as Nabucco and Fledermaus, (2) isn’t getting paid two million a year to do it, (3) isn’t a semi-invalid with a neurological disorder that requires heavy medication, (4) isn’t a significant cancellation risk?

            Put out of your mind how great Levine may have been in 1976, 1985, 1994, or even 2003. That was a long time ago. In the present reality, most of what the man had to offer, most of the reason for keeping him around as a glorified and highly paid staff conductor, was a famous name. Now the name too has been tainted.

  • Ben says:

    I’d think virtually all parents over the age of 70 had exercised certain degree of ‘domestic violence’ against their kids. It could be a slap in the face, a whip on the butt with a ruler, or made one skipped dinner and cry. There was no concept of ‘domestic violence’ then —- it was called discipline and was considered acceptable.

    Not any more. Domestic violence is now an zero-tolerance crime.

    So all those righteous victims and social fighters: Let’s publish your accusations against your Dad and Mom to have their names tarnished and their life destroyed. That should make things right again. You would be doing the right things.

    • Sharon says:

      Domestic violence is considered to be violence against one’s spouse or partner; child abuse is considered to be violence against one’s child. The New York State child welfare regulations permit parents to hit their kids as long as they do not leave any marks, including black and blue marks or a reddened area. This means that they can swat only very lightly

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Seriously? How can you possibly compare over-the-top parental disciplining with sexual abuse and associated blackmail? Are you trolling?