Time to say goodbye

So, there you have it, cher public, the Met’s 2012-13 season all mapped out and easy to understand. And, you know, it’s kind of old news by this point, especially since La Cieca has just heard some interesting and completely plausible gossip about 2013-14. 

As those of you who have been following this topic for a while now already are aware, the Met’s planned 2013-14 season is rumored to include seven new productions: Eugene Onegin, Two Boys, Falstaff, Die Fledermaus, Prince Igor, Werther and I Puritani, featuring Anna Netrebko, Mariusz Kwiecien, Paulo SzotIldar Abdrazakov, Elina Garanca, Jonas Kaufmann, Natalie Dessay and Lawrence Brownlee.

Significant revivals should include La Cenerentola (Joyce Di Donato, Juan Diego Florez, Luca Pisaroni), The Enchanted Island (Susan Graham as Sycorax),  Die Frau ohne Schatten (Vladimir Jurowski), Norma ( Sondra Radvanovsky/Angela Meade), The Nose, Parsifal (Simon O’Neill, Deborah Voigt, Thomas Hampson), Rigoletto (Dmitri Hvorostovsky), Der Rosenkavalier, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Rusalka (Yannick Nézet-Séguin), La Sonnambula (Diana Damrau) and Tannhäuser.

Now, you may notice that there are only a couple of conductors indicated on this list, and that’s not because La Cieca is a canary queen or Regie chaser, though she is of course both of these things. The same problem seems to be afflicting this future season that (so one hears) caused the very late announcement of 2012-13: conductors.

Or, rather, that should be “conductor,” singular, and by now you know to whom the photo above refers: the biggest stumbling block in future planning and programming at the Met, the company’s nominal music director, James Levine.

The maestro last conducted a performance at the Met (or anywhere) almost a year ago, in May of 2011. He did not appear at the Met this season and is not announced for next season; Peter Gelb did not sound exactly enthusiastic about the situation when he informed the New York Times that the company’s current silence about Levine reflected “what’s actually happening.”

But what is “actually happening?” Nobody knows, really, and what’s most damaging about this mystery is that despite what seems overwhelming evidence that Levine will never return to the Met in anything like his previous capacity, the company continues to plan seasons around his presence.

According to the information obtained by La Cieca, the season opening Onegin in 2013 is a Levine project, and so is Mahagonny. The casting of the Parsifal also tends to point toward Levine on the podium, and at a guess he is be at least penciled in for the new Falstaff. The Rosenkavalier and Tannhäuser might also be his projects.

But what’s almost certainly going to happen is that Levine will not show up for any of these performances, and the Met will be scrambling as usual to get reputable conductors for some very difficult and high-profile operas. Most likely Fabio Luisi will get a lot of these shows dumped into his competent and unthrilling lap, while budding superstars like Nézet-Séguin and Jurowski continue to appear essentially as guest artists, one assignment at a time.

Unfortunately, while Levine stays (however nominally) at the top of the roster, the most the Met can ask from top-flight conductors is this kind of one-off appearance. The plum assignments that might attract star maestros to the company will be (as they have been for three decades) set aside for Levine, and then, not if but when he doesn’t show, the stars will no longer be available, and these valuable high-profile gigs will go to substitutes.

The solution, it seems to me, is to stop the pretense that Levine is coming back. This is not something Gelb can do on his own, as Levine has built up enormous goodwill at the Met and a huge following in New York. Any overt attempt to push him out the door will be a disaster.

And so the time has come for Levine himself to man up and do what is right for the good of the Met: announce his resignation, remove his name from all the future planning, and give the company his blessing. He might even be encouraged to nominate a successor.

Note that this doesn’t mean that, in the event of a miraculous medical recovery, his career would be irrevocably over. Many artists have retired, some of them more than once, only to return to harness in case of emergency or simply a magnificent opportunity. Should Levine regain his health, there will definitely be a demand for his services as a conductor.

But that’s conjecture. For right now, the overwhelming probability is that Levine is not coming back, certainly not in the foreseeable future. So he needs to let the wheel of history turn and allow the Met to emerge from limbo. A graceful resignation, perhaps timed over the summer to facilitate the dedication of the 2012-13 season to the memory of his service, is quite simply the right thing to do.