James Levine has sued the Metropolitan Opera for breach of contract and defamation, three days after the company fired him. The decision came after its independent investigation found that the conductor, whose relationship with the house spans 40 years, had “engaged in sexually abusive and harassing conduct both before and during the period when he worked at the Met”.

James Levine. 

The New York City lawsuit seeks more than $4 million for breach of contract and unspecified damages for defamation. As reported by The New York Times, it states that Levine’s contract as the Met’s Music Director Emeritus called for him to be paid an annual salary of $400,000 and $27,000 for each of his scheduled performances, all of which were cancelled by the house. The suit argues that Levine’s contract contained no provision for his firing or suspension.

It also states that the conductor “has clearly and unequivocally denied any wrongdoing in connection with those allegations”, and characterises the termination of his contract as the result of a plan by General Manager Peter Gelb to “oust Levine from the Met and completely erase his legacy from the organisation.”

The suit also accuses the Met of taking action at the prompting of “vague and unsubstantiated accusations in the press”, referring to reports by The New York Times and The New York Post.

“It was only upon learning that the allegations would be published in the press that the Met and Gelb, cynically hijacking the good will of the #MeToo movement, brazenly seized on these allegations as a pretext to end a longstanding personal campaign to force Levine out of the Met and cease fulfilling its legally enforceable financial commitments to him,” it says. “In the process, the Met and Gelb have attempted to tarnish the legacy of one of the world’s most renowned conductors, a man who devoted 46 years of his life to the Met.”

The Met has strongly denied Levine’s accusations in a statement:

“The Met terminated Mr. Levine’s contract on March 12, following an in-depth investigation that uncovered credible and corroborated evidence of sexual misconduct during his time at the Met, as well as earlier. It is shocking that Mr. Levine has refused to accept responsibility for his actions, and has today instead decided to lash out at the Met with a suit riddled with untruths.

“There is no basis for Mr. Levine’s assertion that the Met was on a vendetta against him, when in fact the Met supported him through prolonged and repeated periods of illness that kept him from the podium, at one point spanning two entire seasons (2011-12 and 2012-13). The Met only transitioned him from Music Director to Music Director Emeritus at the end of the 2015-16 season when it became obvious that Levine was no longer physically capable of carrying out his duties as Music Director.

“The Met continued to support him in the position of Music Director Emeritus, a position created especially for him, and only suspended its relationship with him when Levine was accused of multiple acts of sexual misconduct, charges that have been corroborated following a more than three-month investigation.”

“The Met intends to defend this case vigorously.”

The Metropolitan Opera suspended Levine and began its investigation in December after The New York Times and The New York Post published allegations of historic sexual misconduct made by three men. A fourth individual later claimed Levine had sexually abused him when he was a 20-year-old music student.