Conductor James Levine Sues Metropolitan Opera Over Firing, Claims Defamation

James Levine

Former Metropolitan Opera conductor James Levine filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court today against the Met for breach of contract and defamation. The lawsuit arrives three days after he was fired by the company after an investigation found that he had  “engaged in sexually abusive and harassing conduct.”

The lawsuit marks yet another chapter in the Levine saga. He was suspended in December following a report in the New York Times in which he was accused of sexual misconduct as far back as 1968, including an allegation that he was involved with a teenager.

The longtime conductor and figurehead was the famed organization’s Music Director Emeritus and Artistic Director of its young-artist program at the time of his suspension. He stepped down as music director in 2016.

The Met said an outside counsel has  “uncovered credible evidence that Mr. Levine had engaged in sexually abusive and harassing conduct both before and during the period when he worked at the Met. The investigation also uncovered credible evidence that Mr. Levine engaged in sexually abusive and harassing conduct towards vulnerable artists in the early stages of their careers, over whom Mr. Levine had authority.”

Today, Levine fired back. His lawsuit stated that he “denied any wrongdoing in connection with those allegations.” Further, it alleges his firing was part of a plan by the Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, “to oust Levine from the Met and completely erase his legacy from the organization.”

The suit seeks more than $4 million for breach of contract and unspecifie damages for defamation. Levine’s duties as music director emeritus carried an annual salary of $400,00, plus $27,000 for performances.

Levine’s suit also contends that the New York Times story made “vague and unsubstantiated accusations,” which caused the Met to start “cynically hijacking the good will of the #MeToo movement, brazenly seized on these allegations as a pretext to end a longstanding personal campaign to force Levine out of the Met and cease fulfilling its legally enforceable financial commitments to him. In the process, the Met and Gelb have attempted to tarnish the legacy of one of the world’s most renowned conductors, a man who devoted 46 years of his life to the Met.”

This evening, the Met is opening a new production of Mozart’s “Così Fan Tutte,” ironically a specialty of Levine’s that he had conducted in 2013 after returning from a spinal injury.

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