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Renowned US opera conductor facing allegations he sexually abused teenage boy

James Levine won 10 Grammy Awards over the course of his career.

Image: Michael Dwyer AP/PA Images

THE METROPOLITAN OPERA announced yesterday 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 world’s most prestigious opera companies.

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.

The probe is based on a 2016 Illinois police report, the Met said. But Levine, now 74, continued to work there until now. He conducted a performance of Verdi’s Requiem at the Lincoln Center yesterday.

“At the time, Mr Levine said that the charges were completely false, and we relied upon the further investigation of the police,” the Met said, referring to last year’s police report.

“We need to determine if these charges are true and, if they are, take appropriate action.”

The report indicated Levine’s alleged abuse of the unnamed man began in 1985 when he was 15, according to The New York Times and New York Post.

Levine, who was in his early 40s at the time, was said to have driven him home and stopped the car in his family’s driveway.

“He started holding my hand in a prolonged and incredibly sensual way,” the alleged victim told the Times, saying the abuse escalated the following summer.

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 aspired to become a conductor, said the abuse continued until 1993 and pushed him to the brink of suicide.

“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.

‘Alone and afraid’

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.

The man told the Post that 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 $50,000 in cash over the years, the Post said.

- © AFP, 2017

Read: Filming on House of Cards suspended for another 2 weeks

Read: Met Police investigating second claim of sexual assault against Kevin Spacey

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