Re Met Conductor James Levine: I Know, I Know, “The King’s Pass”…But What’s The Matter With People?

The Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck took a cultural turn and visited the New York Metropolitan Opera yesterday. James Levine, the Met’s legendary conductor for four decades, allegedly molested a teenager in the 1980’s. The allegations were described in a police report that was filed in 2016. A man stated that he met Levine as a 15 year-old child when Levine was a conductor at the Ravinia Music Festival in Illinois. Beginning the next year, when Levine was 42 and the boy was 16, the conductor  touched the teenager’s genitalia and masturbated in his presence. The sexual relations involved hundreds of incidents and lasted for years, according to the allegations. Levine also served as a mentor to the teenager, wrote a college recommendation essay, and gave him tens of thousands of dollars of cash.  The man says he is straight and that  he was “confused and paralyzed” by Levine’s actions.

Now the Met says it is investigating. But I have more…

Today I attended a performance of an opera, and by chance happened to chat with one of the opera company’s board members. I asked him if he had heard about Levine. He said he didn’t know what I was talking about. After I summarized the story above, he said (I’m paraphrasing):

“I hadn’t heard about that, but it’s no surprise. I performed in the Met  chorus in the Eighties and Nineties when I lived in New York. Everyone knew that Levine fooled around with teenaged boys. I’m pretty sure the Met paid off some of them.”

After I heard this–at the time, there was only one man making one accusation—it was reported that the Met suspended Levine, because three more men came forward saying that they had been abused by the conductor as teens.

Now, as the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List explains, “The King’s Pass” (or the Star Syndrome), organizations often reason that their high-level performers should be allowed to get away with bad conduct that would never be tolerated in a lesser employee. They think that the unethical, or even criminal, individual is so important  to their organizations that they will be better off keeping him or her excelling in their jobs than if the organizations exhibit integrity and hold them accountable. Thus we get Hollywood, actors and actresses, and Democratic politicians who wanted his cash contributions allowing Harvey Weinstein to keep abusing and even raping women for decades. We get NBC enabling Matt Lauer. We get Fox News ignoring serial abuse by Bill O’Reilly.  We get Penn State pretending Jerry Sandusky wouldn’t hurt a fly, or unzip one.  I get the syndrome.  I know the warped but persuasive logic behind it.

But here is the Metropolitan Opera Company, enabling a man who was molesting children, it seems. These weren’t callous business types, cynical politicians, Hollywood scum, shallow jocks whose priorities revolve around x’s, o’s and national rankings, or greedy media moguls. This is an arts organization, an entity dedicated to making the world more beautiful and more civilized. Its board—and there are women on that board, and parents— is supposed to be made up of the best of us—philanthropists, scholars, the genteel, the generous, the beneficent, the wise.

And the Met looked the other way while their conductor was molesting teenagers?

I don’t get it.



61 thoughts on “Re Met Conductor James Levine: I Know, I Know, “The King’s Pass”…But What’s The Matter With People?

  1. “Its board—and there are women on that board, and parents— is supposed to be made up of the best of us—philanthropists, scholars, the genteel, the generous, the beneficent, the wise.”

    I guess the lesson is that, over time, every organization ends up with people in control who are more interested in their positions than in the organization’s purpose.

  2. Jack, Jack. It’s just pederasty. The Greeks did it, for God’s sake. Get a life. Who in the arts is straight? But they’re ALL just wonderful people? Didn’t you learn anything from the gay rights movement. Wake up.

    But seriously. I was deposed by a U.S. attorney once and another lawyer at the deposition was talking to me during a break and somehow Leonard Bernstein’s name came up. The guy turned white as a sheet and nearly broke into a sweat. Lenny evidently had a reputation with young boys as well and this guy had evidently been given the Bernstein as a young guy.

    And for God’s sake. You’ve been laboring away in the theater your entire life.

      • These guys and their enablers in these arts organizations are reprehensible. They give decent gay guys a bad rep. It’s awful.

        • Is it fair to continue using the “ethics train wreck” label when awful people are exposed for being the awful people they are? It seems to conflate “witch hunt” with legitimate investigations of criminal activity. Confusing.

          • Note the distinction betweeen being run over by the train and boarding it. The definition of an ethics train wreck is an episode where large numbers of individuals who become involved in any way end up breaching ethical principles. The Met Board boarded. Levine got run over.

            • But what about the ethical failures Levine engaged in for decades? Are those not part of the equation? Shouldn’t they be taken into account? All Harvey Weinstein did was give the situation a name?

              • Harvey set up the witch hunt/terror, the apologies, the rationalizations, the double standards. Incomplete passenger list: NPR, the Met, NBC, NPR, Hillary, Gwyneth Paltrow, Brad Pitt, Obama, Rep. Clyburn, Netflix, Angela Lansbury, Teen Vogue, The View, Savannah Guthrie, Al Roker, the Congressional Black Caucus, Nancy Pelosi, the women of SNL, all the NPR supporters who are pulling their donations to protest Keillor’s firing; all the organizations pulling previous awards, John Conyers’ wife, Ridley Scott, Sulu….

                • I guess I’ve come to think of this as an “Ethics Dogpile.” Bad acts and bad actors piling on top of each other. No train has been ruined and nothing’s been damaged by being run into. Just a growing heap of bodies gleefully piling up on the infield.

        • Oh, I think arts organizations are extremely susceptible to this sort of corruption. The employees are just paid employees with no ownership stake. They need the salaries. But more important, they need and crave the prestige, since there’s really not that much money in these jobs. Then the board members are only in it for the prestige and the veneer of being associated with artistic “types.” They use their money to purchase the creative cache. They’d be the last people on earth to come down hard on anyone with any real talent like Levine or any number of other super talented people. So it’s not money driven like Hollywood, it’s ego and prestige driven. Which are both currencies as highly sought after as plain old lucre.

          • Kind of getting into a whole other topic, but I’d go so far as to say that the entire concept of the “highbrow” is in many respects a sham, motivated by a desire for the wealthy to distinguish themselves from the commoners by having a unique style inaccessible to the poor. In the past this separation was easy (the rich could take baths and wear colorful clothes, the poor couldn’t) but capitalism has closed the gap the the point that the new status symbols are weird tastes, non-traditional political and religious beliefs, and overpriced fashions, foods, and arts that aren’t necessarily objectively better, but cost more.

            • I think OB and Isaac have hit it. The Met, and the arts community it sits at the pinnacle of, does not deal only in profit, nor in as large amounts as Hollywood, but it deals in large enough amounts, and it deals in prestige. Performers like Luciano Pavarotti and Renee Fleming still do or did command seven figure fees, and decent tickets are still well beyond the reach of Joe Average.

              Of course the “base” isn’t big enough to sustain all this on its own, for every die-hard opera fan who is up on all the gossip and says with complete authority that whoever has never sung better tonight, there are a dozen ordinary people who run screaming from it or scoff at it as overblown feelings and uninteresting storytelling set to overblown music. So the places like the Met and the Kennedy Center rely strongly on art grants, public and private, and on donations.

              Corporations and politicians alike, eager to virtue signal and show they care to keep these “cultural treasures” around, are happy to dish out the money and plaster their logos and likenesses all over the programs and venues, and those who have money to spare are happy to get their names in the programs and spend yet another evening rubbing shoulders with artists while drinking glasses of wine that cost more than entire meals and making jokes about what an idiot the president is.

              The dirty little secret is that they look the other way on transgressions by members of this community as much or more than the Hollywood crown or the DC inner circle look the other way when one of their own breaks the rules. They look the other way because if half the nonsense about Levine, or Bernstein, or Kathleen Battle’s snooty and difficult ways, or Pavarotti’s philandering, or a dozen other performers’ serial affairs both straight and gay, or their attitudes toward lower level staffers, was to come out, the general public would quite rightly ask “what the hell is going on here?” and the gravy boat would sink.

              James Levine’s propensities were well known by those who followed opera almost 30 years ago, but, because the internet was in its infancy and he was at the height of his power and influence, accusers were not given an audience and the papers and TV stations swept anything that emerged under the rug as “just ugly rumors.” Now his star is fading and the facts about other powerful circles are starting to come out, and a lot of what he did, and got away with, earlier is coming home to roost. Of course now his career is just about over and the statute of limitations has run on his criminal activity, so all that will happen is that he will fade, in disgrace but comfortably, into retirement. I’m sure he long ago shielded his assets by setting up James Levine, Ltd or something like that against just such an occasion.

              However, $10 says that somewhere a new-fledged exec who just brought in a big grant to some opera company is pressing a cute secretary in the office for a date long after she told him to leave her alone, somewhere a rising conductor is pinching the hot violinist’s butt when she isn’t expecting it, and somewhere some sterling new tenor is still doing the European kiss-on-both-cheeks greeting with every good looking woman in the entourage, even after they’ve told him to cut it out. Maybe some complain, but I’d lay $100 that the CEO or chairman of that opera company, at least until now, is just telling the secretary to keep turning the jerk down until he gets the message. I’d bet the same that the board of that orchestra, until now, has told the violinist that maestro is “just that way” and has done quite well for them, so she needs to look out for herself. I’d likewise bet that the powers that be in whatever organization is touring Luciano 2.0 around the world are telling the lady staffers that yeah, the prince of the high Cs is acting like a jerk, but he’s putting butts in seats and making the cash register go ka-ching, so they’d appreciate it if the ladies would just play along.

              These are the people they need to go after now. That CEO needs to haul that exec in his office and tell him if he bothers that secretary one more time he will be fired publicly and never work in this area again, even if it means they will fall short this season. The board of the orchestra needs to tow that conductor in front of them, without a chair, and tell him in no uncertain terms that if his hands wander again the only people he’ll be waving them in front of will be his own family, even if it means cancelling the rest of the season. Whoever is touring this tenor needs to pull his butt into an office, tell him to wipe that smirk off his face, and then make it very clear to him that if he doesn’t listen to the ladies, no audience will listen to him again, even if it means stopping a tour right in the middle and giving a lot of refunds. This just might give those people the courage to do it.

            • Agreed, Isaac. I think it’s a way for wealthy people to do what the nobility did in earlier times(certainly through the nineteenth century). The arts could not have survived without royal patronage.

      • I was at a pool party with Bernstein. (My mom sang with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus every summer and he had been a guest conductor). He was surrounded by very pretty, young boys. I was only about 13 at the time but I could sense then that something was “off” about it. I didn’t understand it but it made a young, 13 year old me, uncomfortable.

        • Eee-yech! It’s one thing for him to be bisexual, which he eventually gave up on trying to conceal, but what amounts to pederasty? Where were the boys’ parents? Heck, where was his wife, or had she already passed out of the picture by then?

          • I don’t know Steve. I was quite young. And naive. But this was a huge pool party out in the Berkshires at the home of a very wealthy benefactor. There were a lot of people milling around. I’m guessing Bernstein was in his late 50s at the time and the “boys” I’m guessing were of legal age, but by a day. His wife may have already moved on by that point.

            • LS, I think girls have evolved over the eons to have an awareness of all sorts of things at a very early age. Some sort of survival instinct. My eleven year old grand daughter doesn’t seem to miss much.

            • Alcohol was probably flowing freely, too. Disgraceful. Old, wrinkled men nearly naked around nearly naked kids not of their own family. Ugh.

              • And I’m sure for the rest of the adults there, they were happy to look the other way in order to later have the bragging rights of having partied with Leonard Bernstein.

                • I am also sure. I am just as sure MANY people looked the other way on slimy behavior in order to have the bragging rights of having been on a yacht with a real live Kennedy.

                  • It is just groupeeism. I was watching a video this weekend discussing the teenage groupies that rock groups slept with. You have to wonder the same thing, why would parents let 13 year-old girls go to a rock concert alone, or allow them to go backstage with the band? The video included statements from the girls about how thrilled they were to lose their virginity to well-known rock stars. Luckily for those stars, they didn’t go into politics or they would be drummed out on this train.

  3. The more I think of it, the more I don’t see any evidence that there’s any causal connection (either way) between ethics/good nature/decency and a high level of intelligence/sophistication. Some of history’s greatest monsters, past and present, were and are highly intelligent, cultured, and refined. I don’t doubt that there’s a lot of correlation/overlap, perhaps because being virtuous tends to pull a person (and his progeny) out of poverty, especially the virtue of delayed gratification/self-control. But as often as not it’s just cannibals patting one another on the back for having knives and forks.

    • It goes both ways. Julius Streicher was a crude pig, and Herman Goering a one-time dashing cavalier past his prime, but Reinhard Heydrich was a modern black knight, complete with chess and piano abilities. Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky were both supposedly accomplished academics, the smartest people of all, but have been nothing but gadflies to the leadership. Andrew Jackson was a crude frontiersman, but one of the better presidents. Refinement often goes with privilege, and privilege often goes with arrogance and using others. For a time I was involved with a woman from a rich family who was the epitome of grace, refinement, and well-spokenness, but it was all just a veneer over an emotional vampire, who liked to use the decent, but liked playing bad, screwing bad, and ultimately marrying bad, although not too bad.

  4. I do not get it either. I have worked with young people for 30 years and have never crossed the line. I had a student once report me for sexual harassing her as I had assigned her to do. A scene from star spangled girl in class. The character in the piece, Is being sexually harassed I always thought the piece is a good way to discuss the issue ( I had hoped to direct the play for a certain company before it folded ) full disclosure I am in no way sexually interested in women, Never have been so some of my coworkers and friends though this was a hoot. I was extremely bothered by it. How could I be misinterpreted to be thought to be harassing. The other incident was when I was teaching a theatre movement class and repositioned a young man into a proper stance ( fortunately I had another teacher in the room that could and did witness that nothing more then my working to prevent injury was going on) I will never teach movement, mime, or improvisational theatre again without another adult present for my own protection. People working in the arts training younger artists are constantly put in positions that require the they be beyond reproach, Every time I have heard instances of this trust being broken my heart has broken for the young person effected. The abuse of power in all the sighted cases has been devastating to me me as I feel our culture is in trouble. Many of our role models are showing themselves to have never been ready for the responsibility. The culture of open secrets is one that should have never been tolerated weather it be in the church, the arts, politics, sports, or business. Comphensive sex education should include making it clear that this predatory behavior is unexceptable. Yes I know that famous relationships have come out of teacher/ student relationships but those examples are problematic as there is to much chance of abuse in a relationship that starts with a power imbalance! Relationships should be equals if sex is involved in our modern society anything else harkens back to the days when wives and children were regarded as property. One would hope those days are gone!

  5. But here is the Metropolitan Opera Company, enabling a man who was molesting children, it seems. These weren’t callous business types, cynical politicians, Hollywood scum, shallow jocks whose priorities revolve around x’s, o’s and national rankings, or greedy media moguls. This is an arts organization, an entity dedicated to making the world more beautiful and more civilized. Its board—and there are women on that board, and parents— is supposed to be made up of the best of us—philanthropists, scholars, the genteel, the generous, the beneficent, the wise. [my emphasis]

    What’s the source of your confusion? That our self-styled “betters,” who want all the “right” things for society and the world can be corrupted by the same pressures that can and do corrupt us proles (things like shame, fear, loathing, anger, etc.)? I left out greed because you’ve suggested that’s too base a motivation for them, and I’m not in a position to dispute that.

    Or is it the likely possibility that those “betters” don’t think the rules of civilized behavior apply to them if they turn out to be inconvenient or interfere with their beneficence? After all, they are “betters,” n’est ce pas?

    Let me count the likely rationalizations at play:

    -King’s pass (already mentioned);
    -The Dissonance Drag;
    -The Saint’s excuse;
    -The Perfection Diversion;
    -Ethics accounting;
    -Woody’s Excuse;
    -Victim Blindness;
    -The Abuser’s License;
    -The Hippie’s license;

    There are probably more.

    I think I get it, though. They are human beings. Their high-mindedness does not insulate them from human weaknesses.

    • I’m still getting used to some of the terms, but it seems there might be an element here of the Ruddigore Fallacy, or at least a variation of it, in combination with the King’s pass. Those in control of an organization cover up bad behavior because they believe their organization is so important and does so much good for society, the arts, the political party, the church, etc., that it cannot afford to be tarnished by a bad actor. Once there is public knowledge of enough allegations, and in today’s climate, one might be enough, then the organization must act to preserve the illusion of ethicality. The King’s pass no longer applies and the villain must be removed, because, after all, that person does not ‘represent who we are.’

      • Well, certainly the villain in this case must be removed, or the Met will likely fail. The big question is, can they survive his exposure? I’m not sure.

        No doubt there was ethics accounting involved, at the very least, and the King’s Pass. I listed others that likely cropped up along the way as well, because they are often related to situations like this.

  6. It’s not just the wealthy arts organizations. I work for a community theater. Granted, we are a large community theater producing 16-18 productions a year with a $600K budget – which ain’t bad for a community theater. But I digress…

    We rely heavily on volunteers; especially volunteers with technical expertise. Our sound guy at the time was 30-something with a penchant for flirting with and photographing the teenage girls.

    I walked into the director’s office one night, closed the door, and told him if he didn’t do something, the theater he had worked so hard to build would come crashing down on his head. But the theater was desperate, you see. Find another sound engineer who would be willing to donate his talents 40-50 hours during show week? On top of their full time job?

    Nope. Instead, as stage manager, I would end up babysitting a 30 year old man and be constantly on the lookout for where he was, what he was doing, who he was talking to, what he was photographing, and constantly telling him to get the hell out of the green room.

    • Donation of talent to that level was probably the price he was willing to pay to be near this bevy of young beauties. I know, I am ashamed to admit that I devoted more time and money than I really could have or should have afforded setting up a show featuring a budding soprano I knew online in an attempt to build a friendship long after it was obvious she was happy to take the money and the opportunity, but not interested in being friends.

    • Very illustrative story. If it’s theater and performing arts, this is inevitable. This is why a lot of volunteers get involved in the first place. One of my few horrible experiences in the theater was with a venerable DC charity show organization. The board made a big deal about the tradition of the kickline number. While the show’s origins and the number traced back to college drag shows like the Hasty Pudding show at Harvard, in which the kicklines were low comedy and satire (and chances for some gay students to have a thrill), the number was all female and with skimpy costumes. I quickly realized, from chatter and observation, that the older men on the board relished ogling the young women during rehearsals and in the dressing rooms: it was disgusting. (The women knew it, too.) Since I thought the concept was stale and because of this icky feature, I cut the number. The brass was furious, as were many male club members. Even though the show was a financial success, I was and am a historical villain in the organization’s lore, for this as well as my open hostility to the culture of the group.

      Naturally, the kickline was back the next year.

  7. You don’t get it? EVERY organization, corporation, and law firm does this. They only get rid of these guys when they become a liability. Women know this — we learn this lesson young. Sometimes children are injured too — unconscionable.

    • No, they only get rid of these guys when they become a liability that outweighs their value to the organization. If they ARE the organization, though, that’s a problem.

    • Every organization does NOT do this. That’s ridiculous. For example, the ones I ran didn’t. It is entirely dependent on leadership and integrity.

      The two major associations I worked with DID do it, and in both cases, a prime miscreant was my boss. In one case my testimony helped get the guy fired; in the other, I personally warned and counseled his targets when I became aware of them.

          • I was talking with a bunch of my mom friends this weekend. They mostly have sons (ages 6-8). They were saying that they have so many penis conversations with their boys — when it is okay to touch your penis, where it is okay to touch your penis, that you never touch anyone else’s penis, etc. This conversation was completely foreign to me since I only have girls. It made me wonder if sexual predators come from homes with bad parenting. I mean, if your mom and dad never told you that it was wrong to take out your penis at school, maybe your brain gets wired the wrong way and you turn into Weinstein or Lauer? I just don’t know.

            • The natural instinct of boys past 7 or so is to be modest and ashamed to display their penises. The greater risk is making them pathological about it and creating sexual and gender dysfunction.

  8. It is easy to cloak ones self in an aura of civilized gentility in the arts. These are the polished, the refined, the pillars of our community for they are the ones who philanthropically and artistically wash the multitudes of the unwashed. It is easier to keep the dirty little secrets hidden than to face the realization that many in their affinity group are often uncivilized bastards in their private performances, with some being real predators.

          • If it were just 10 times more, heck, only twice as much, wouldn’t someone, anyone, would be screaming about it from on high?

            And someone as aware of these things as yourself would be saying more than “I don’t doubt that”?

            I’m not singling you out, but where’s all the IT’S FOR THE CHILDREN?

            • Well, I have no evidence of that at my private school. I have girls and, to date, they only have had female teachers who I trust. I’m also hyper-involved. Are you suggesting that I should investigate other schools?

              • “I’m also hyper-involved.”

                I believe that.

                ”Are you suggesting that I should investigate other schools?”

                Not at all, but that link is 11 1/2 years old, and my sense is that the stats Shakeshaft laid out were a bit of a surprise.

                I’m not sure if it’s gotten better, stayed the same, or gotten worse, but I’ll say that with the explosion of social media, it’s gotten easier for preparation to collide with opportunity.

                Do you think that if the clergy, especially the Catholic clergy, had been offending at that clip, that there wouldn’t have been a full court press investigation, a National Task Force, and an all out, hounding “War On Pedophile Priests” being waged?

      • Yes, The larger point is that ethical behavior falls by the wayside when the potential to tarnish all members as equally corrupt exists.

        We must view individual actions, not collective ones as good or bad.

        I would expect that the many that tolerated the actions of the few could claim they feared reprisals for shining the spotlight on the person. That is the very same excuse used by those who only name harrassers after others have made similar claims.

        Ethical behavior is not without risk. It is the coward that enables the unethical.

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