NEW YORK -- The Metropolitan Opera fired music director emeritus James Levine after an investigation found evidence of sexual abuse and harassment.
Levine was suspended by the Met in December pending the investigation.
The Met says in a Monday statement that its investigation found Levine "engaged in sexually abusive and harassing conduct towards vulnerable artists in the early stages of their careers." The company says "it would be inappropriate and impossible for Mr. Levine to continue to work at the Met."
The 74-year-old Levine had been a towering figure in the company's history, ruling over its repertoire, orchestra and singers as music or artistic director from 1976 until he stepped down under pressure two years ago.
The Met says claims its management or board had covered up information of Levine's conduct were unsubstantiated.
In Illinois, the Lake County State's Attorney's office said in December it would not file charges against Levine related to allegations of sexual misconduct.
Prosecutors said police investigated allegations that Levine had sexually abused a teenager in 1986 and 1987 when the alleged victim was 16 and 17 years old, respectively. The alleged victim reported the incidents to police in Lake Forest, Ill., in October 2016. Levine served as music director at the Ravinia Festival, outside Chicago, from 1973 to 1993.
Prosecutors said a police investigation determined the age of consent in the state of Illinois at the time was 16, and said none of the complaints alleged use of force. Police also said records from the establishment where the acts were alleged to have occurred.
Prosecutors said at the conclusion of the police investigation, which also included interviewing witnesses close to both parties, they decided they could not bring criminal charges against Levine.
Levine denied the allegations of sexual misconduct, saying he wants to resume his work "with full concentration and inspiration."
The opera suspended Levine after the Times published accounts from three accusers who say that Levine sexually abused them when they were teenagers. A fourth accuser later came forward.
Since the time of these allegations, the age of consent in Illinois has been raised to 17, and to 18 in cases in which the suspect is in a position of trust, authority or supervision in relation to the victim, the Lake County State's Attorney's Office said.
Following the death of Leonard Bernstein in 1990, Levine was regarded as the top American conductor and was given a starring role in the film "Fantasia 2000." Many of his performances were televised by PBS, and singers rearranged their schedules to appear in his performances or even to audition for him.
He was revered by the Met's orchestra, board and patrons during a reign as chief conductor (1973-76), music director (1976-86 and 2004-16) and artistic director (1986-2004). In addition, he was music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Ravinia Festival from 1973-93 and the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 2004-11, and chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic from 1999-2004.
Instantly recognizable by his bushy frock of hair and towel draped over a shoulder during rehearsals, he regularly conducted at the Vienna Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, Bayreuth Festival and Salzburg Festival.
His power waned only because of health problems.
Levine started conducting from a chair in late 2001 and tremors in his left arm and leg became noticeable a few years later. His health worsened in 2006, when he tripped and fell on the stage of Boston's Symphony Hall during ovations that followed a performance and he tore a rotator cuff, which required shoulder surgery. Levine had an operation in 2008 to remove a kidney and another in 2009 to repair a herniated disk in his back. He then suffered spinal stenosis, leading to surgeries in May and July 2011. He had another operation that September after falling and damaging a vertebra, an injury that sidelined him until May 2013.
Yannick Nezet-Seguin was hired two years ago to replace Levine as music director starting in 2020-21, but last month the Met said it had moved up the start of his tenure to next season.
"While this termination of the Met's relationship with Levine obviously brings a certain degree of closure, it is our hope that the Met's early introduction of Yannick Nezet-Seguin portends a willingness to invest more robustly both in talent and creating a healthy workplace culture," clarinetist Jessica Phillips, chair of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra Committee, said in a statement. "Such commitment to the future is essential if the institution wishes to attract the world's finest musicians, several of whom have already departed due to wage cuts, among other workplace issues. The artists of the Metropolitan Opera, like workers in every industry, deserve a safe place of work."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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James Levine fired by Met after it finds evidence of sexual abuse