James Levine, the conductor who became the face of New York’s Metropolitan Opera and all but defined the public’s image of an orchestral maestro before his career crashed with allegations of sexual abuse, died March 9 in Palm Springs, California. He was 77.
His death was confirmed today by his physician Dr. Len Horovitz, who said Levine died of natural causes. No reason for the delayed announcement was specified.
Though he was associated with such prominent organizations as the Ravinia Festival, the Munich Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony Orchestra throughout his career, Levine’s most indelible and influential role was his 40-year leadership of the Met. He was the opera’s music director from 1976 to 2016 – save for a two-year health-related absence beginning in 2011 – and was instantly familiar from numerous television appearances even to those who never stepped foot inside Lincoln Center.
After retiring from the music director position in 2016, Levine was given the title Music Director Emeritus. He returned to the Met to conduct a matinee performance on Dec. 2, 2017, with news of misconduct allegations breaking later that night. The Met subsequently ended its association with Levine following an investigation.
The allegations stretched back decades and were made by nine men, who accused Levine of sexual harassment, groping and other abusive and predatory behavior that occurred when the accusers were students or beginning their careers. Levine denied the allegations and filed a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against the Met, which in turn countersued him. The litigation ended in a 2019 settlement in which the Met and its insurer paid Levine $3.5 million, reportedly due to the absence of a morals clause in his contract.
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