James Levine, the longtime music and artistic director of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, forced out in 2018 after investigations of sexual predation, has died at 77.
Levine conducted at the Met for 47 years and led more than 2,500 performances. He also was music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (2004-11), the Munich Philharmonic (1999-2004) and the Ravinia Festival, summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1973-93). He guest-conducted many of the leading US and European orchestras, and performed as a pianist.
The Cincinnati-born son of a onetime swing bandleader and a former actress, Levine studied at the Juilliard School and began his conducting career in the early 1960s as an assistant to George Szell at the Cleveland Orchestra. He made his Met debut in 1971, conducting Puccini’s “Tosca.”
His pursuit of younger men, although widely talked about in the classical-music world, was not the subject of public charges until 2017, when several men came forward to say he had pursued or harassed them decades earlier, when they were young musicians. An investigation for the Met in 2018 concluded that Levine had made unwanted advances and treated artists as “prey,” leading to his dismissal.
By that time, he had been largely absent from Met performances for several years due to failing health.
Levine’s private behavior was long shielded by his sterling reputation as a conductor and maestro of opera productions. His Met years, especially in the 1980s and ’90s, are considered a golden age for the company. The MET Orchestra, as it was styled for concert series, won acclaim as one of the finest symphonic ensembles in the US.
The conductor’s many opera recordings with the Met and other companies and symphonic recordings with the orchestras of Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Vienna and Berlin have been rated as reference versions of repertory ranging from Mozart to Mahler.
An obituary by The New York Times’ Anthony Tommasini:
Conductor Kenneth Woods delivers a scorching assessment of Levine the man, the artist and the commodity: “an almost completely horrible person, with a single, tragic talent.” The comment thread following Woods’ essay is worth reading, too: