Cher Public

“What gets me…!”

It is one of the most basic truths of the gay male experience that any life situation imaginable can be summed up with a line from All About Eve. And, as you see from the headline above, that’s how La Cieca (pictured, artist’s conception) is reacting to this utter balderdash about James Levine‘s cancellation of Lulu at the Met.  

You will recall that in that seminal 1950 film, the heroine Margo Channing is furiously reading a column about the sudden and unannounced appearance of her understudy, Eve Harrington, in a performance of the melodrama Aged in Wood. Miss Channing is not so much enraged by the glowing reviews Miss Harrington received as by the fact that there were any reviews at all.

And so, in the spirit of this ineffable line reading by Bette Davis, La Cieca will continue: What gets me is not so much that Levine bit off more than he could chew, because that’s old news. And it further does not get me that the announcement about the maestro’s finking out of an opera that was certainly programmed at his personal behest should come so very late in the game: again, that’s the Jimmy we all know so well.

What does get me, though, is that the music director of the Metropolitan Opera has suddenly withdrawn from an artistic commitment to his own company, and he has not a goddamned word to say about it. Not a peep. The press release quotes Peter Gelb, who speaks with astonishing—one might say excessive—tact. But Levine just apparently retreated into his cocoon as usual, and “all the papers in town” are like, “Oh, well, you know good old Jimmy. It’s all about the music with Jimmy.”

Rubbish. It’s all about Jimmy with Jimmy. Can you imagine another opera company in the world where the music director would cancel a major project and then, not only make himself completely unavailable for comment on his decision, but could be confident that nobody would even try to press for an answer, because, well, you know how Jimmy is?

Nobody else in the world would dare. Not Daniel Barenboim, not Antonio Pappano, not Philippe Jordan or Franz Welser-Möst. And God knows Riccardo Muti or Simon Rattle or Gustavo Dudamel wouldn’t try to pull this kind of garbage. So how come Levine is allowed to get away with it?

Look, James Levine is, or anyway was, a very talented and hardworking conductor. He’s done a lot of good things for the Met. But he’s not the Dauphin of Spain. He needs to be answerable the way the rest of us humans are answerable. And the palace guard who continue to enable him are doing nobody any favors.

  • redbear

    From Handel’s “Theodora” opening in Paris this Saturday: “Vain is the attempt to force belief with the severest instruments of death.” Peter Sellars’ production on YT has the Romans in contemporary clothes and drinking Coke. Yes I am thinking the Doctors Without Borders hospital.

    • According to the TCE’s website: “Theodora is Handel’s penultimate work and the only one of his oratorios to be based on a Christian theme”. I find that a surprising statement, but I’m dense.

      • manou

        It seems all the other oratorios (oratori?) have Old Testament or mythology themes.

        I am very pleased with myself having managed to snag tickets for Netrebko’s forthcoming Trovatore in Paris next February -- all her performances are now sold out. It is a fair bet that Alex Ollé (Olé!) will make it distinctively different from the Met’s production, given his connection with the Fura Dels Baus.

        • Yes. That’s what I was told when I asked someone who’s closer to the TCE than I. But I thought the Old Testament was Christian as well. As I said, I’m dense.

          • Operngasse

            It used to be.

            However, for a large percentage of Christians areas of this country, the Bible starts at Matthew. Otherwise, since they believe every word in the Bible is gospel, how could they eat pork and shrimp? I imagine it’s not easy finding a Kosher butcher in the South.

            • LT

              Christians do not follow any dietary (or dress, lifestyle, etc)rules as those were “cancelled” by Jesus and the New covenant.

              Not to mention that for the most part those restrictions are from the Talmud and were made up by random rabbis over a long period of time.

        • lorenzo.venezia

          oratorii ;-)

          • manou

            Grazie -- mi sembrava sbagliato!

        • manou

          Exceptio probat regulam.

          • grimoaldo

            As the wikipedia article on “Theodora” says (I wrote a lot of it) it is ” Handel’s only dramatic oratorio in English on a Christian subject.”
            “Messiah” is a *sacred* oratorio (the only one Handel designated as such) not a “dramatic” one, ie, the singers are not portraying characters such as Saul or Semele or Solomon, they are singing passages from the Bible set to music, and “Messiah” is not a drama, a play, only minus the staging, as the dramatic oratorios are.
            “Theodora” is the only one of Handel’s oratorios to be based on extra-Biblical Christian literature, it is based on the (almost certainly entirely fictional) story of a Christian saint and martyr, Theodora of Alexandria, first mentioned in surviving hagiography (stories about Christian saints) in the 4th century. Handel’s librettist Thomas Morell based the piece on a play by Corneille,”Théodore, Vierge et Martyre” and an English novel, “The Martyrdom of Theodora and of Didymus” by Robert Boyle (1687).
            Whether or not the Old Testament narratives of many of Handel’s other oratorios count as Christian, they are certainly not *exclusively* Christian as of course they are part of Jewish tradition also. This tapped into an audience that gave Handel a lot of support, the Jewish community, where he had numerous friends and patrons. This of course is no big deal now, but it was in 18th century London where most members of the “establishment” or political or artistic elites such as a composer favoured with royal patronage such as Handel, would not have been personally friendly with Jews who refused to convert to Christianity as they were expected to do if they wanted to be accepted into mainstream culture (as Lorenzo da Ponte did in the 18th century, Mendelssohn and many others in the 19th. Meyerbeer was unusual in that he remained proudly Jewish and yet was accepted into the highest circles, being appointed official court composer to the Prussian royal family and being commissioned to compose the coronation march for the coronation of the first Kaiser.)
            Handel’s oratorios with the exception of “Messiah” were written as commercial ventures, put on in theatres for profit. “Theodora” was a failure with very poor attendance and few tickets sold, which was a great disappointment to Handel. He quipped “the Jews will not come to it because it is a Christian story; and the ladies will not come because it is a virtuous one.”
            When Handel was asked by two musicians for comps to a performance of “Messiah”, he replied “”Oh your servant, meine Herren! you are damnable dainty! you would not go to Theodora -- there was room enough to dance there, when that was perform!”
            Nowadays “Theodora” with its exceptionally beautiful music is recognised as a masterpiece and has been staged as an opera a number of times, although that was not how it was originally intended to be performed.

            • manou

              Grim -- I am dazzled by your erudition and scholarliness.

            • Cicciabella

              Me too. So good to have you back, grim. You deserve twenty trips to Berlin. In December there’s a Messiah at the Concertgebouw with the original Dublin orchestration and vocal setting. I might go to hear it to satisfy my curiosity.

            • grimoaldo

              Thank you for the nice comments manou and Cicciabella!
              A snippet from “Theodora”, if I have not lost the art of posting yt vids in the year off I had from this site (and opera generally) --

              Theodora, a Christian woman, has been condemned to serve as a sacred prostitute in the temple of Venus for refusing to participate in a festival in honour of the goddess to celebrate the Emperor’s birthday.
              This chorus is meant to be the evil pagan Romans celebrating the poor girls condemnation to a fate worse than death, the words are
              “Venus laughing from the skies,
              Will applaud her votaries.
              While seizing the treasure
              We revel in pleasure,
              Revenge sweet love supplies.”
              But the music does not suggest evil pagans gloating over torture and death of innocent Christians, instead Handel writes the most gloriously jolly little tune with foot tapping rhythms and the brass and woodwinds alternating “ha-ha!, ha-ha!” sounds. He just can’t create villains, his humanitarian instincts come through in everything he wrote.
              If the yt vid does not post, I am not trying again, you will just have to take my word for it.

            • Camille

              grimoaldo, I have been mulling over whether or not to attend this and your timely intervention and comments are extremely useful in my consideration, so thank you so much, honey!

            • grimoaldo

              You are most welcome Camille.
              I did not know Theodora was going to be performed in New York soon, I looked it up, unfortunately it is on Halloween night, no way I can be there. How I wish I could hear Philippe Jaroussky as Didymus!
              Yes, you should go!
              Everyone who is even vaguely interested should go!

  • Signor Bruschino

    Maybe he is saving his energy for the 10 performances of Die Fledermaus that we all are dying to hear him conduct for the first time.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      I’m very curious to know what Goldowsky’s scripts and delivery sounds like to people here born after 1970.

      • RosinaLeckermaul

        At least they were about the opera and not the personalities of the singers. I miss the days when the intermission features were informative.

      • Camille

        Thanks for putting this up, QPF! As I once found a recording of this in a yard sale a long time ago but have rarely had the turntable to listen to it, and now that I have the turntable I don’t know where the LP is! So thanks.

        Mr Goldovsky was The Bomb. A great teacher who so patiently and clearly explaining everything in a manner that held your attention, especially aided and abetted by that tantalising Count Dracula accent of his. I’ve always missed him since his demise and do wish the MET would haul out of their capacious vaults some of his lectures to be put on the broadcasts rather than subject us to those increasingly clueless Opera Quizzes.

        • Quanto Painy Fakor

          Boris was a gem! Your suggestion for the MET to rebroadcast his intermissions and those of Alberta Maisiello, Edward Downes, Father Owen Lee, William Weaver and so many others would do so much to build audiences for opera and for the Metropolitan. The problem may be that those intermissions were in some way controlled by Texaco. The MET issued a large collection of those intermissions (privately remastered by Mike Richter for friends in his “Words About Music” series) but it’s out of circulation.

        • gustave of montreal

          He was a moskovite Jew, no transvylvanian accent.

          • Camille

            perhaps he was the tsarevich in disguise, chéri choux-fleur?

      • vilbastarda

        Thank you, QPF for revealing Boris Goldovsky to me. I had, until now, only tangential knowledge of who he was. What a refreshing gem!

        So, to answer your question: to me his delivery sounds like a lost art of engaging and educating the public. I listened to what you posted without being able to do anything else. It felt like a lecture of my favorite teacher from middle school. And I think this inability of doing anything else in this era of multitasking, short attention span, and internet/social media noise is what is lost, and what would be good to bring back, and experience more. It felt like deeper regions of the brain were accessed, and it feels good to experience deeper thinking. His speech is very scripted, and hence very well researched and documented, unlike most of the programs today that feel more improvised, and way more superficial.

        So thank you very much, I will explore now Goldovsky’s broadcasts, and books more.

        • Quanto Painy Fakor

          Excellent. Brava, bastarda! That is exactly what I was hoping people would feel and I agree with your entire appraisal, with the additional fact that Goldovsky was also a first rate in pianism for opera and for coaching / conducting singers. His lectures were indeed scripted, but his expertise permitted him to be like that all the time. I’ll always remember my visits to his home in Brookline, MA. and how generous he was with his knowledge.

          • Quanto Painy Fakor

            Here’s more Boris, dalhlink

          • Camille

            That is quite so, at least according to a dear lady I once knew who studied with him. She could not speak of him in anything other than awed and hallowed terms, and she called a spade a spade, generally speaking. I’m so pleased that QPF has brought him back to life here on parterre as he can be a docent for many who flounder about wondering what the hell is going on and why in some of these operas. It is a shame that Texaco may have put the stranglehold on many of his lectures, however.

            • Quanto Painy Fakor

              But the Goldovsky of the airwaves was quite different from the Boris of the touring opera troupe he named after himself. It’d too complicated to go into here. His disciples went on to lead opera opera workshops throughout the country. I remember seeing a very young Sherrill Milnes sing Figaro and Scarpia with Boris on tour. Aside from wanting his singers to know every part of the score and be able to perform it without watching a conductor, his method for stage direction that everything be sort of rinky-tink to the music Dorabella and Fiorgiligi enter from upstage, cross downstage right with their watering cans and on the sixteen notes of the introduction pantomine “water, water, water, water” with their cans; cross left and repeat the same business. Everything was symmetrical for Boris in Mozart and he swore up and down that the world would end in D-flat.

    • bronzino

      In the summer of 86 during a break in the rehearsal of Santa Fe Opera’s production of Agyptische Helene, we had the good fortune to lunch with Boris Goldovsky. Despite the beauty of Putnum’s voice in the title role, Mr. Goldovsky didn’t think much of the opera itself, and thought even less of the characterization of Mozart in the then recently release film Amadeus--to portray his ‘god’ Mozart as an infantile, bawdy, hyena-laughing dolt was a, well, sacrilege to Mr. G! What a laudable contribution Mr. Goldovsky made to opera performance and his intelligent commentary with his unique accent is sorely missed.

      Did any other parterrianes have any encounters with Mr. G?

      • Bill

        Bronzino -- yes when I was young and my great aunt
        had 4 subscription tickets for every Met matinee in the first row of the Grand Tier I was occasionally invited and her seats were in front of Milton Cross’ radio
        broadcast booth. We went to all the intermission
        broadcasts and usually Boris Goldovsky would speak
        at the first intermission and Opera Quiz would be the second. Very early on as we always dined at Sherry’s
        for lunch prior to the matinee, at a Don Giovanni which
        featured Siepi, Kunz, Zadek among others, my great aunt asked me if I wanted a second dessert. I told her.
        “Oh no, they are too expensive” An eclair for example costed a full $0.45 (forty-five cents) an enormous sum in those days for a dessert. My great aunt was so charmed by my response that she immediately in the intermission, informed both Milton Cross and Boris
        Goldovsky of my comment of the price of the desserts
        at Sherry’s. They both laughed and laughed and I was.
        at 12, absolutely mortified. After the Broadcast
        performances both Milton Cross and Goldovsky sometimes
        gave me their scripts for the performances. They may well still be stored away at our old family homestead
        in Essex Fells (NJ) and I should look around. They always stayed on script except if an intermission was
        prolonged Milton Cross then had to adlib for a spell.
        Every detail was in these scripts including exact
        nuances of the costumes (Miss Steber will be dressed in
        Tangerine for the second act of Cosi…. stuff like that
        then describing the costume). So I saw Goldovsky regularly during those years and as I recall his evaluations of the operas being presented each week were
        extremely factual. It was about that time that I decided I wanted to be the General Manager of the
        Metropolitan Opera when I grew up so I wrote a letter
        to Rudolf Bing asking him what course of study would
        be best to become the General Manager of the Met eventually. Some weeks later I received a curt letter
        of reply from John Gutman -- an asst. manager at the time that there was no path of study which would aid in becoming the General Manager of the Met.

        • Cicciabella

          Bravo, Mr Gutman! Way to encoutage young people to choose a career path in the arts.

          • Cicciabella

            *encourage, instead of COUTting them off

            • Camille

              well, Ciccia, he does sound like an old COOT with his abrupt, brusque and unfeeling reply to an impressionable, enthused and innocent young person. So, you got that right!

      • kennedet

        “Thanks for the memories”. He was the head of the opera department at the Philadelphia Musical Academy for a short time, if my memory serves me correctly, eons ago. I posted this before but I think it bears repeating. He accompanied a singer and called out the staging while playing the piece from memory. As a young student, i was greatly impressed.

        His book Bringing Opera to Life was the only book for years that dealt with staging opera. John Landis was his conductor when his opera company traveled around the country and has wonderful stories about his experiences.

  • Yes-he does have something like Parkinson’s. When he conducted Falstaff you could see he could not seem to get in the right position in his wheelchair and was fidgeting around with his mouth and his tongue. However he does not seem to be in the late stages so it should not have affected his mind.What are we all so catty for? I would think that another man who had Parkinson’s-in a wheelchair-and that’s his age would be pooped out by the time the Tannhauser overture was over. He will conduct the whole opera. This may be the last time we will see this fabulous Wagnerian conductor “do his thing”. Leave him alone. He is a genius when it comes to Wagner.We can be glad we have him for this.

    • pasavant

      Yes the Emperor has been losing his clothes for a while. The coordination between orchestra and singers was slightly off in the Falstaff performance I heard, not a lot , but just enough to be annoying. I think they must be having trouble following his beat .

  • Chenier631

    I can only wonder why Peter Gelb and the Met board continue this charade of keeping Levine as music director.
    It is beyond obvious that Levine is not physically up to the job, as evidenced by him cancelling his participation in the new Lulu production.
    Although the Met’s press release announcing the cancellation was carefully worded, it sidestepped any direct mention of Levine’s heath issues, which were clearly the issue here.
    I think it is high time that the board and Gelb do something to address the situation. They obviously cannot rely on Levine anymore, and it is foolish for them to schedule him for any more new productions at this point.
    I can only immagine what turmoil the Lulu cancellation has caused behind the scenes. Lulu is a fiendishly difficult score to conduct, and I wonder why they thought Levine was up to it in the first place.
    It is time they bring in some new, young blood at the Met for the post of music director.
    Levine has been there long enough, and has hogged much of the repertoire far too long.
    During his 2 year absence, the Met flourished, and did quite well without him. They CAN get by without him.
    It was such a joy to hear Parsifal under Gatti, Les Troyens under Luisi and the Ring cycle under Luisi, etc.
    Levine needs to go, and Gelb and the board, and Levine himself should think about what’s best for the Met.
    That is what is the most important thing, not Levine’s never-ending need to conduct there at all costs.
    It’s time……..


    • Camille

      ‘What Peter Gelb thinks’ is the thought that entertained me for a short while after seeing his presence quite suddenly emerge from center orchestra and watch him wend his way down towards the orchestra pit. The man wore a sphynx-like masque, to be certain, but seemed to be taking some grim satisfaction in the preceeding performance. I watched him until he disappered into the Exit sign to the right. Hard to read but he did not look displeased.

      In fact, according to my spouse witness close up of Mo. Levine in Weill Recital Hall sometime last spring, I was expecting to see the maestro in far worse shape than he apparently was and found it remarkable he made it through to the end. During the last act I sat within six or eight rows of him and slightly to an angle and, despite all that has been said or theorized above and beyond, found him to be, and indeed, lifting a mighty weight, but not in dire distress. Yes, there were many stops in the second act and betinning with Mr Groissbeck’s introductory to the Sängerfest, but it seemed to be more his fussing to get what he wanted and to show everyone who was still in charge.

      I mean, frankly, has anyone here condcuted a four hour Wagner opera lately, and can report they are still standing at the end? Hard job, at any age and for a seventy year old infirmed man, well, just saying, you have to give credit where it is due.

      The matter of the Music Directorship is simply the prerogative of the Board of Directors and us little people out in the dark may sqwuak all we want but it won’t change a thing. What someone above says, think it was steveac , about Gelb wanting the situation more or less the way it is deserves some consideration, as, for all I could barely discern from Gelb’s inscrutable visage, he did not leave the auditorium an unhappy camper. SOMEthing had gone according to his designs.

  • jackoh

    Here is a story that I would like to see told, either in print or in a documentary or a fictional creation or any other form. That would be a treatment of the difference between Levine holding to the podium until he was physically no longer able and Carlos Kleiber( also one of the absolute greats, in my opinion) leaving the podium when he was still well in command of his faculties, and had to be almost bludgeoned to bring him back to performing. Such a tale would have to plum psychological, social, personal, and artistic dynamics. But, done right, it might be able to tell us much about the intersection of human beings as artists and the the world that they inhabit.

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      Here it is!