Metropolitan Opera maestro James Levine dead at 77; career ended with sex abuse scandal

Larry McShane
New York Daily News (TNS)
FILE - Boston Symphony Orchestra music director James Levine conducts the symphony on its opening night performance at Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass. on July 7, 2006. Levine, who ruled over the Metropolitan Opera for 4 1/2 decades before being eased out when his health declined and then fired for sexual improprieties, died March 9, 2021 in Palm Springs, Calif., of natural causes, his physician of 17 years, Dr. Len Horovitz, said Wednesday, March 17. He was 77. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

Conductor James Levine, a Metropolitan Opera fixture for more than four decades until his 2017 firing in a sexual abuse scandal, died of natural causes in California. He was 77.

Levine, diagnosed in 2016 with Parkinson’s disease, passed away on March 9 in Palm Springs, according to his doctor, He was suspended in December 2017 amid allegations of sexual misconduct dating back to the 1960s, with an investigation by the Met uncovering credible proof of abuse and harassment during his decadeslong association with the opera.

He was officially fired on March 12, 2018, although he prevailed in a legal battle with the Met and received a reported $3.5 million settlement one year later. Prior to his downfall, Levine received a National Medal of Arts and a Kennedy Center Honor along with eight Grammy Awards.

He was also elected in 2020 as an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

The young piano prodigy debuted with the Cincinnati Orchestra in 1953 before arriving in New York eight years later as a conducting student at the Juilliard School. His professional career began in 1965 with the Cleveland Orchestra, and Levine first arrived at the Met in 1971.

Levine became the Met’s principal conductor two years later, advancing to the role of musical director in 1975 and artistic director in 1986.

But his career was derailed by the 2017 allegations of sexual abuse from three men with claims of Levine’s predatory behavior when they were teens. A total of nine men eventually came forward with public accusations against Levine.

The sordid charges sounded a sour note for a distinguished career. Levine conducted an extensive 1996 world tour with “The Three Tenors” — Luciano Pavarotti, Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo. He was widely hailed for his work with the student orchestras at the Tanglewood Music Center, the summer home of the Boston Symphony.

Levine conducted 2,552 performances at the Met while dictating its repertoire, orchestra and singers while serving as either music or artistic director between 1976 and 2016.