Trio to replace disgraced Levine at Met for much-awaited 'Tosca'

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New York (AFP)

New York's Metropolitan Opera announced Tuesday that a trio of conductors will step in to lead its much-awaited but turbulent "Tosca" production after James Levine was suspended over sexual abuse allegations.

The leading US opera house said French conductor Emmanuel Villaume will take the podium for the high-profile New Year's Eve gala premiere of "Tosca" as well as six later performances.

English conductor and singer Gareth Morrell will take the baton on January 18 and another French conductor, Bertrand de Billy, will helm performances in April and May.

The move comes after Levine, who had become a legend as the Met's music director for 40 years and had retained an honorary position, was removed following abuse allegations by at least four musicians.

The Met has hired a former US prosecutor to investigate the allegations against the 74-year-old Levine, who the former students say forced them into sexual acts when they were teenagers.

Villaume conducted "Tosca," one of the most popular works in the opera canon, at the Royal Opera House in London in the 2015-16 season. The music director of the Dallas Opera and chief conductor of the Prague Philharmonic, Villaume recently conducted Jules Massenet's "Thais" at the Met.

Villaume is known for his warm working relationships with acclaimed opera singers, in recent years conducting for recordings by Diana Damrau, Angela Gheorghiu and Bryan Hymel, at times exploring more obscure repertoire.

Levine's departure was the latest shake-up in the Met's new "Tosca," on which the opera house has been pinning its hopes after its last, more modern production of Puccini's classic met a hostile audience reaction.

The original stars of the production both pulled out -- German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, one of the biggest names in opera, said he wanted to spend more time with his family, and Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais withdrew from the title role after recent mixed reviews for her voice.

After Opolais, her husband -- Andris Nelsons, the prominent conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra -- also left, leading the management to knock on the door of Levine, who had led "Tosca" in 1971 in his Met debut.

The new Met production of "Tosca" is designed by Scottish director David McVicar, who has promised to restore the grandiose style of Italian legend Franco Zeffirelli.