Thursday, March 15, 2018

Popcorn and Lawn Chair Time

Lincoln Center Fountain
Photo by Lisa Hirsch
February 28, 2018

Let me all encourage you to read Kalimac's excellent posting about James Levine, which he published earlier today. He took Johanna Fiedler's Molto Agitato: The Mayhem Behind the Music at the Metropolitan Opera out of the library and reports on what she had to say about Levine back in 2001. I will say no more; just read his post.

You might have thought that the Met's firing of Levine on Monday was the end of the story. Terry Teachout disagrees with this, as his column in the WSJ said. (I am not a subscriber and haven't read it yet.)

And today, well: James Levine is suing the Met, and that's the reason for my post title. The link is to Michael Cooper's article on the lawsuit.

First off, the lawsuit is for breach of contract and defamation. Items of note: As music director emeritus, Levine was to be paid $400,000/year for ten years, plus $27,000 for every performance he conducts. Usually, you can only get this sort of thing from an institution's 990 form, an IRS form filed by nonprofits that is available to the public. 

Second, the lawsuit states that Levine's contract contains no provision for the Met to fire or suspend him. Well, I'd love to see that contract! It's common for contracts of this type to contain morals clauses, which lay out behaviors for which one party can be fired. If I were the Met, and I had a good lawyer (and you bet they do), and I had heard the rumors about Levine, well, any contracts I had with him would contain such a clause.

Third, of course Levine is denying everything, as he has from the start. 

Fourth, there's this:
The lawsuit, filed in New York State Supreme Court, states that Mr. Levine “has clearly and unequivocally denied any wrongdoing in connection with those allegations,” and paints his firing as a result of an effort by the Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, “to oust Levine from the Met and completely erase his legacy from the organization.”
Let's stipulate that it just isn't possible to erase Levine's legacy from the organization. What could the Met do? Delete 2500 performances from the archive database? Round up every copy of every recording and video Levine made with the company and toss them in the Hudson?  Demand that the Times get rid of every review ever published of his performances?

UPDATE: A friend advises that the Met appears to have updated their website to remove Levine's name from the company history page and administration page. Okay, so he's no longer an administrator, but removing hims from the history page? However much they'd like to wash their hands of him, there he was, for 40+ years.[end update]

Seriously, they can remove his name from plaques and take down any portraits of him, but that's about it. The man's influence on the institution, for better and for worse, cannot be denied or erased.

As far as efforts to oust Levine from the Met: wow, that's going to be a tough one. I mean, it's entirely possible that Gelb wanted to remove Levine long ago. Levine's health problems would have been sufficient reason to move him out of the music directorship, and they have been evident for many years. The truth is that the Met kept him around long past the point when he should have been removed (or gently eased out....although my guess is that Levine fought, or would have fought, any attempts to ease him out).

Really, I hope this goes to trial. I can only imagine what will be turned up in discovery. Because Levine's suit discusses details of his contract with the Met, we might actually get to see the whole thing, and these contracts are super hush-hush. And one can imagine who might be deposed: Levine's victims? His long-time housemate / best friend Suzanne Thompson, a former oboist? 

Lastly, I'm waiting to see Levine file a defamation suit against the Boston Globe, over their story the other week. It sure looked well-sourced and well-reported to me, not like "vague and unsubstantiated accusations in the press."

1 comment:

Henry Holland said...

Having worked for lawyers and people who were involved with lawyers, I've learned that sometimes the best lawsuit is the one you don't file. As we've discussed before, Levine's attraction to high-school age guys were known even among the ticket-buyers of the Met since at least *the early 90's*. That they didn't send him to the slag heap of history a long time ago is a big mark against them. To attempt to erase that history now is utterly risible.

I also have zero patience with the Boston Symphony and their "Shocked! Shocked I tell you!" attitude towards his proclivities. If some of the companies I've worked for were as willingly clueless as the BSO were/are, they'd have been sued in to oblivion.