Reinstate James Levine at the Metropolitan Opera
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James Levine was music director of the Metropolitan Opera, New York City, for forty years from 1976-2016. Since 2016 he has held the position of Music Director Emeritus, a title created for him by the Metropolitan Opera.
Over five decades Mr. Levine has conducted extraordinary interpretations of operas and classical music from Mozart to Schoenberg - and worked with names such as Kiri Te Kanawa, Montserrat Caballé, Plácido Domingo, Renée Fleming and countless others. His standard of conducting is remarkable and, to many music-lovers, recognisable by the ear within just a few bars of hearing a performance of his.
Following what can now easily be referred to as a widespread series of sexual abuse and assault allegations being made against multiple people from various industries - from Hollywood producers and actors to newspaper editors and government officials - Mr. Levine, aged seventy-four, is now too being accused of past acts of sexual abuse. It may well be the case that he is the perpetrator of these acts. This petition is not being made against any legal authorities who wish to investigate allegations made against Mr. Levine. This petition is addressed to the Metropolitan Opera.
After decades of resplendent work that has helped raise not just the artistic quality of the Metropolitan Opera's productions but also its commercial success, the administration of the opera house has suspended Mr. Levine from his position as Emeritus Music Director and canceled all future engagements. This decision was made following an investigative report into allegations by the New York Times. The suspension will last until the administration of the Metropolitan Opera feels it has conducted its own investigation. According to the NYT, two principal Metropolitan Opera donors on the Board of Directors have stated that "Together with general manager Peter Gelb, we are committed to a complete investigation of the allegations against Mr. Levine, and we would like to assure you and all of the Met’s loyal donors that the company will be taking all appropriate actions."
The fallout of this decision has been the ostracization of Mr. Levine from several other major music companies: the Boston Symphony Orchestra has vowed that Levine will never again be 'contracted or employed' by them; the Juilliard School of New York, where Mr. Levine himself studied, has stated that Mr. Levine's scheduled performance with the Juilliard Orchestra in February will be replaced by another conductor.
In the United States we are lucky enough to live in a society where the legal system - at least as far as we know - is not a corrupt one; a society that allows for free speech and the freedom of the press. Any allegations of sexual abuse made against any person, no matter how powerful, must be investigated by the police. If such allegations are found to be true and proceed to trial, any company has the right to terminate the contract of the accused employee.
However, it is not the role or duty of the administrations of any companies - be it Hollywood film studios or, in this case, the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Opera - to take the place of the legal authorities. Within these boards of directors there are no police officers, attorneys or judges. No member of these administrations has passed the bar in their respective state. Many trials in court have shown that sometimes even extremely successful judges allow miscarriages of justice and unfair verdicts. Yet according to the administrations of these private institutions, we are to be believe that they possess the power to determine an accused person's criminal guilt oftentimes without even the help of these entities - and on the basis of their findings to dismiss any given employee and end his or her career.
If any employee of any company performs in such a way that he or she disturbs the inner workings of a company, is frequently physically or verbally abusive to colleagues, and creates a toxic atmosphere in which work becomes impossible, there is no doubt that any administration reserves the right to terminate that employee. But it is highly evident now that many companies are terminating or suspending employees not because alleged perpetrators of sexual assault or harassment are making workplace conditions intolerable - but because they are terrified of being attacked by the media, of losing their shareholders or donors, and of a tarnished public reputation. The CEOs and chairpersons performing these terminations or suspensions are not judges. They are not prosecutors. They are not juries. They are extremely powerful, yes. But they are also cowards.
Mr. Levine has suffered numerous health problems over the years and fought hard to return to his career. If he has committed instances of sexual abuse, assault or harassment, he must be investigated by the police. Until or unless such an investigation finds him guilty and he is tried in court, he must not be denied the chance to work at the Metropolitan Opera. It is possible that at times his behavior has been inappropriate. But there is a difference between committing a crime and engaging in unpleasant flirtation or offering unwanted comments. To our knowledge, Mr. Levine's work of the past few years has not created a hostile workplace or made the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra an impossible ensemble in which to work. We cannot hand boards of directors of companies the authority of the legal system. We cannot allow them to terminate or suspend individuals because of pressure imposed on them by the media.
Unless Mr. Levine terrorizes his colleagues, unless he creates such conditions whereby it is impossible to function as an artist, he should not be denied the opportunity to create art.
Allowing artists to be dismissed from work on account of unproven allegations of inappropriate behavior is suggestive of a societal system in which every CEO or chairperson of a board has the ability to both conduct their 'own investigation' without legal help and then dismiss almost any employee on account of a rumor as long as that rumor has appeared in the New York Times or is trending on Twitter. It's similar to Stalin's Soviet Union where Show Trials were held and foreign journalists invited to attend so that the USSR could 'prove' there was justice. In fact everyone knew in advance that the accused would be pronounced guilty and sent to a gulag - just like everyone reading this petition already strongly suspects that after the board's 'internal investigation', Mr. Levine will never work at the Metropolitan Opera again.
This petition is not asking the Metropolitan Opera to employ Mr. Levine till the end of his life. It is not asking the Metropolitan Opera to allow him to fulfil his engagements as Emeritus Music Director if any criminal allegation against him goes to court. It is simply demanding the free right of an extremely devoted musician to be able to continue creating great performances as a free citizen of the United States until or unless he is pronounced guilty by a criminal court or at the very least sued in civil court. No individual should have his or her career ruined or even disrupted on account of hearsay. No board of directors should take the place of police or a jury. Do not allow the free world to become the kind of society where everyone must fear for their livelihood. There have been far too many already and too many exist even now.
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