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Former Met Conductor James Levine Files Defamation Suit

Although the #MeToo movement gained significant ground with prominent actresses in Hollywood, they’ve made it clear that Tinsel Town is hardly the only place where this kind of alleged abuse and misogyny take place. On the other side of the country, a recent investigation into James Levine, the former music director of the Met Opera in New York City, found that he had been guilty of sexual misconduct throughout his career, particularly towards young singers and artists over whose careers he had significant control. Levine is disputing these findings and had sued the Met for libel.

Levine worked at the Met for more than 40 years and had been hailed as one of the most beloved conductors of all time, but shortly after celebrating the milestone anniversary, Levine began to suffer from health problems that interfered with his abilities to fulfill all his duties as music director. He had to step down as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and suffered an injury that prevented him from conducting at the Met for two years, although he was kept on as music director. After his return to the podium, singers and musicians had reported that Levine had recently become erratic and hard to follow in his conducting.

Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, has allegedly been trying to get Levine to step down as music director of the Met for the past few years. Levine was just recently fired after a company investigation found significant evidence that Levine was guilty of sexual misconduct, both before and during his time at the Met. The investigation came after reports of such misconduct were published in prominent newspapers.

Levine responded by suing the Met for breach of contract and defamation. He denies the allegations of sexual misconduct, although the complaint does point out that his contract did not contain a “morality clause.”

Levine’s contract stated that he was to continue as music director through the summer of 2019. When he was suspended while the company conducted its investigation into the claims of misconduct against him, Levine’s attorneys sent letters to the Met demanding that he be allowed to conduct the performances for which he had been scheduled.

In his lawsuit against the Met, Levine’s complaint alleges his firing has nothing to do with his conduct and everything to do with Gelb’s continued attempts to force Levine out of his position so Gelb could have more control over the opera company. He accuses Gelb of name calling, making explicit references to Levine’s weight, and repeatedly expressing concerns (to the music director’s face) that Levine would collapse from a heart attack while conducting.

Gelb had also spoken to Levine about the possibility of stepping down to music director emeritus, but Levine had refused. Under Levine’s current contract, which was drawn up in 2015, the company was given the opportunity to make him music director emeritus if he proved unable to perform all his duties.

The Met released a statement in response to the lawsuit, saying it was shocking that Levine had chosen to lash out with lies about the opera company, rather than accept responsibility for his actions.

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