Longtime Met Opera maestro James Levine dead at 77

Longtime Metropolitan Opera conductor James Levine was one of the most prominent musicians to see his career ended in the #MeToo era
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James Levine, the influential conductor of New York's Metropolitan Opera who was ousted in disgrace over sexual abuse accusations, has died, his doctor said Wednesday. He was 77 years old.

Levine's doctor Len Horovitz told AFP the one-time classical music world luminary "died March 9 in Palm Springs of natural causes," confirming news first reported in The New York Times.

The Met Opera sacked its maestro of four decades in March 2018 after finding "credible evidence" that he sexually abused younger musicians.

Levine was one of the most prominent artists to see his career ended in the #MeToo era, a moment of reckoning especially in the world of media and entertainment, which was first triggered by furor over alleged abuse by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

The conductor was accused of preying on a string of vulnerable music students when he was a charismatic visiting instructor, with most cases dating back decades ago.

It marked a spectacular fall from grace for Levine, who became the Met's principal conductor in 1973 and music director in 1976, guiding it for more than 40 years.

- Abuse scandal -

Born in Cincinnati on June 23, 1943, Levine took up the piano at age four.

As an accomplished teenager he enrolled in the prestigious Juilliard School's graduate division, studying conducting under Jean Morel and receiving piano tutelage from Rosina Lhevinne.

He spent six years with the Cleveland Orchestra, first as an apprentice and later as an assistant conductor, developing a strong understanding of the inner workings of orchestration.

A legend in the opera world as the Met sought a wider public audience, Levine notably conducted some of the "Three Tenors" concerts that brought together Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti.

But in his later years a string of health issues hamstrung Levine.

In 2006 he fell off the Boston Symphony Orchestra stage, necessitating rotator cuff surgery. He later needed back surgery, had a cancerous kidney removed, and suffered a spine injury.

Struggling with Parkinson's disease, he had retired at the end of the 2015-16 season -- but stayed on in a role of music director emeritus and led a youth artist program.

In early December 2017 the Met swiftly suspended ties with Levine pending an investigation into allegations from three men, who said the powerful conductor sexually abused them when they were teenagers.

The group of accusers grew to nine, and the Met fired Levine on March 12, 2018, citing "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."

The opera house concluded it was "inappropriate and impossible" for Levine -- who denied the allegations and sued the institution for defamation, leading to a countersuit that was settled privately in July 2019 -- to continue working with the Met.

The Met acted quickly to move past the taint of Levine, appointing as his successor the youthful French Canadian Yannick Nezet-Seguin.

On Wednesday the New York institution said in a statement that it "honors" Levine's memory, citing his artistic achievements that included 2,500 performances of 85 different operas there.

"Despite his undeniable artistic achievements on behalf of the Met, his relationship with the company frayed in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct, and in 2018 he was removed from his position as Music Director Emeritus after a three-month investigation by outside counsel," the statement continued.

Levine's final Met appearance was conducting Verdi's "Requiem" in December 2017.


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