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Culture

James Levine: The Fall of 'America's Top Maestro'

After a suspension in December, the Met's investigation concluded that Levine had to go.

Nate Jackson · Mar. 16, 2018

The cultural purge of sexual miscreants continued this week with the firing of former Metropolitan Opera conductor James Levine. He may not be well known to many grassroots Americans, but Levine was a titan in the world of classical music, once dubbed by Time magazine as “America’s Top Maestro.” Unfortunately, his story is a familiar one — a man in a position of power, a gatekeeper for up-and-coming talent, exploited that position to abuse those under his authority or influence. We saw it with Hollywood’s Harvey Weinstein, NBC’s Matt Lauer, Fox News’s Roger Ailes and so many others.

As with them all, Levine’s story included a lot of enabling and looking the other way. Worse yet, it involved young people. In this respect, it calls to mind the awful crimes committed by former Penn State University football coach Jerry Sandusky.

Levine was suspended in December pending the results of an investigation, after which the Met issued a statement saying that it had “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. In light of these findings, the Met concludes that it would be inappropriate and impossible for Mr. Levine to continue to work at the Met.” His pedophilia wasn’t the kind that even Hollywood could celebrate.

The Met also professed its ignorance of behavior that allegedly went all the way back to 1968, before he took over there. The board supposedly found no evidence supporting “any claims or rumors that members of the Met’s management or its Board of Directors engaged in a coverup of information relating to these issues.” Sure, and as Merrie Soltis wryly quipped, “Everyone was shocked to hear that there was gambling in Casablanca.” Indeed, The New York Times reports that one board member was made aware of accusations in 1979. Nothing came of it.

Levine was surrounded by people who didn’t speak up because they were either desperate to make it in the classical world or reluctant to stain the institution he ran — an institution that costs $300 million a year to run and depends on generous donors who would rightly be repulsed by Levine’s conduct. Thus it took a series of other #MeToo dominoes to fall before anyone could dethrone him. And his many victims were left picking up the pieces.

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