Cher Public

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?”

  • Clita del Toro

    I can’t understand why she is so bitchy concerning just about everything?? It isn’t even campy, fun bitchiness. She may be right about the production and the singers, but her attitude is for shit. I had an aunt Blanche who expressed herself in a similar manner, and it was quite wearing and annoying.

    • Clita del Toro

      PS I think that MH is confusing bitchiness with cleverness and wit.

      • God, can you imagine if that happened here?

        • Clita del Toro

          lol maury

        • *like*

      • mrmyster

        You know, Clitissimo, I don’t consider that comment by Manuela to be bitchy; it is direct, it is her opinion (and she is “a lady of opinion,” for sure), but it is rather straightforward and I think fair. Levine is overdue to retire; he did not engage the community, and her view of the Met Board strikes me as about right; they are a bunch of ‘pet rocks’ if I ever saw one!
        It seems to me that the fresh and energetic musical direction of Luisi this season with Mozart and Wagner, gives us a little taste of what we’ve been missing under the not-very-well Levine. And remember when Edo de Waart took over the Rosenkavaliers a couple of years ago when Levine pulled out? It was lovely; similarly refreshing. I am with La Hoelterhoff on this one!

        • Clita del Toro

          My Meister, dear, I was not referring to that particular comment, but the overall tone of her “review.” I agree with many of her points, but not the way she puts them.

    • OpinionatedNeophyte

      Something tells me you didn’t enjoy Pauline Kael either. It’s called honesty and insight Clita, don’t hate.

      • RDaggle

        Uh-oh. On this Halloween a hand just shot up from a chilly grave. It is Pauline Kael coming back to pay a visit to anyone who would dare compare her writing to Manuela Hoelterhoff’s bland dribble.

        Run, ON, — leave the candy — and run!

    • Bosah

      Maybe she knew that bitchy reviews will get their own threads?

      This isn’t critique. Nowhere near it. It’s shameful mean-girl bullying. Other critics have managed to say the same things about the performance clearly but not cruelly.

      And, these critics have done their job in focusing on the performance and not thinking they run the Met.

      JJ’s review was fair and honest. I doubt Manuela has the skill to write a review like that, though.

      Who does this person think she is?

  • SF Guy

    What, all that technology and no bear?!? (Thanks for alerting me, Manuela.)

  • Earl Koenig

    “Bryn Terfel, get rid of that wig right now! You sound terrific as Wotan, but you look like an albino wizard” sounds like a phrase out of Michael Kors’s vernacular.

  • Clita del Toro

    Well, it’s true, based on the forging scene clip from Siegfried, that Morris looked as if he were making a cappuccino or flushing a toilet. In the old production, the poor Siegfried really had to work to forge Notung. It was pretty realistic.

    Fafner, a little snake?
    Heil dir Sonne in the dark?

    What were they thinking? or not?

  • Clita del Toro

    The more I think of it, I don’t any reason for the damn, noisy Machine--maybe for continuity (in their minds); but, it is too restricting in every sense--and not really necessary for the use of interesting projections. And the expense??? What a waste! And in the bargain, it is ugly as hell.

  • Isn’t it conventional wisdom about the Brunnhilden that the Gotterdammerung incarnation is lower, though longer? Stamina isn’t a problem for Voigt, so I don’t think the prophecy of doom here is particularly apt.

    A bear did poke his head around the corner of the infernal machine for a moment, unless I was just hallucinating what I wanted to see. The effect was fairly comical--I half expected him to yell “Preved!!!”--if not as comical as the dragon.

    • marshiemarkII

      No Maury, it is not conventional wisdom, because it is simply not true. Walkure is most definitely a low role going up to high A (if you except the four high Cs in the Hojotohos), which is why it’s called a mezzo with high Cs. And Siegfried is conventionally known as very high tessitura indeed. But Gotterdammerung is by no means “low”. It is all over the place. The end of Zu Neunen Taten (o Heiliger Gotter) is extremely high (rising) tessitura, the interlude between Waltraute and Siegfried is a volcano of As and Bs over a very loud orchestra, the rape scene equally going up to B, and what to say of the impossibly high (rising) tessitura of the final pages of the Immolation?

      But what will do in your beloved Debbie (in Extremis) is the second act, where she has to drop two and a half octaves and up again in syncopated rhythm! I mean from Heiliger Gotter Himmlisches Lenker on to the Helle Wehr; and then the very high Jammer Jammer and the fiendishly difficult Gutrune motif . And for the stunning B in the Rache Terzet, the climax of an act filled with climaxes, there is standard set at the Met in October of 1988 that will be very hard to surpass, for immensity, and how it filled every corner of the enormous barn. The second act is nearly impossible to sing and that’s why Brunnhilde is Brunnhilde, the Mount Everest of all Mount Everests :-)

      • Ah, my mistake about the Gotterdammerung Brunnhilde. But this “your beloved Debbie” bullshit is why it’s hard to have a conversation around here sometimes. I forgot unless I’m dreaming up juvenile double-entendres about her, I’m her press agent.

        • marshiemarkII

          Oh please darling Maury, you have to grow a sense of humor, or else you would never survive, this is the den of bitchiness, and that IS the reason why we are all here :-) . But just remember if you make it here you will make it anywhere :-)

          You know I love you, you have written beautiful things about you know who and your experiences with her Elektra in Houston (correct?), so the last thing in my mind would be to make you feel bad in any way. I just can’t help the campy snide side :-) :-) :-)
          And to think we are not even talking about Galina anymore……..

        • bobsnsane

          Come on, Maury, since when is it “hard to have
          a[n] [intelligent] conversation around here” about virtually anything.

          However, if you don’t think clearly and make a careless generalization about music (particularly Wagner) – you ought to expect to get dressed down swiftly – in gorgeous detail.

          Thank you MarshieMarkII for the chapter and verse specifics.

          P.S. Maury – she’s MY beloved Debbie.

          • I don’t mind being corrected. I’m wrong somewhat frequently and usually gracious when corrected. I took no exception to that part, because it was just objectively my mistake, and MM pointed this out thoroughly and without particular bitchery. I just get tired of the other stuff, though apparently it was more in jest here than I read it to be.

      • Noel Dahling

        marshie- I didn’t know Jeanine Altmeyer was singig at the met in October of 1988. Just kidding, love, just kidding! :)

        • grimoaldo

          Altmeyer? I was sure the reference was to the very greatest Dame Gwyneth, way the best Brunnhilde of the ’80’s.
          You mean it was meant to refer to someone else?

          • Nerva Nelli

            A voice is calling down from our rookery:

            “Dame Anne Evans!”

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            Careful Nerva- there are those around who believe Evans was the greatest Brunnhilde between Nilsson and Wilson. And they aren’t even British, as far as I can tell.

            Let me say that I don’t think Evans was without merit as Brunnhilde, but at the same time it was just as compromised, in different ways, as others singing the role at the same time. She wasn’t a great deal better than Bullock is now, at least when I saw her (2 Gotterdammerungs, a Siegfried, an Isolde and an Ariadne, plus a Walkure Act III, all in the 1990s).

          • grimoaldo

          • grimoaldo

            I’m not ashamed to say yes I loved Dame Anne as Brunnhilde who I saw live in Ring cycles at Covent Garden. Bayreuth organisers and Barenboim chose her for Brunnhilde, they’re not even British either.

          • Krunoslav

            I don’t know what Nerva and Cocky heard Evans sing, but-- though she was a scrupulous and dedicated artist-- it was vocally quite small in scale. What defined her for me was seeing a Met FIDELIO (1993 or so) in which Helen Donath’s Marzelline was consistently more audible in all the ensembles than was Evans.

        • marshiemarkII

          You are a real pro Noel :-) :-) :-), you certainly have already made it here, flying colors :-)

          You know speaking of Jeanine, I saw her do a Fidelio (don’t ask why) in which she simply could not get the As in the Tot erst sein Weib, they were like three steps down, like a glass ceiling, it was very pathetic. And then there is the famous night that as the cover, she got one real performance of Walkure, and couldn’t go on after Act II, so they had to call Hildegard, who was relaxing at home, and then the announcer comes and says, “Ms Altmeyer is indisposed but we have a replacement, Ms Hildegard Behrens!”, the theater erupted in wild applause and she went on to sing a glorious Act III, this was in like 86 or 87.

          Yes that B in the Rache Terzet, it really was a miracle, the sheer size and splendor of the sound! Unfortunately because she hurled the note out into the furthestmost reaches of the auditorium, it actually goes away from the microphones (at the footlights), so in the video it is impossible to get an impression how it sounded in the theater, it was an enormous sound! And that was one opera in which I never saw her give less than a stunning performance (unlike Walkure which gave her trouble at the end), as late as the Met in 97 or Buenos Aires and Vienna in 98, so she kept the standard till the very end :-). But that B always sounded best at the Met, as the huge space seemed made for the sound, reasons for which I always liked to sit in the back of the orchestra to get the full impact.

          • Nerva Nelli

            That Behrens B is for you what Steber’s MANON D has become for “Zinka”…

            Leider and Varnay were also famous for that moment, and it’s a great one.

          • Seems like Brunni Goetter akt zwei is one of these things -- a role (or a portion of a role) which will extract the best of anyone who can really sing it (not talking about Gaby Schnaut here). Yes Behrens, as seen in Bayern and the barn, Jones is at her friggin’ best in Boulez’ wonderfully ‘alive’ production, Lawrence in a v bad sound Met 1935, but unforgettable, Modl with the right conductor (meaning Furt of course), Nilsson (live, not the cold studio, although the “Welches unholdes List” was difficult for her), Leider in that fantastic Furt act 2 from the Garden. But for me the best will be (until proven otherwise) Varnay in absolutely fantastic voice on that 1951 Kna evening. With her the ‘bits’ are crystal-clear, its a complex psychological situation and she gets it SO right. And nobody spits scorn at Gunther quite like her.

          • reedroom

            Agreed, Behrens was first rate in the role. As for Jeanine, I had the opposite experience. She was singing Götterdämmerung one evening, and having a pretty rough go; at the 2nd act the stage manager announced that “Ms. Altmeyer is feeling unwell, but has graciously agreed to continue the performance.” The smattering of applause was funny/sad; in all fairness, she sang a decent 2nd act, but a lousy immolation scene.

          • uwsinnyc

            can someone describe exactly what the B is that people are referring to? I’m not sure which one.
            A video clip would be helpful too.

          • marshiemarkII

            Uswinnyc, the famous B is really part of one of the most magnificent pieces of music ever written in possibly the greatest single act of any opera, the second act of Gotterdammerung. It is called the Rache Terzet or Vengeance Trio, where the murder of Siegfried is plotted. The B is on the word Eide (Oath) and is only impressive in the context of the immediate plunge into a raw chest on the words Allrauner Raechender Gott (God of Vengeance) of the invocation. It is a breathtaking moment in a breathtaking act!
            Here is the breathtaking Hildegard Behrens:

          • marshiemarkII

            Uswinnyc, as added bonus in that clip you also get the Gutrune motif, another really hard phrase, “Gutrune heisst der Zauber” right at the beginning of the clip. She makes it sound easy, it is not!

          • Nerva Nelli

            “possibly the greatest single act of any opera, the second act of Gotterdammerung”

            Well, at least you said “possibly”; give me Act II of ORFEO ED EURIDICE, Act II of NOZZE DI FIGARO, Act I of DON GIOVANNI, Act II of FIDELIO, Act II of LOHENGRIN, Act I of DIE WALKUERE, Act III of BOHEME or Act II of JENUFA any day.

            And “raw” would certainly be one way of describing the sound the soprano with the thrilling top generally made (and makes here) in her lower and lower-middle register. “Scarifyingly ugsome” also comes to mind; but we all make allowances for “our” divas. Leonie Rysanek certainly made some awful sounds in the lower middle as well, and I can listen past them.

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      I’m sorry to disagree with you Maury, but I think stamina is Voigt’s problem, on the micro level rather than the macro. I don’t think there is anything really wrong with how she produces her voice (maybe too much pressure in the middle, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed), or anything actually physically wrong with it. I actually think she could probably still sing every single phrase of Brunnhilde’s music more or less flawlessly if, and it’s a big if, she could have 30-60 seconds rest between each one. Trouble is that’s obviously impossible and she doesn’t seem to have the time to do the practice that way either, so she’s always running out of steam and sounding a bit nackered.

    • Walküre is too low, Siegfried is too high , and GD is too long.

      • Cocky Kurwenal

        I do think they are all well written though, particularly Walkure. Certain great Brunnhildes, like Behrens, Jones and Nilsson were undeniably less strong in their Lower middle voices than in the rest of their ranges, yet still gave incredible renditions of the most sustained stretch of low tessitura- the Todesverkundingen. The orchestra is always kept light and, as ever in Wagner, there are millions of places where you can breathe if you want to. There is absolutely no need at all to do a Polaski (or countless others), massively overweight your middle to be good in this scene, and then leave yourself screwed for the rest of it. And again, in Act III the orchestra is light, or even silent, in the lowest stretches, and the higher notes are written so that they make a huge impact without being extreme singing experiences for the performer.

        • grimoaldo

          Sorry but I thought Polaski (also seen live in Ring cucles at ROH) was fab too:

          • grimoaldo

            cycles I mean of course
            typos typos typos
            Happy Halloween all

          • reedroom

            Sorry grimoaldo, I find her hooty and often flat above the staff; Great voice, just don’t think she sounds at all comfortable singing in that register. (and I have heard her live--I played in a production of Elektra in 1992--same complaint then).

        • marshiemarkII

          Cocky as always the thoughtful musician, is right, the Brunnhildes are very well written and Behrens told me that she never really felt any strain, least of all in Gotterdammerung. The roles she thought were really difficult were Senta and Leonore, and the mightiest of them all of course Elektra!!!! Without a doubt the most difficult.

          • DurfortDM


            Even I can understand the difference in the vocal writing between the Brunnhildes and Leonore but much as I’m in no position to dispute the matter with anyone who really knows what they’re talking about much less challenge the opinion of Madame Behrens its rather difficult to believe that ANYONE could sing ANY of the Brunnhildes without SOME strain somewhere.

            In any case as much as I appreciate her Brunnhilde (which I heard live in ’97) I’m actually more fond of her Leonore (“difficult” vocal writing and all -- and which I have heard only on recordings). This provides a rather stark contrast with say, a Nina Stemme, whose Brunnhildes I rather like (as hear on the broadcast) but whose Leonore on the Abbado was somewhat disappointing in (in techinique, tone color, interpretation -- though as a first try allowances have to be made).

          • marshiemarkII

            DurfortDm, you make some very interesting observations that deserve an equally thoughtful response. I’ll try. While Behrens said what she said about no strain with Brunnhilde around her prime years circa 89-90 or so, in reality Walkure gave her a hard time in the sunset years, and while she could still give a magnificent performance, such as I understand in London in 1997, it could also go really strained and perhaps not so great, as at the Met in the same year, the gala opening night was quite a bit less than stellar. Gotterdammerung, despite its length was almost written for her voice, and I never saw her give anything less than magnificent ones until the last one in Vienna in 1998. I saw her do it between 25 and 30 performances if you include rehearsals, in Bayreuth, New York, San Francisco, Munich, Berlin, Vienna, and Buenos Aires. She was never tired afterwards, and the night of the opening of the Met new production in 1988, we were the last people to leave the party, and continued drinking beer until dawn, she was so exhilarated. As Cocky says, the music is well written, although those plunges into the chest in Act II (gerast….. geschmertz..) and then leaping up again I cannot imagine were easy……People at Bayeruth already in 1983 were predicting her demise because of all that chesting, and yet it was not so, she sang Brunnhilde for 19 years. Perhaps there was a little bit of bravado in her saying it was not so hard though.

            Now Leonore (as Senta) is objectively very awkwardly written, in particular the Ich folge…. after the Abscheulicher, and the change in weight required from Ich habe Mut to the more dramatic stuff later like in Tot erste sein Weib, etc. But she personally adored the part, and possibly was her favorite role, certainly the most congenial to who she was as a person. I feel perhaps that is what you also feel about her interpretation, and why you are so moved by her. She gave it all!
            And hard as it was, she kept it in her repertoire until the very end (most singers drop it early, it so hard, she would say), and in 1998 did the unthinkable, on the day of rest between Siegfried and Gotterdammerung in Vienna, she flew to Berlin to sing Fidelio, all three big successes. When she was healthy, she could do almost anything really, she was already 61 years old!

            But Elektra was the one role that put the fear of God in her. And as God would have it, she had the most abject failure of her career with it, and the greatest success, and on the same stage, the Metropolitan Opera! I was at both performances.

          • DurfortDM

            MMII, thanks so much for that fascinating history. The Ring/Fidelio sequence from 1998 is almost impossible to contemplate (much less sing). Her affinity for Leonore is more than a little illuminating and while her Brunnhilde was very moving on its own terms it paled just a little bit in comparison (I’m curious about which of her recordings of the cycle is your favorite).

            I think you’re point about the variability of the Elektra performances is an especially important one. The first time I heard Behrens was in a stand alone Walkure in 1997 and if her Brunnhilde was not in every respect perfectly sung it was a much more than sufficiently secure, in spots tonally very beautiful and remarkably compelling performance. By contrast, her Walkure in the full Ring only a couple of weeks later was easily her worst performance of the cycle with the Gotterdamerung Brunnhilde being by far the best.

            Anyone who has been to more than 1 performance of a run (much less seen a singer in multiple runs) will be familiar with the phenomenon but the physical nature of singing makes it somewhat unavoidable and indeed i am surprised that one encounters consistency from one performance to another as often as one does. Its unfortunate for the audience who may miss out on a singer’s best work but it is even more unfortunate for the singers, especially when they are at less than their best for a performance that is reviewed, broadcast or recorded. Obviously this was not much of an issue for someone like Hildegard Behrens in the late 90s when she was approaching the end of her career and had built an extensive discography. It is much worse for a young or even a relatively well established singer in mid-career whose future opportunities might be limited and whose legacy (if the performance is recorded) might be seriously compromised.

            On a related issue and touching on your point about how tired a singer might be after a performance, there is of course adrenaline and someone like you who has known and extensively interacted with singers is in a much better position to judge than most of us. My interactions with singers have been few and very circumscribed but one singer I do know a little bit found herself in very difficult predicament (perhaps unsurprisingly) while singing Leonore. I had heard her and spent time with her after the performances on a number of occasions. While her energy level varied from performance to performance and a bit from role to role I had never seen her as completely drained , physically and emotionally, as she was after each of more than the half dozen Leonores I’ve heard her sing. She cares a great deal about the role, prepared it with the greatest care but unfortunately her performances varied a bit. Abscheulischer…Komm Hoffnung is never easy, in a couple of instances she ran into some trouble and I almost cringed at those moments and especially the understandable but still painfully tepid audience response. In the brutal sequence leading up to “Tot erst sein Weib through “Namenlose Freude” (I sat in the first row on several of these occasions) you could see the complete exhaustion and I was almost surprised that she made it through. It was that much more satisfying to see her perform the role beautifully and movingly and receive the acclaim she deserved but even those performances took absolutely everything out of her and made me appreciate more than ever just what an appallingly difficult profession operatic singing can be.

          • marshiemarkII

            DurfortDM, OK so I understand now, for some reason I thought you were British and had seen her London Walkure in 1997, but it seems that you saw her at the Met, right? She rehearsed the Walkure in great voice, sang a spectacular dress rehearsal, Levine was ecstatic she sounded so good, and then developed a sore throat and for the premiere which was a big expensive Gala (Morris, Domingo, Voigt in great voice, etc), she was in big trouble. She pulled herself together and sang a pretty wonderful broadcast on Saturday matinee (which I think is the one you saw), and then the following week she was due for the complete Ring in one week, the Walkure again was not so good (which you also seem to have seen) and was so demoralized that by Siegfried she felt unable to sing and cancelled. By the Gotterdammerung the Met was so scared that they imported Jane Eaglen just in case, and only at 2PM she felt that she was going to do it for the 6PM curtain. And as you saw, she was magnificent, the ovation went on for like 45 minutes and that was her last Brunnhilde at the Met. It was a combination of things, the first time on the set of her terrible accident seven years earlier, the relationship with the Met a bit tense because of impending litigation, and to many people simply the fact that she was already 60 years old!!!!! But she still had a few rabbits left up her sleeve, and in 1998 she sang spectacular Gotterdammerungs in Birmingham, Valencia, Buenos Aires, and Vienna and I saw the last two. And also she did the Ring/Fidelio bit I just mentioned. I understand why you may have felt her Brunnhilde at the point you saw her was not as blazing as it had been. My favorite recordings are of course the video from the Met and from Munich (which is available on Toshiba DVDs from Japan only, I also have it on Laserdiscs available as a gift) and on Sirius you get the fabulous broadcasts from 88 and 89 which were her best years at the Met. I also have on Celestial Audio, a complete Ring from Bayreuth with Sir Georg Solti, her first ever!, it is stunning how complete her characterization was already at that early point, and the voice is of course a bit fresher, the Cs in Siegfried and Gotterdammerung are unbelievable. I saw it live the following year with Peter Schneider, magnificent!

          • marshiemarkII

            Now to continue with Fidelio DurfortDm, yes she found it hard in terms of awkwardness of writing and all that, but she never was tired afterwards either, because she would say, “the message is so much light and goodness, that it carries you by itself”. She said the finale is one of those moments when we humans are occasionally allowed to look through the gates of heaven, that God has left ajar for a bit, so we get a glimpse of what awaits us…… and just knowing that makes overcoming the challenges of the opera easy, because you know where you are heading…….
            Oh if you can get a hold of her doing it with the very greatest Jon Vickers, London 76 (Goodall) or the Met 80 (Leinsdorf) and the greatest of them all, the single night with Tennstedt in 84, that is to look directly to the gates of heaven, front door wide open :-) :-) :-), those titans singing that sublime music!!!!! Oh the Namelosefreude with those two!!!!

  • Clita del Toro

    OT: anyone listening to Hoffmann, live from Munich with Villazon and Damrau. Starts in 3 minutes.

    • Clita del Toro

      Sorry, Hoffmann starts in one hour

      • Feldmarschallin

        yes going to listen to it then see it live next week…have three tickets and from what I have seen it looks like a great production. it starts in 50 min.

  • m. p. arazza

    I thought the problem was that he was too sick to conduct. So now, of all times, he’s also expected to “engage with the cultural life of this city”? I sometimes thought he was the cultural life of the city. (And conceivably, so did he.) But if he were still up there eternally giving performances like the Rheingold, Wozzeck and Boccanegra I heard last season, would anyone be piling on such nebulous additional demands? (Actually I thought “not engaging with the cultural life of the city” was supposed to be the mantra about Maazel.)

    • She doesn’t say “he should now,” but rather “he never did,” i.e., even when he was hale enough to conduct four nights a week, all he seemed to care about was his performances, let alone the cultural life of the city, let alone even whatever the hell is going on those nights at the Met when he’s not on the podium.

      Hoelterhoff’s point, I think, is that for the kind of money the Met has been pouring in Levine’s coffers (music director money, I mean, not conducting fees) he could have stepped up to the plate and and been a public face for the company, reached out to other organizations in the city, basically behave like a good citizen. These are not “nebulous” demands and they’re not fancy frills, either: they’re vital to making the Met thrive as an artistic institution. Coming out of the cave every now and then should be part of the job description.

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

        I agree with La Cieca. But he engaged that’s for sure -- at ROUNDS!
        I could hardly catch my breath when I read La Cieca’s comment about possible euthanasia and Hoelterhoff’s remarks were right on too. Maybe early hospice palliative care would help move him to the new phase of his LIFE, not demise.

        • Lalala

          I have to agree with La Cieca as well. With the “power” that Levine has had at his fingers in NYC for so long, I would have liked to have seen him be a more visual presence outside the doors of the Met.

      • m. p. arazza

        Has she made those criticisms of him before -- in healthier days? While I don’t think I agree with all of them (at least, as you’ve restated them), my main point was that I assumed she was imposing this new burden only now, retrospectively. I could be wrong about that.

      • operaassport

        It’s bad enough when conductors like Barenboim in Chicago or Eschenbach in Houston refuse to engage their communities but Levine is an American. He has, over the entire course of his career, refused to engage the greater cultural life of New York or the United States. It’s rather appalling and one wishes he hadn’t been allowed to get away with it. It’s a shame. He’s even completely controlled his access to the press in a way that would make Sarah Palin blush. He’s lived like some 18th century potentate rarely leaving his cocoon.

        • operadunce

          Well, not being a New Yorker, I’m not sure I should be commenting on this, (but that’s never stopped me before!) For myself, I have to say that I do not really think of the music director of the Met as the face of the organization. I am more likely to focus on the singers simply because they are more visible and individual. Unless you attend Met performances on a fairly regular basis, I don’t think that you really know that much about the sound and the musicianship of the orchestra. To me, out here in the boonies, the singers tend to overshadow the conductor. Unlike major symphony orchestras with recording contracts, there doesn’t seem to be any body of work by the Met orchestra that is readily accessible to the audience outside of New York. But, at least in recent years, Pavarotti, Domingo, Sills, and, yes, Fleming, seem more visible and are the performers that lots of people associate with the Met.

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            Pavarotti and Sills? Recent?

          • operaassport

            I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of people who go to the opera see Levine as the MET not Beverly Sills who sang there less than 5 years. He has been the face of the MET for almost 40 years. No singer at the MET has been the subject of an 8 hour nationally televised gala; Levine has. He’s on the letterhead; no singer is.

            To argue that he isn’t the face of the MET is laughable.

          • operadunce

            I thought anything after the 50’s was “recent” by Parterrian standards.:) An

          • Bosah

            I agree with you, operadunce. Perhaps a portion of the regulars would view Levine as “the face of the Met,” but I haven’t and I’m not sure most people I know do.

            Having said that, I’m not in New York. I’m either in Washington, Philly or Boston. The folks I see as the face of the Met are the singers, and now, Peter Gelb.

            The question is -- if those outside the New York area don’t view him as the face of the Met, how can he be the face of the Met? Unless it’s being suggested that the Met belongs only to Manhattan.

            I do understand the point about being part of the community, though, and to me that’s different than serving as the organization’s face. I wouldn’t have any way to know if Levine did that or not, but it’s sad to hear that so many think he didn’t.

            Nevertheless, the way Manuela brought the issue up wasn’t appropriate or kind in my mind. What difference does that point make now? And what, exactly, is its relation to the review of Siegfried?

  • Noel Dahling

    What a strange comment about Voigt “obsessively reshaping herself.” I mean, she had surgery, dieted/exercised or whatever and lost weight. I don’t think she was “obsessed.” (She did have a fine album called “Obsessions”, however.)

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      Funnily enough, I listened to Obsessions this very evening and enjoyed it a great deal. That’s some narration and curse, and the Empress stuff is pretty remarkable too. I was also thinking about Voigt earlier today as I listened to Nadine Secunde deliver a very slightly disappointing ‘ich muss mit meiner Bruder stehn’ at the end of the Ozawa Elektra. It occurs to me that I am almost always disappointed by this line now because Voigt always did it so incredibly, back in the day. The only Chrysothemis on a par I’ve ever heard is Dame Gwyneth on a live Vienna performance opposite Schroder-Feinen from the 70s. Denoke crashed and burned at that moment at the Barican last year.

      • Cheryl Studer. Lisa della Casa ?

        • Cocky Kurwenal

          Della Casa is impressive, but isn’t the right voice to begin with (for me) and doesn’t sustain the intention in the same way, so the moment falls flat. Haven’t heard Studer- quite possibly, she was stunning in similar rep.

          • armerjacquino

            Is it not the LAW to say that Rysanek was the best Chrysothemis ever?

            My favourite is the (admittedly variable) Marianne Schech with Borkh.

          • marshiemarkII

            Yes Studer was a stunning Chrysothemis, including the B in Bruder.

          • Dunno about that, wasn’t Margarethe Siems (a dramatic coloratura of sorts) the first Chrys, also the first Marschallin and the Zerbinetta in the inordinately high 1st Ariadne version? So della casa sorta fits in between. Don’t forget that the original semperoper (like its duplicate modern reincarnation) is a relatively small hall by modern standards.

          • Buster

            My best Chrysothemis was Inga Nielsen, in the Willy Decker Elektra, in 1996. I also loved, loved Alessandra Marc in the part, who sang it with the Chicago Symphony (with Deborah Polaski, Uta Priew, and James King). Would love to hear Schwanewilms in the part.

          • There’s an absolutely FANTASTIC Elektra from la Scala with Bychkov, he even makes these Italians play gloriously for him. It’s Polaski (in great form) / Schwanewilms / Palmer (giant) and all three are superb. I don’t think there’s a DVD but it was shown on Mezzo or Arte. There’s also a sound recording with the same cast, only with the West German Radio Symphony Orchestra.

          • Buster

            Thanks CF -- will look into that. Found the CD!

          • armerjacquino

            CF, I’m not sure Siems is a particularly useful comparison as she was clearly an unusual singer- can you think of anyone since who has sung all three? I can’t.

          • Yes she probably was, and no, I can’t.

          • armerjacquino

            Might be fun to think who could’ve, though. I guess one has to start with Zerbinettas. Could Studer have managed Z? Popp sang two of the three- did Gueden ever progress to the Marschallin?

            Marschallin/Chrysothemis has much more crossover, of course.

          • I always think of Chrys as some kind of deranged dramatic coloratura writing, Sieglinde gone wrong and up, up. Lucia or Gruby, maybe. Or Edda of course.

        • grimoaldo

          Karita Matilla!
          Unforgettable night at the ROH in 97 with another of my favs as just posted on another thread, Deborah Polaski, Matilla and Felicity Palmer cond Thielmann!

          “what lifted the evening into the stratosphere was Deborah Polaski’s astounding performance in the title role”
          “So where do we find the Polaskis of the future?”
          says the review in 97.
          Ummm, good question.

          • armerjacquino

            Speaking of ELEKTRA, have a look on wikipedia to see who sang Orest the first time the opera was presented in German in the US, 80 years ago. The answer may surprise you.

            Siems must have been quite a singer, mustn’t she? Imagine being the first Marschallin, Chrysothemis and Zerbinetta.

          • Krunoslav

            Nelson Eddy was also the First Drum Major (!)in WOZZECK in North America. And he also sang Gurnemanz two years after that.

            Mr. Domingo has an artistic ancestor!

    • Bosah

      You know, I don’t know what it says about me (probably something not great), but my first thought reading that was, “Woman with weight / body image issue attacking another woman who conquered hers.” And frankly, I don’t really know much about Manuela.

      Voigt lost weight, and from what I can tell hasn’t exactly forced herself to be even a size 10 or 12. But even so, she dared to succeed and be feted for that success. Yes, I know, you can be thin and the most gorgeous person in the world and have body issues, but …. still…

      I’m sorry this is what I thought of, but that line from the “review” is odd. And honestly, even though she had valid complaints about the highest notes, it undermines the whole criticism and turns it into pure cattiness.

      • mrmyster

        Mr Kruno (above), I don’t think you are quite right about Nelson Eddy as Drum Major — according to my recent research, the Stokowski Philadelphia production of Wozzeck, the first full staging of that opera in the US, in 1931 offered Nelson Eddy in the title role. I know, it seems unlikely, but there it is, and well documented on web sources. I can hardly imagine him doing that, learning all that very difficult music — but he was a serious classical artist at the time, and Mrs Bok and Stoky were behind him. (Too bad he happened to meet Jeanette MacDonald.) And, the Drum Major is a tenor, ja? Kurt Baum was ideal as the Drum Major at the Met’s first ever mounting in 1958.

  • grimoaldo

    I love the headline.

    “Brunnhilde is sadly no longer a role for her. It’s too hard for someone past 50 who has to invoke the gods to sing a high C.”

    Nilsson, my beloved Dame Gwyneth. others went on as Brunnhilde past 50. Maybe truer to say that taking it on for the first time past 50 is too hard.

    “I can’t imagine how she’ll survive the far more difficult Brunnhilde in “Gotterdammerung” next spring. Can Met manager Peter Gelb? Can she?”

    Very good questions. I enjoyed the whole piece a lot.

    As always, she threw herself around with brave abandon, but the dropped consonants and quavery tone quality suggested a singer at the end of her rope.
    I can’t imagine how she’ll survive the far more difficult Brunnhilde in “Gotterdammerung” next spring. Can Met manager Peter Gelb? Can she?

    • Krunoslav

      Indeed — Lilli Lehmann, Florence Easton, Gertrude Kappel, Kirsten Flagstad and Helen Traubel all sang Bruennhilde past 50 as well (though Traubel rarely took the high Cs at any point); Johanna Gadski, like Nilsson, sang it when over 60.

      • Bill

        Anny Konetzni sang Bruennhilde as well
        past 50 though not so long after. She had a short
        top later in her career but one of the richest
        middle voices (like Flagstad) of all the
        Bruennhildes I have listened to. I saw Flagstad sing Bruennhilde at the Met in 1951 and she was born in 1895 so would have been 55 at the time.
        Grob-Prandl sang Bruennhilde at least until she was 52 in Vienna but not in Siegfried, only Walkuere and Goetterdaemmerung.

      • mrmyster

        Traubel is unknown to have “taken” a high-C; she says in
        her memoir that the note was not in her voice. Listen to her
        ‘Heil der Sonne’ with Toscanini, who forced her to try for the
        note, and you’ll see what she meant.

  • phoenix

    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

      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

    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


      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

      Rosalind Elias is NOT jewish.

      • Famous Quickly

        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

      I don’t think Sills was remotely a liberal.

      • armerjacquino

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

        • Nerva Nelli

          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

            “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

          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

      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

    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

      ….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

        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

          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

    “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.

    • Alto

      They should hire Wigglesworth just for his name.