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Former BSO Conductor James Levine Accused Of Sexual Abuse, Suspended By Metropolitan Opera

Conductor James Levine at a dress rehearsal for "Tosca " at the Metropolitan Opera in 2009.  (Mary Altaffer / AP)MoreCloseclosemore
Conductor James Levine at a dress rehearsal for "Tosca " at the Metropolitan Opera in 2009. (Mary Altaffer / AP)

The Metropolitan Opera on Sunday suspended James Levine, after several men accused the Met's longtime conductor and former music director of sexually abusing them decades ago, when they were teenagers.

The Met said in a statement Sunday it is suspending Levine from all activities related to the opera house while the allegations are being investigated, "following multiple allegations of sexual misconduct committed by Mr. Levine that took place from the 1960's to the 1980's, including the earlier part of his conducting career at the Met."

Met General Manager Peter Gelb added, "While we await the results of the investigation, based on these new news reports, the Met has made the decision to act now."

The Met's announcement of an investigation does not mention prior knowledge of the allegations but instead cites media reports as the inspiration for taking action.

A New York Times article reporting the suspension also describes in detail the allegations by three men who accuse Levine of abusing them in incidents dating as far back as 1968. According to that article, the Met learned of the new allegations from the Times on Sunday.

Levine, 74, led the Boston Symphony Orchestra between 2004 and 2011. The BSO said in a statement Sunday that it finds the allegations against Levine "deeply disturbing." The statement added that BSO management “was never approached by anyone in connection with inappropriate behavior by James Levine” during his tenure in Boston, and that the BSO “adhered to a due diligence process, including a personal and professional review” before it “decided to move ahead with his appointment.”

Levine's first accuser, now middle-aged, contacted the police department in Lake Forest, Illinois, in October 2016 to report that he'd had sexual contact with the conductor when he was under 18.

He said he was reaching out to police in Lake Forest because some of his encounters with Levine took place there in the mid-1980s. Levine served as music director at the Ravinia Festival, outside Chicago, from 1973 to 1993.

Details of the police report were first reported Saturday by the New York Post. Met officials said they learned of the police report last year.

"This first came to the Met's attention when the Illinois police investigation was opened in October 2016," the Met said in a statement. "At the time, Mr. Levine said that the charges were completely false, and we relied upon the further investigation of the police."

An email to Levine's manager seeking comment on the accusations was not immediately returned.

The original accuser, whose name is being withheld by The Associated Press, contacted reporters from several news organizations and posted a handful of items on social media accusing Levine of abusing him when he was young.

The Lake Forest department assigned a detective who spent at least seven months investigating the allegations, according to a redacted copy of her written reports on the case.

The accuser, who at the time was hoping for a career in music, told police the conductor had invited him to audition for him in New York and then encouraged him to engage in sexual "experimentation."

Levine also served as a mentor to the teenager, wrote a college recommendation essay, and gave him tens of thousands of dollars of cash, the Post writes.

There were "hundreds of incidents," the alleged victim said. The man, who says he is straight and that he was not aroused by any of their interactions, wrote in the report that he was "confused and paralyzed" by Levine's actions.

He also said that his relationship with Levine extended well into adulthood and that the composer gave him money over the years when he was having financial problems, amounting to more than $50,000.

The man told police he last spoke with Levine in 2014. At the time, he said, Levine said he wouldn't send him money anymore.

The Associated Press does not generally name alleged victims of sexual abuse without their consent. In this case, the man asked that his name not be published and declined to be interviewed on the record.

The New York Times reported on Saturday that it has also seen a copy of the police report, and confirmed the stories contained in the report with the alleged victim and with one of his relatives. The Times also noted that rumors of sexual misconduct have swirled around Levine, unconfirmed, for years.

The young man first told a relative about the abuse in 1993, the newspaper writes; he reported it to police in 2016, after realizing that Levine's behavior had negatively affected his life.

The allegations describe acts that would be criminal in Illinois, but the statute of limitations for sex crimes with children had expired by the time the police report was filed, the Post says.

The accusations against Levine, among the most prominent classical music conductors in the world, are the latest in a stream of sexual misconduct charges involving high-profile men in entertainment and the media that have rocked the nation since accusations against film mogul Harvey Weinstein were reported in October.

Levine served as music director of the Met from 1976 to 2016, when he assumed the position of music director emeritus.

Levine has struggled with health problems including Parkinson's disease in recent years but had been scheduled to conduct several productions this season.

With reporting by the Associated Press' Karen Matthews, NPR’s Camila Domonoske and WBUR's Ed Siegel.

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