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Perfect casting

Though the headline seems to apply a whole series of epithets to a revered critic (“Stand-In Meets Sweet Snake, Shrieky Diva, Grumpy Dad: Manuela Hoelterhoff”), the actual review of the Met’s Siegfried on Bloomberg offers more than purely comic interest. While La Hoelterhoff is no better than usual as an opera reviewer, she does briefly at least return to a line of work she does better than just about anyone else: cultural criticism.

Hoelterhoff frames the current crisis of music direction at the Met elegantly but frankly:

[James] Levine, a Met fixture for 40 years, receives constant credit for improving a second rate orchestra. But that was decades ago and for whatever reasons — self-absorption? shyness? — he never engaged with the cultural life of this city, despite huge pay checks (most recently around $1.5 million a year).

What a pity. The arts in New York could really use a charismatic music spokesman.

The paralyzed board really should stop issuing sentimental garlands of gratitude and add “emeritus” to Levine’s title. It’s sad that the maestro didn’t have the judgment to step down, but he didn’t, and now should be assisted into the next phase of life.

A colleague of La Cieca’s queried whether that phrase “assisted into the next phase of life” might be construed as the writer’s urging euthanasia on Levine, but your doyenne assured her correspondent that our Manuela would never pussyfoot around the issue thuswise: she would more likely say “isn’t it about time someone whacked him on the head with a mallet?”

102 comments

  • phoenix says:

    Manuela’s review above is the most relevant piece of writing I have ever read from her and she deserves to be congratulated for telling it like it is; I hereby congratulate her!

    • uwsinnyc says:

      I always thought Voigt was a far better Sieglinde than Brunnhilde (of course she sang them at different points in her career, so a direct comparison is perhaps not fair).

      The voice, though big, never really had the steel and now it has the wrong kind of steel.

      I’m going to see Siegfried tomorrow and looking forward to it- I think of the 3 Brunnhildes (or as someone earlier said Brunnhilden), this one should be the most congenial to her voice.

      Does anyone know who the cover/ understudy is?

  • Avantialouie says:

    I think that Hoelterhoff, in her review, is speaking in a kind of code here, one that likely will be well understood by many New Yorkers but not necessarily by others. In taking Levine to task for his “failure to engage in the cultural life” of the City, she is really blaming him for his failure to become a “Jewish cultural icon” working diligently on behalf of a wide variety of liberal political causes. What she wants is for Levine to have become a Leonard Bernstein, a Betty Comden, an Adolphe Green, a Beverly Sills, a Rosalind Elias, or even a Bea Arthur. Regardless of what his political views may or may not be, such spokesmanship is obviously NOT the kind of rapport Levine particularly seems to want with any of his or any of the Met’s various publics. Playing such a role is simply not Levine’s style, nor is it in his comfort zone. It’s what Hoelterhoff implies but ISN’T directly saying that’s the true crux of her review.

    • brooklynpunk says:

      Avanti:

      I THINK you’re (slightly) off the mark, in stressing the “Jewish” angle--but sort of on the mark, in New Yorkers expectations that our Cultural leaders take a much more active role in the City’s Life..I am thinking of folks such as Zubin Mehta..Pierre Boulez..Philippe De Montebello and Thomas Hoving( from the OTHER MET)…none of whom were Jewish..but all of whom were very active in adding to the City’s cultural life, using their “day-job” positions in a way that Maestro Levine just doesn’t seem comfortable doing…

    • Clita del Toro says:

      Rosalind Elias is NOT jewish.

      • Famous Quickly says:

        I think the poster is confusing the Lebanese Christian Erika with the Ashkenazi Old Baroness.

        Meanwhile, I could sing the SIEGFRIED Bruennhilde *tomorrow*; it’s a question of color and tessitura. That girl from the Crystal Cathedral sounded the other night like she was doing an unintentional Rethberg imitation.

    • quoth the maven says:

      I don’t think Sills was remotely a liberal.

      • armerjacquino says:

        Well, for what it’s worth, in her autobiography she identifies herself as a supporter of the Democrats.

        • Nerva Nelli says:

          Yes, that came with the territory she was born in, but Sills palled around with Barbara Walters and Henry Kissinger and I bet by the 80s she was voting for Reagan and Bush I. Millionaires ‘wives are rarely REALLY liberal, though their are delightful exceptions.

          • Alto says:

            “Sills palled around with Barbara Walters and Henry Kissinger.”

            Just conceivably, she was liberal and tolerant enough not to choose all her associates for their political views? Or maybe she was just opportunistic.

        • quoth the maven says:

          Ok, I stand corrected. I just know that Liz Smith used to report all the time about her hanging out with Barbara Walters and Shirley Lord, wife of the reprehensible Abe Rosenthal--neither of them exactly lefties.

          Still, she was a lifelong New Yorker, active in the performing arts, a Jewish girl from Brooklyn. It would be surprising if someone with that background were anything other than a Democrat,

    • havfruen says:

      Well,Boston and Los Angeles were both stuck with semi-conductors for too many years. In both cases they were VERY active in the cultural life of those cities -- that’s what assured their tenure. Much better to have a real conductor who engages in the cultural life of a city by improving its orchestra and giving its audiences memorable musical experiences.

  • phoenix says:

    James Levine, as far I remember, is not a ‘native’ New Yorker. He is from Ohio and he came to the Met 5 or 6 years after I moved to NYC, around the time he was 30 to begin one the longest running gigs in the history of the City. To me, he never appered to display much interest in the arena Manuela H. refers to so I do agree with her. Levine did however publicly support the Met and became very much the face of that singular institution… but basically he was a career musician, a working professional, focused on his own personal career and private life. What I noticed when I met him was how defensive but human he was.
    -- As far as the Jewish angle from Avantialouie, that is getting very hard to pin down in this century (and it was in the 20th century also). The borders of organized religion, society, ethnic descent, etc. have become very blurred. I think it’s a little dated, louie, to bring that issue up. Maybe in Bklyn there are still 100% ethnically DNA verifiable Jewish people, but I wonder. Everyone I know is either mixed, adopted, or nobody has any true verifiable data.

    • brooklynpunk says:

      ….one other (slight) issue..

      The “Liberal-agenda/Jewish connection” is more and more a conceit of a vanished New York of the past (unfortunately….)

      In a recent special election in the Borough of Queens, to replace the seat vacated by former Rep. Weiner, a VERY RIGHT-WING Conservative Republican was voted in, in a landslide…in what is a heavily Jewish -populated Congressional District……

      • Gualtier M says:

        I think was isn’t being discussed here isn’t Levine not being a part of the Jewish liberal elite whatever that is. I think it has to do with his extremely private existence which keeps all intimate aspects of his life a secret. For example, Mrs. John Claggart discussed the fact that Levine was known to have had several romantic relationships with adult gay males -- notably tenor Philip Creech. Yet in the press it mentioned that he was living with a female trombonist(?) from the orchestra. The extreme secrecy about his personal life has fostered the rumors of pedophilia and the police being bribed not to arrest him. Like the gerbils up Richard Gere’s rectum, everyone claims to know someone who knew the nurse or saw the hospital records, etc. or in Levine’s case knows a member of the board who had to travel to Detroit with lots of cash to bail Jimmy out of jail while the Met was on tour, etc. The way he has of making himself absent yet in control letting his brother Tom and other minions do his dirty work.

        • Gualtier M says:

          That should have read “I think what isn’t being discussed here” in the first sentence. The problem is Levine’s complete non-engagement with the public period. Levine for example has very few social appearances outside of receptions after new production premieres he conducts and carefully vet press conferences. The press is encouraged to stay away which fosters the concept that something isn’t right with him.

          Compare with Luisi who is in the New York Times lifestyles section with photos of him making breakfast with his wife and son. Shots of Fabio Luisi showing off his pasta machine and expresso maker in his new Upper West Side apartment. Levine has never had that kind of social or publicity exposure -- he is a problem in that regard.

  • The Vicar of John Wakefield says:

    “Compare with Luisi who is in the New York Times lifestyles section with photos of him making breakfast with his wife and son. Shots of Fabio Luisi showing off his pasta machine and expresso maker in his new Upper West Side apartment.”

    Unspeakably vulgar--but that is what they deserve for hiring a Cisalpine instead of a Mark Wigglesworth or Sian Edwards.