New York – — A big question remains after renowned conductor James Levine was suspended from the Metropolitan Opera amid accusations of sexual abuse: Why did it take so long for the company to act after it was informed by police that he had been accused of sexually abusing a teenage boy?
The Met was in crisis mode Monday after The New York Times published interviews with three men who said that Levine, 74, had sexually abused them when they were teenagers.
The opera company said after the report Sunday that it was suspending its relationship with Levine, its music director from 1976 through 2016. As music director emeritus, Levine was still conducting and had been scheduled to lead upcoming productions, including a planned New Year’s Eve gala featuring Puccini’s “Tosca.” He conducted Verdi’s “Requiem” Saturday — a live, global radio broadcast that could well prove to be his last Met appearance. The first report of the allegations, in the New York Post, was published not long after the performance.
Those quick actions, however, came more than a year after a police detective in Illinois first reached out to the opera.
The detective from the department in Lake Forest, Illinois, first contacted the Met in October 2016 and said she was investigating an allegation made by a New York man, Ashok Pai, who reported that Levine sexually abused him in Illinois when he was 16.
The Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, said he briefed leaders on the opera company’s board about the investigation and also spoke to Levine, who denied the allegations. But at the time the Met took no action.
“The Met did not wish to interfere with the police investigation and thought it was the purview of the Illinois police department to follow through and question those who could corroborate (the) allegation,” the opera’s spokeswoman, Lee Abrahamian, said.
Possibly complicating the decision for the Met on whether to act against Levine was the fact that it had — for decades — been asked by reporters about persistent, unproven stories about his sexual habits and had always written them off as the product of an overactive rumor mill.
As part of its Sunday report on Levine, the Times unearthed a 1979 letter written by the Met’s executive director Anthony Bliss to a board member who had received an anonymous letter accusing Levine of misconduct.
“We do not believe there is any truth whatsoever to the charges,” Bliss wrote.
Bliss also suggested in his letter to John T. Connor that, perhaps, the allegations were driven by a vendetta against homosexuals.
“I do not believe that the existence of homosexuals within management, or for that matter on our Board, can be considered a cause for dismissal,” he said.
Levine himself addressed the rumors in The New York Times in 1987, recalling an old story that he had been arrested “in Pittsburgh or Hawaii or Dallas.”
“Both my friends and my enemies checked it out and to this day, I don’t have the faintest idea where those rumors came from or what purpose they served,” Levine said.
An author, Johanna Fiedler, also wrote about the Levine rumors in a 2001 book, “Molto Agitato: The Mayhem Behind the Music at the Metropolitan Opera,” commenting that inside the company “the stories were dismissed as preposterous.”
“Everybody in the classical music business at least since the 1980s has talked about Levine as a sex abuser,” said Greg Sandow, a faculty member at the Juilliard School and a widely respected veteran music critic. “The investigation should have been done decades ago.”
Gelb said Levine will not be involved in any Met activities while a lawyer hired by the opera conducts “a full and complete investigation.”
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