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Sexual harassment and assault

New York Met Opera investigates claims star conductor James Levine molested teen boy

Since an avalanche of sexual assault allegations broke against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in early October, a torrent of misconduct claims have shattered the careers of a growing list of powerful men.

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 December, 2017, 10:45am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 December, 2017, 7:30pm

The Metropolitan Opera announced it would investigate claims that its music director sexually abused a teenage boy decades ago, as the US avalanche of misconduct allegations spread to classical music.

“We are deeply disturbed by the news articles that are being published online today about James Levine,” said the New York house, one of the most prestigious opera companies in the world.

“We are working on an investigation with outside resources to determine whether charges of sexual misconduct in the 1980s are true, so that we can take appropriate action,” it added.

Accusations from a unnamed man, printed in The New York Times and New York Post, quoted a 2016 Illinois police report as saying the alleged abuse began in 1985, when the alleged victim was 15-years-old.

The now 48-year-old man reportedly told police in Lake Forest that Levine would masturbate naked in front of him and kiss his penis.

The alleged victim, who dreamt of a career as a conductor, said the abuse continued until 1993 and lead him to the brink of suicide.

The newspapers said opera company officials were informed of the allegations in 2016 - but Levine continued to work. He conducted a performance of Verdi’s “Requiem” at the Lincoln Centre on Saturday.

“He inflicted shame and guilt on me,” the Post quoted the alleged victim as having told police. “Emotionally I have been hurt by this and confused and paralysed.”

A titan in classical music, Levine made his Met debut in 1971, going on to lead more than 2,500 performances of 85 different operas, and working with greats like Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo.

He was music director at the Met for 40 years before retiring at the end of the 2015-16 season for health reasons - he has Parkinson’s disease - but has stayed on as music director emeritus.

The allegations cannot be criminally prosecuted as the state’s statute of limitations has expired. No charges have been brought.

The newspapers said the man first met the maestro as a four-year-old at the Ravinia Music Festival in Chicago’s posh North Shore suburbs, where Levine was guest conductor for decades.

Over the years, Levine would send him gifts such as conductors’ batons and in 1985, drove him home and stopped the car in his family’s driveway, they reported. Levine was then 41.

“He started holding my hand in a prolonged and incredibly sensual way,” the alleged victim was quoted as saying.

The man reportedly said Levine first fondled his penis when he was aged around 16 at a luxury hotel in Lake Forest, which he claimed was the scene of “hundreds of incidents” over the years.

The alleged abuse “nearly destroyed my family and almost led me to suicide. I felt alone and afraid. He was trying to seduce me. I couldn’t see this. Now I can,” the Post quoted him as telling police.

Since a torrent of sexual assault allegations broke against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in early October, a torrent of misconduct claims have shattered the careers of a growing list of powerful men, including Oscar winner Kevin Spacey, comedian C.K. Louis and morning television news anchors Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose.

Nominated for 37 Grammy Awards and winner of 10, Levine also conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for Disney’s Fantasia 2000 movie.

The alleged victim said the encounters continued until 1993, some of them taking place in New York, and that Levine gave him US$50,000 in cash over the years, the Post said.