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Man in chair

“The question on everyone’s lips at Carnegie Hall was, ‘Is Jimmy back in form?’ The answer, after a nearly three-hour program featuring the Met Opera orchestra and piano soloist Evgeny Kissin, was ‘yes, maybe’.” [New York Post]

33 comments

  • Camille says:

    Yes, kinda, was my reaction

    Mr. Kissin seemed to take the reins in the Beethoven and the “Great” sounded fairly limp and lame in comparison to the take I heard Michael Tilson Thomas givewith the SF Symphony a couple years back.

    Could not Mo. Levine work behind the scenes and pass on the Musical Directorship to someone more in the prime of life and able? His skills as pianist/accompanist/coach are not to be denied and his vast knowledge of repertory, etc., etc., are all invaluable assets to the institution but is it not now the time to move on, and allow some fresh, young blood to flow into the veins of that doughty old dowager, the Metropolitan Opera Association? Or

    Or are we wedded ’till death us do part to Jimmy? It would seem thus, non?

    • antikitschychick says:

      all valid questions Cammie…but hiring a new music director is easier said than done… and if they pick someone who ends up being sub par, Gelb wil never hear the end of it….Luisi is a good conductor but could he accomplish just half of what JL accomplished? Can anyone for that matter?
      I was really impressed w Gatti…I think a shared directorship b/t him and Luisi would work. Plus they are both Italian. Just sayin ;-)

      • Camille says:

        I followed Gatti with my score three or four times. I still don’t know what he was up to.

        Not my kind of Parsifal. At that opera, Jimmy was really something

        • Porgy Amor says:

          I loved the Girard production, but Gatti wasn’t my ideal either. However, he didn’t make me miss Levine in PARSIFAL, and I could never patiently tolerate Levine’s Wagner in general — all I ever heard was excessively smoothed out, uninflected glacial drift paraded as profundity. He was a master at getting exactly what he wanted, and of course the results always sounded beautiful, but not my cuppa. I suspect I know what records he grew up listening to, but he was leaving out some vital ingredients.

    • antikitschychick says:

      FUCK! I forgot you don’t like to be called Cammie…my apologies!! It shall be Camille from now on. Basta.

    • LittleMasterMiles says:

      I wonder if he still plays piano? He might not have the strength or control in his feet for the pedals. I hope he can have a respectable season or two at the Met and then now out gracefully.

      • LittleMasterMiles says:
      • Camille says:

        Indeed, but that old damper pedal can be dispensed with, up to a certain point anyway, during coachings and some rehearsal. It is the information that he imports to the situation, and not the actual accomplishment of playing, which is the greater of the two. It is a shame, though, as he was a very fine pianist and sensitive accompanist. Maybe they can rig up a piano whereby the dampers may be accessed manually—such things these days should not be all that impossible?

  • perfidia says:

    I think only death will stop Levine and Domingo from being in front of the public. It’s almost like a personality disorder, but then again, that is the artistic temperament. I just think it gets to an extreme with these two.

    • antikitschychick says:

      +1 :-P

    • Camille says:

      Certainly, there have been plenty of conductors who have died “in the saddle” so to speak—most recently that I know of, Maestro Sinopoli, about ten or twelve years back.

      What else are they to do? Go home and play chess? Their entire lives have been geared to and sacrificed to this one goal, so it is understandable and ‘human, all too human’.

      I agree, and think that neither one of the two will give up his stranglehold on the lyric muse. We’ll just have to grit our collective dentures and carry on through it

      • perfidia says:

        Yes, but Sinopoli was a surprise and he was only fifty five. A conductor especially can work as long as the health holds, but Levine is trying to do a job that is too much for his body. It is painful to witness, and it is not helping the Met.

        • Camille says:

          That reminds me; an old (boy)friend was a member of the NBC Symphony Orchestra. He was there at rehearsal the day Toscanini lost it, and just left this world for another. My friend told me he was just fine, as always, at the beginning of rehearsal and then, suddenly and out of nowhere, while playing Lohengrin (I think), his eyes glazed and hardened and his arm just kept flapping without any rhythmic beat. He was just gone. In a minute.

          The day or so after that, the orchestra was called together and told, summarily, that they were being disbanded and that was IT. No Toscanini = no orchestra. They played one more concert @ Carnegie, in his honor, then no more, at least that I know of.

          My friend, in relating this story to me more than thirty years later had still never recovered wholly from the trauma of this loss, for such was his love for his orchestra and for the great maestro, whose flying spittle, not to mention his maledictions and pejoratives, he had all endured with both grace and gallantry. For after all, he had played under TOSCANINI!

          Actually, he was so inspired by the maestro he, in his turn, took up conducting and led a small orchestra himself, and found great satisfaction therefrom.

          Well, he—like most everyone in my life—is now just a memory too. Life always goes on, ruthlessly and interminably relentless, and perhaps we are all guilty of wanting to hold onto it forever and a day, if for no other reason than fear of the great unknown which awaits us all. Why should we be afraid? No one is exempt and no one gets out of here alive.

          R.I.P., GK.

      • La Cieca says:

        The thing is, there is more to life than conducting at the Met, and for that matter more to musical life than conducting at the Met. Levine could make an comfortably lucrative and I think artistically fulfilling living coaching and giving master classes, both to singers and to aspiring opera conductors. He could become the centerpiece of a boutique-type music festival where he could conduct what he wanted under the most comfortable and favorable circumstances. He could take a faculty position at Juilliard or Marlboro or both.

        The advantage of these types of activities is that they don’t require incredibly complex planning for hundreds of people five years in advance that can be ruined by a bout of bad health on less than 24 hours’ notice.

        • Camille says:

          My word. What a capital idea.

          Why doesn’t he just take over that Juilliard vocal/opera department alltogether and really create a stellar training ground for young singers. There have been some cross-pollination efforts between the Met Lindemann and Juilliard Opera in the past few years, MarshieMII could tell us a bit on ll that, which have really been welcome as an advancement over the old times. As it is a stone’s throw from the Met, it should be the logical link between training, apprenticeship, and the launching of a career. Mo. Levine has such a goldmine of information and experience and practical knowledge of the theatre, if he could see his way to that pathway, he’d be doing the next generation an inestimable mitzvah.

          Every human being has their time and their limits. He who cannot observe his own does so at his own expnse and risk.

          • marshiemarkII says:

            CammiB, I;ll tell you everything tonight as I need to go to a dinner AGAIN :-( tonight. Besos

          • Camille says:

            Tell me EVERYTHING? What? How you los your virginity, too??

            I await with bated breath and there will be no traipsing off to Jackson Hts. for you tonite, Señorita Duqusa! Keep your skirts clean!

          • marshiemarkII says:

            CammiB and Cieca, the points you make are realistic and sensible, and yet so unrealistic because of who we are talking about.
            To wit, the divinely gifted Ken Noda is faculty at Juilliard, Marlboro and Yale, and yet at the Met his title is Assistant to James Levine. The head of the James Marcus Vocal Studies Institute at Juilliard is my dear old Harvard classmate, and fantastic musician and pianist Brian Zeger. He is also the Executive Director of the Lindemann Program and as such the glue that makes the Lindemann/Juilliard collaboration so successful. Who appointed him to the Lindemann job?, well of course the founder and soul behind everything, James Levine. So you see, these very exalted positions you suggest, are simply not enough for Jimmy ever to settle to.

            Long before his health issues he already did an immense amount of coaching of young singers, and the fantastic work with the Tanglewood Summer Youth Orchestra and the student presentations, Don Giovanni with Layla Claire, Ariadne with Emalie Savoy (replaced already by von Dohnanyi because of illness), and so many others. The very Debbie Joy learned the Immolation from Jimmy from that Youth Orchestra work. He always was a great teacher, pedagogue and inspiration, without any pompous titles. He was just “Jimmy”. How can he let go of all of that? Now the Lindemann event on 2012 was run entirely by Luisi, but this year there was Jimmy once again teaching and coaching young conductors. He is a whirlwind of energy, and don’t know how he handles emotionally the accommodation to his new physical status, but I cannot imagine it is anything but uniquely painful emotionally.

        • luvtennis says:

          Agreed. Maestro Levine needs to be realistic about the long haul here (perhaps he is and we just don’t know it yet). Even if he has improved to the point of returning to his duties fulltime AT THIS TIME, how can he be sure that this improvement is not just temporary? I know there are no sure things in this world, but he needs to be reasonable. Now is the time for the MET to be looking for a new music director and/or principal conductor. If Jimmy has come back as a stop gap until they find a permanent replacement, then all is good. But if he is just trying to hang-on, then he is doing the MET (and his own commitment to its success) a great disservice.

          What first-rank conductor is going to want to commit to the MET as long as Levine’s shadow is hanging over the place?

          • kashania says:

            At the most, Levine should be taking a Music Director Emeritus type of position — one where he will conduct two or three productions a year at most (which, come to think of it, is what he’s doing in 13-14). And he should cede the responsibilities of Music Director to someone else.

          • Liz.S says:

            I find the idea of conductor emeritus “promotion” both realistic and satisfying to his fans, kashania. After all the public wants to hear him conduct, no?

            But I don’t think he can move on, even if he wants to, without having his replacement and I don’t see new MD hunting that easy.

            Even if Levine totally gives up his connection at the Met, his shadow will be hanging over at the Met for a good while, I think, luvtennis. I’m sure people will continue to say “oh that new MD is no Levine” -- it’s inevitable.

            In addition to the heavy burden of competing with Levin’s living legacy, whether the candidates perceive the MD position at Gelb’s Met in NYC attractive or not, is another question, too.

  • kashania says:

    I quite liked Levine’s reading of the Schubert “Great”. He really emphasized the majesty of the piece which is my cuppa. I thought he got great colours from the orchestra, especially the strings. And for once, the second movement didn’t seem interminable to me (but that could be because he skipped the repeats?).

    • Camille says:

      I took a little nap during your cuppa tea, oolong of course, O mighty principe di Persia!

  • Luvcine says:

    From a thread “Out of the Past” posted by La Cieca some two hours after an announcement by Peter Gelb last Oct. 11, I first found out that the beloved Maestro Levine will return to the podium on May 19. Shortly after, a parterrian (“Sempre liberal”) posted that there were some 20 seats left for sale. I rushed and bought 2 of the last seats from the Carnegie web site! Thanks to La Cieca and the parterrians, I was one of the lucky ones to attend the concert.

    On the same thread, La Cieca wrote the next day that “assuming this all goes as planned and hoped, may I be the first so congratulate Peter Gelb for brokering what is surely the deal of the decade.” Did La Cieca congratulate Peter Gelb?

    La Cieca is usually posting and intervening with timely and impartial opinions on music, especially opera. Why did it take this time almost 2 days for La Cieca to post information about Maestro’s Levine’s return? I was very surprised by the tone and the delay of the New York Post review. Could it be that la Cieca was disappointed by Maestro Levine’s return, or perhaps just too cautious?

  • Lohenfal says:

    Thanks for the honest review. Most of the critics didn’t want to tell the truth about what they heard. I listened to the webstream and was only moderately impressed. I thought the Lohengrin came off best, the Beethoven was too hyper-romantic, and the Schubert somewhere in the middle. Even if Levine is not too impaired physically, that doesn’t mean he is the exceptional conductor he once was. Whether or not he is delusional about staying on at the Met, only time will tell. The Boston Symphony’s decision to go with Nelsons shows that they’ve had enough of dealing with ailing conductors. Maybe the Met will eventually come to a similar decision.

    • Camille says:

      I had much the same impression as you, but have attended eight performances of his conducting of Lohengrin however, and this was not his best effort, by a long shot.

      Hey, if I change my name to ELSADRY, would you go out on a date with me?

      [Sorry, couldn't help myself. ]

      • Lohenfal says:

        I attended a Levine Lohengrin in 1998 and agree that it was superior to what I heard on Sunday’s concert. I would also have to say that I’ve had mixed feelings about his Wagner-Strauss performances in general. They generally seem too slow and unidiomatic--not that I’m against slow Wagner when done by Knappertsbusch, Klemperer, and some other past greats. Still, the Lohengrin I remember was one of Levine’s better efforts in this repertory.

        As the name implies, Lohenfal is devoted to the service of the Grail exclusively. After the disasters with Elsa and Kundry, why get involved with any other relationships?

        • Camille says:

          So, you know exactly what I meant about the Lohengrins from 1998-99, then. Thank goodness it isn’t just a trick of memory. I also know what you mean about the excessiveness of the tempi, although some of the breadth is welcome over a more superficial approach. My husband had a habit of calling his Parsifal conducting “tempo di molasses”, for so they seemed to him. He is a Kna man.

          All relationships are disasters in any case. Some are disasters that work and (most) are disasters that don’t work.

          And to tell you the truth, I work for the Holy Grail as well and am in charge of balsam deliveries. Lots of days off but I still find the work exhausting and wake up often finding myself asleep in a bog….

  • grimoaldo says:

    I remember listening to two of Levine’s last live broadcasts from the Met, here in La C’s chatroom, Simon Boccanegra with Furlanetto and Dima, Wozzeck with Held/ Meier/ Stuart Skelton, and raving like a demented person in the chat about how these were golden age worthy performances, magnificent, towering stuff.
    Since Levine stopped conducting there, of the performances I have heard,(which is not all broadcasts, but a lot of them) about 80% have been crap (in my opinion of course), and I would even say that is an underestimate, and I do not mean the productions, but the musical values, orchestral playing and singing and standards of musicianship.
    Maybe it is a coincidence and the Met would have fallen into a pit of mediocrity, Levine or no Levine, but I somehow doubt it.

    • Camille says:

      Grimoaldo, you raise an interesting point there, to me at least, and one I have been mulling all season long. I haven’t arrived at any kind of a conclusion yet but the musical values do seem to be different, or something sounds different, or something. It’s a combination of many things and I cannot sort the wheat from the chaff or perhaps see the forest for the trees as yet.

      Maybe it’s just me and I am finally getting tired of opera. Maybe it is the Tin Age of Opera, as I sometimes mutter to myself. I don’t know.

      I do know that if they don’t prepare for the reality that James Levine is not immortal, NOW, they are going to be in one hell of a mess. Come on, he was still a pretty green kid when he started out forty plus years ago. They have to take a chance on someone and take a decision of some kind or it is just absolute irresponsibility and unconscionable.

      I was at one of those Wozzecks, having made a special trup to see it with Meier and to hear Levine conduct it, one of his particular specialties, at least for me. It was good but my favourite is still the one from ’97 with, god bless her, Hildegard. They were both truly outstanding. Time really plays tricks on one and I wonder if what I remember is really that much better, though. Occasionally I will hear again on Sirius a performance I had heard live in the house, and I will get an entirely different feeling about it. So subjective, so ephemeral, and so relative! Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding…!!

    • Arianna a Nasso says:

      It goes to show what an important role the music director plays. Levine inspired the orchestra -- and many singers -- to give their best. Also after all those years, the players knew his interpretations, and they had a shorthand for working together, so revivals could sound as impressive as new productions which receive more rehearsals. You can bet Troyens would have had a completely different sound if it had been Levine rather than Luisi. No one has the authority these days to make such an impact other than the occasional Gatti, Rattle, or Muti. Levine also had the clout to get singers commit to some less exciting roles, just to have the chance to work with him and to keep their Met relationship strong (Nikitin singing Klingsor when he sings Amfortas elsewhere, which surely was booked when Levine intended to conduct this production).

  • Arianna a Nasso says:

    I’m reading a lot of extremely logical suggestions on how Levine should continue his career and don’t disagree. However, I expect this is a very illogical situation. I think there is a segment of the population that has a psychological condition (for lack of better phrase) where they CAN’T stop doing their job (Domingo falls into this as well as do many artists and executives). Logic is beyond them when it comes to retiring. Like many such conditions, I can’t say I truly understand it, and the majority of the population probably can’t either, but I’m open to believing that when you’ve had the kind of exceptional career a Levine, Domingo, Pavarotti, etc. has had, you just can’t stop doing what is your passion.