Headshot of La Cieca

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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.

160 comments

  • m. p. arazza says:

    La C acknowledges at the outset that this item is based on “gossip” (OK, “completely plausible gossip”) and “rumor.” It’s my understanding that those terms refer to the details of the plans for 2013-14 (and the omission of JL’s name therein).

    But then we’re informed that: there “seems [sic] overwhelming evidence that Levine will never return to the Met in anything like his previous capacity”;
    “what’s almost [sic] certainly going to happen is that Levine will not show up for any of these performances”;
    “right now, the overwhelming probability [sic] is that Levine is not coming back, certainly not in the foreseeable future.”

    These (only slightly hedged) assurances may also seem plausible enough; but if La C’s conclusion is to be assessed fairly, the difficulty is that we’re not really told -- we’re left to wonder -- whether these assurances represent anything more than gossip or rumor as well.

  • oakapple says:

    La Cieca has wanted Levine gone for a long time, and that bias leads to some muddy reasoning. The presumption is that as long as Levine remains on the masthead, all of the plum assignments will be held for him, and the Met will not be able to attract “name” conductors.

    But even at his peak, Levine conducted no more than about a quarter of the season, nor more than about half of the new productions. In recent years, his presence has been far less than that, even before his recent health crisis. It would be absurd to suggest that in the remaining repertory, there was nothing left that a coveted conductor would consider attractive.

    The post attributes to Levine no more than six productions, and no more than two of seven new productions, for the 2013-14 season. It is doubtful that Levine was planning to do even that much, since it has been quite a while since he conducted six productions in one season.

    Even if Levine is penciled in for all six, that would probably leave more than twenty productions, five of them new, for which Gelb could hire conductors with a free hand. To suggest that the open questions over Levine’s health are casting a pall over the entire 2013-14 season is simply ridiculous.

    Obviously, it is true that for a few productions (probably fewer than six) that are currently being held for Maestro Levine, Gelb could be forced to find replacements at comparatively short notice, though I doubt that many Met patrons or ticket-buyers would find Fabio Luisi as poor a substitute as La Cieca does.

    I am not as pessimistic as La Cieca that Levine will cancel all of his 2013-14 commitments. My guess is that after so many years of service, the house is not yet willing to kick Levine to the curb. The vast majority of the season (probably around 85 percent) was probably never going to include him anyway, and for the remainder they have a principal conductor whom most people consider eminently qualified.

    • grimoaldo says:

      Hullo oakapple, is your first name Robin?

    • La Cieca says:

      The problem with your argument is that Levine remains (nominally anyway) Music Director, which means that musical decisions such as hiring of conductors must meet with at least his tacit approval — or, if Levine is completely incapacitated, with the approval of a surrogate. In other words, so far as long-range hiring of conductors goes, Gelb’s hands are tied, and not just for the projects currently earmarked for Levine.

      Another point is that all conducting assignments are not created equal. Leading a new Ring or Parsifal or Don Giovanni with hand-picked casts and luxurious rehearsal times is not the same thing as knocking out a few repertory performances of Aida or Barbiere. The high-profile assignments available are going one at a time to, for example, Nézet-Séguin, and don’t get me wrong, I think that’s great that he is doing what he is doing at the Met. But meanwhile, the “Levine” nights are mostly going to Fabio Luisi with the understanding that in the unlikely event Levine should return, Luisi will discreetly fade into the background.

      So the Met is now essentially in a holding pattern musically: no big decisions can be made because any important decision has to include the (remote) possibility that Levine will (for example) be capable of conducting in 2013 and 2014 and 2015. The worst part of this is not really the missed opportunities for great conductors (they will appear at the Met, though not as often as they could and should) but rather the lack of leadership in the musical vision of the theater. As a matter of fact, that lack of leadership was obvious for years before Levine started calling in sick; his physical absence from the house has however greatly exacerbated the problem.

      All things must come to an end, and nearly 40 years in charge of music at a single opera house is more than long enough. What other music director has served so long with an opera company? For that matter, besides Ormandy in Philadelphia, I can’t think of a music director who served that long with any sort of organization.

      • oedipe says:

        If I am not mistaken (and if I am wrong, someone will no doubt correct me), Levine always opposed the choice of Don Carlos over Don Carlo and Gelb may be reluctant to switch to the French version as long as Levine is nominally in charge. So, this ‘in limbo’ situation could hinder even relatively easy to implement -and welcome- repertory decisions.

  • decotodd says:

    Greetings Parterre amici

    Wondering if some of you more knowledgeable than I can enlighten me (and probably others). I’ve been reading comments where it is mentioned that singers and orchestra are not together (behind or ahead of the beat, etc). Aside from following with a score, how does one know? Does it require extreme familiarity with a work or is it more obvious?

    On a somewhat similar note, curious as to the differences (aside from obvious tempo/speed) a conductor can make to the same piece of music. I read comments that speak of a conductor driving the music and such but am not sure what it means.

    Examples/illustrations would be terrific. I am sure others would appreciate it as well as me! thanks

    • grimoaldo says:

      I was hoping that someone would answer this polite request, I am not sure I am the right person to do it, but here a couple of examples from recently posted youtube vids on here.

      Utterly delightful and wondrous excerpt from La vie Parisienne by Offenbach (thank you louuand); the solo singer is a bit behind the beat at the start of his song, in this case it matters not one little bit.

      In this case, the singer Joyce El-Khoury is ahead of the beat a lot of the time and it doesn’t really matter very much here either.
      You don’t really have to be intimately familiar with the score to notice when the singers and orchestra are not completely together but a lot of the time it isn’t really as important as other things like not screeching or cracking which one hears a lot of these days. The matinee broadcast of Barbiere last week was full of disastrous lack of co-ordination between the singers and the orchestra in the ensembles and then it did matter imo, quite awful.
      As to your question about how conductors drive things along, not quite sure how to answer that one except to say that if you listen to a lot of different versions of one piece of music you will hear big differences.

      Overture to Luisa Miller, Verdi (all on one theme! very unusual)
      Roberto Abbado, Fenice, Venice

      Nobody drove things along like Toscanini, the first performance is fine but this one is possessed:

      • phoenix says:

        Good job grim! I wouldn’t know how to answer that question with any expertise.

      • ianw2 says:

        Oh oh oh and here’s a recent example that’s been doing the rounds on just how much two chords can be ‘driven’:

        httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=xb24c77zJ64

        • ianw2 says:

          And again

          • grimoaldo says:

            haha that is amazing ian and the most surprising thing to me is how different a lot of the pitches are

          • brooklynpunk says:

            Ian:

            WHAT a friggin fascinating bunch of sound-bites.. and it is real wild ..and ILLUMINATING to listen to how different Bands…and their leaders.. dealt with the same “notation” on the score// and how pitch , tuning , and tempi varies in different times and places…!

            THANKS FER THIS…..!!!

          • ianw2 says:

            Yes, I love how you can tell the exact moment when “‘historical tuning and to hell with A=440 and oh hai cat gut strings” became A THING.

          • decotodd says:

            Thanks everyone, especially for the posted examples. Loved the 2 chords compilation!

          • phoenix says:

            Decotodd, to the above examples one can certainly add last night’s (27 February 2012) Act 2 Khovanschina at the Met. I have no example to post because I angrily erased the recording I made of it -- I can only tell you what bad communications between stage & pit I heard on the Sirius broadcast last night.
            -> The 2 Act duet (Golitsin & Khovanski) with the trio following it (addition of Doseifi) is scored with leitmotif themes set in a conversational-style parlando that develops into a sort of dramatic concertante -- but last night was about the worst performance of that section I have ever heard. Granted it is a very difficult piece of music to bring off, but I have heard that concertante done better in performances from Sofia to Edinburgh to NYC to SF.
            -> It was as if lasst night conductor just went off with his own chosen tempii and virtually ignored the efforts of those singers — singers in turn gave up & quickly spewed out their phrases as close to the beat as they could discern. Embarassing and for such a worldwide whooplaed media-hyped conductor (not just from the Met). I can only hope these guys get their Act 2 together sometime real soon.

    • Here’s a very famous example. Julie Osvath’s Queen of night w Toscanini, Salzburg 1937. Listen to the puntature starting around 3:50. Obvious trainwreck even if you’re not familiar with the score.

      Osvath’s performance has many other ‘delights’ as such. Including a completely miserable dig at F in alt.

    • louannd says:

      This example is more subtle but also more recent. Robert Carsen’s staging may be part of the problem. The singers are in front of the orchestra and that is one problem, but during this entire performance, there are other examples of dyssynchronicity, primarily (it seems to me) because the singers are having a hard time perceiving the conductor’s intentions.

    • ianw2 says:

      Its an extreme case but I recently read that the difference of durations of currently available Tristan recordings is something like 30 minutes.

      Vaguely-

      Driving: pushing it forward, a bit urgent. Neutral.
      Dragging: holding back unnecessarily. Negative.
      Rushing: pushing forward, often to the point of messiness (or vulgarity). Negative.

      It seems there isn’t a good shorthand for ‘in sync’. I suppose ‘sympathetic’?

      Here’s a more recent one, and since it was being used for publicity purposes, I don’t feel guilty in using it. Listen for JDD falling out with the conductor.

      • Bianca Castafiore says:

        Total trainwreck. Obviously conductor and diva did not get together for rehearsals:

  • Liz.S says:

    Oh wait, what happened to Roberto Devereux? I thought they would do the trilogy…

  • mirywi says:

    What is Adelina Patti parlour technique and what does it
    have to do with tremolo? She never had a tremolo, at least not what I’d call a tremolo.

    • phoenix says:

      What an honour to find someone on parterre,com who actually heard Patti!
      -> If you read what I wrote, mirywi, I mentioned Patti’s ‘style’ (think of her famous recital wherein Patti decorated ‘Una voce poco fa’ to such an extreme that Rossini himself, who was present in the audience, asked who the composer was). I didn’t mention the word ‘tremolo’ in my own comment because I myself never even got past the cavatina before turning off Meade and the performance — good riddance!
      -> I know it is sometimes possible to confuse a wide vibrato employed for dramatic emphasis with a tremolo. Meade is rather young to have a genuine tremolo = which I define as an uncontrolled beat in the tone -- but she could have tired vocally at some point yesterday with a sluggish vibrato. At any rate, I don’t like to listen to Verdi sung with Meade’s (or Damrau’s or Dessay’s) voice and technique but there are those (such as Mme. Billinghust, the ‘Lady’ of the House) whom I am sure would disagree with me, which is just fine. It takes all kinds.
      -> Buenas noches, mirywi!

      • mirywi says:

        I suppose Adlina Patti was a ruin by the time she made her records, but I still love her.

  • Noel Dahling says:

    Absolutely no desire to see/hear a Voigt Kundry.

  • Richard_Plantagenet says:

    Now is the winter of our discontent. It’s not too hard to see why La Cieca is furious. Scorecard for 20012-2013:
    Luisi:
    Three complete Ring Cycles
    New production (Un Ballo)
    Revival of interest (Les Troyens)
    Plain old revival (Aida)
    Feature article plus picture on front cover of Opera News

    The Kid:
    Plain old revival (Traviata) (but with all-star cast)

    [Insert Handel aria here denoting rage]

    Who is responsible for this? Ah, that wascal Jimmy Levine, the one responsible for selecting conductors. He’s gotta go. And fire Gelb. And have Luisi humiliated and/or fade into the woodwork. Come to think of it, Luisi is pretty popular with the orchestra and chorus plus some singers. Fire them too. Will this be enough to assuage La Cieca’s rage? No. Not until after the Götterdämmerung of the old regime, a new era opens, presided over by The Kid. Viva The Kid. Ah, swoon.

    But quiet. Better not to be too obvious. First things first. Plots have I laid…libels and dreams…

  • fabioxever says:

    Muti = Cicago = Rome Opera House

    Luisi = Met = Teatro Carlo Felice Genova

    Read this (if you can) :

    http://genova.repubblica.it/cronaca/2012/03/02/news/carlo_felice_fabio_luisi_direttore_onorario_musicisti_e_tecnici_applaudono_la_nomina-30845795/