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What does get me, though, is that the music director of the Metropolitan Opera has suddenly withdrawn from an artistic commitment to his own company, and he has not a goddamned word to say about it.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.

  • steveac10

    He really must have some very powerful (and generous) members of the board that have tied Gelb’s hands on this matter. I get the sense when I hear Gelb speak these days that if he had it his way the ink would already be dry on a contract with Nezet-Seguin to take over the reins. A few years ago he probably would have signed Luisi had he been allowed to, but I’m sure he would love to have Nezet-Seguin do for the Met what Dudamel has done for the LA Phil.

    • quoth the maven

      Levine probably does have board support, but at the same time, I’m sure it suits Gelb to a “t” to have a non-functional music director in place. It puts that much more power in his own hands.

      • There have been numerous instances in the Met’s history of conflict on artistic matters between the General Manager and the Music Director (I may have the players mixed up but wasn’t it Bing’s insistence on absolute power that caused Leinsdorf to decline the offer as Music Director at one point?).

        I think it suits Gelb more than to a “t”. My hunch is that Levine is untouchable because he and Gelb struck a bargain with the devil that Gelb won’t push him out and he won’t challenge Gelb’s artistic decisions (I acknowledge that Gelb and artistic in the same sentence is an oxymoron).

        What gets me is that without a consistent guiding hand the orchestra has lost some of the refinement Levine achieved and is beginning to sound a bit ragged.

    • Porgy Amor

      Remember this, in that New Yorker article by Stewart?

      At a different board meeting, [Beth Glynn, a former member of the finance committee] asked about the employment contract of James Levine, the Met’s revered music director since 1976. [William C.] Morris refused to divulge the contract’s terms. The discussion became heated, with an angry Morris raising his voice—an act of incivility that shocked some committee members.

  • Batty Masetto

    Apologies for being off-topic: The comments feed on Firefox is returning the following message to me:

    XML Parsing Error: XML or text declaration not at start of entity
    Line Number 2, Column 1:

    Has anybody else been having trouble connecting to it?

    • rapt

      Yes, Batty, I get the same message.

    • Working on this. Apparently it’s a Feedburner (third party) issue.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Levine will take his secrets to the grave.

  • Brava. What gets me is that Levine is probably still collecting the same paycheque as he was back when he was actually doing his job as Music Director and wasn’t just a glorified guest conductor which he is now.

    • Just check the Met’s 990 tax forms, which are public.

      • Geez, who can be bothered to check the Met’s 990 tax forms? :)

      • The most recent 990 for the Met is for the 2012-13 season. Neither Levine nor his company (Phramus Inc) appear there. In the prior year, Phramus Inc. was listed on the 990 as receiving over $1.5 million. That Phramus doesn’t appear on the 990 for 2013 does not necessarily indicate that he received no pay from the Met in that year. It just means that Phramus was not one of the top five highest-paid contractors. The lowest-paid of the top five in 2013 was paid $1.38 million.

        I report, you decide!

        • uwsinnyc

          levine may not be on that list but Gelb earns over 1,600,000 per year,
          and Donald Polumbo 471,000-- For a not for profit organization, aren’t these highly inflated salaries?

          If you look at salaries of Directors of comparable organizations, they are several fold lower.

          • Well, I am used to looking at the pay of nonprofit hospital executives, so by comparison, the pay of the Met brass is not that high.

            But in and of themselves, yes, these compensation rates are high!

            Though I rather think that if anyone is worth that kind of money, Palumbo may qualify; isn’t it generally agreed that the chorus under his direction is much better than it used to be? (Maybe I’m stepping in a minefield here.)

          • Compared to whom?

            Laurance Hoagland Jr., Chief Investment Officer of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation earns a hefty salary of $2.5 million.

            John Seffrin, CEO of American Cancer Society, earns $2.1 million…

            Roxanne Spillett, President of Boys & Girls Clubs of America, earns $1.8 million at an organization with expenses exceeding $130 million…

            Emily K. Rafferty, President of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, earns nearly $1.5 million.

            Placido Domingo, General Director of the Los Angeles Opera earns $1.35 million.

            Michael Kaiser, President of the JFK Center for Performing Arts in Washington D.C., earns $1.348 million.

            Glenn Lowry, Chief Executive of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, earns $1.2 million.

            Brian A. Gallagher, President and CEO of United Way Worldwide, earns $1.2 million.

            James Williams, Chief Investment Officer of the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles, earns $1.2 million.

            Michael Salem, President and CEO of National Jewish Health, earns a salary of just over $1 million.

            Michael Miller, CEO of Goodwill, earns $856,043.


            Gelb’s predecessor, Joseph Volpe, got a 26 percent raise to $1.7 million in his last year on the job, which ended in July 2006.


            The thing is, executive compensation for not-for-profits is not based on “fairness” but rather on competition, i.e., how to attract the very best talent for the job.

            If you don’t think Gelb is worth his wage, the solution is simple: join the board of the Met and launch a campaign to replace him. But I’ll tell you this: you’re not going to find anyone remotely comparable to Gelb for under $1 million a year.

            • What La Cieca said. In U.S. (especially expensive cities like NYC), $1.6 for the CEO of an arts institution is par for the course. And disagree as some might with Gelb’s work, no one can doubt that the guys works extremely hard. Levine, on the other hand, is probably putting in one tenth of Gelb’s hours and effort into his job.

            • Ilka Saro

              And these salaries probably don’t include their expense accounts. When you are in Gelb position and it’s time to check out the opening of a production shared with ENO, I doubt that Gelb will fly economy or stay in the Brixton equivalent of Motel 6.

    • I am sure you are right, IOW.

  • Porgy Amor

    any life situation imaginable can be summed up with a line from All About Eve

    “The Operah, the Operah — what book of rules says the Operah exists only within some ugly building in New York City? Or London, Paris or Vienna? Listen, junior. And learn. Want to know what the Operah is? A loft in Brooklyn. Also opera. Also movie theaters, televisions, notebooks, tablets, portable DVD players, smartphones – all opera. Wherever there’s magic and make-believe and an audience -- there’s Opera! Bugs Bunny, Herheim, and The Girl of the Golden West, Arangi-Lombardi, Mario Lanza, Kelli O’Hara, Bocelli & Wilson, and Leonie Rysanek. You don’t understand them all, you don’t like them all, why should you? The Opera’s for everybody — you included, but not exclusively – so don’t approve or disapprove. It may not be your Opera, but it’s Opera of somebody, somewhere.”

    • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

      Porgy, that was utterly fantastic! Made my day! Funny thing about a conductor’s career…

  • Liz.S

    Thank you, and brava, LaC!

    Indeed this is very very unhealthy and bizarre situation for ANY sort of musical institution. I don’t find it sincere that the Met is prolonging this weird state too long. Essentially we all have been playing make-belief as if we have an active/fulltime MD for years.

    Next season’s what? 50th anniv. for the Met @ Lincoln Center? Isn’t it a good timing to celebrate the years of amazing job by Mr. Levine and to chime in a new MD’s era?

  • gustave of montreal

    The Dauphin was in France, ma chère., not in Spain.

    • In other words, a purely imaginary and fictional office.

      Enjoyed your nitpicking for the day?

      • Batty Masetto

        Problem solved, thanks Cieca.

        • Batty Masetto

          Somehow this turned up in the wrong place -- was meant to go under the issue with the comments feed.

        • armerjacquino

          If only…

  • redbear

    It is an odd situation. When a conductor is music director of a major company it is a full time job: auditions, details of productions, future rep, continuous contact with the musicians. We know that Levine missed a couple of years of this and some nameless other person was doing that, making critical decisions and shaping the future of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the Met itself. To this day, nobody knows if Levine has returned to his office on a regular basis. Is he consulted on anything? His rare appearances suggest his role is seriously limited. Any other company would have given him his laurel leaf crown and made him Honorary God but hired someone else.

    • redbear

      It is also weird how the press and the total New York opera establishment has decided that the Met should have total control of the information it releases. It resembles the press department of the Kremlin and the Times and everyone else does not dare demand answers. This would be unimaginable in any other opera capital. We need Wikileaks and Snowden here!

      • RosinaLeckermaul

        I think the Times and other New York media don’t think opera in general or the Met in particular are important enough to their readers to investigate the current administrative and board situation at the Met.
        It has long been time for Levine to become emeritus and let someone else take over.

        • ML

          It’s also time for Gelb to become emeritus given that he can’t sell subscriptions.

  • Porgy Amor

    I give all Levine all his credit and more for what he did for the Met in the first 30 years or so of his tenure. But imagine if, back in the mid-1970s when he was young and full of energy (he was younger at the time of his MD appointment than YNS, Vladimir Jurowski, and Andris Nelsons are now), some aging Great Maestro (say, Böhm) had been determined to hold onto the equivalent job until they carried him out feet-first? There might never have been a “Levine era.” He would have taken his gifts elsewhere.

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      But by the time Levine was 13 he already knew 90% of the standard operatic repertoire!

  • umangialaio

    Barenboim dared much worse in Milan in May 2013. He stated he could not rehearse a much awaited Goetterdaemmerung and, partly, the following Ring because of an injury and then, during alleged convalescence, he popped up in Salzburg and conducted at Bartoli’s festival.


    • No, “daring much worse” would be to do those things and then to refuse to make any statement about it to the press. (And, of course, for the press then just to roll over and say, “Nobody’s ever asked a question of Barenboim, so I guess that’s that.”

    • Fluffy-net

      Barenboim is an egomaniac, lazy, and totally preoccupied with his own personal well-being and glory.

      Go ahead hate me!

      Back to Levine. I remember what the orchestra sounded like in the mid-70s. Then Levine showed up, but no one paid attention. Little by little the orchestra got better. I noticed it in ’81 when I returned to NY after an absence of two years. A few years later musicians were commenting about the miracle in the pit, but the press was still nattering on that Jimmy “hogs all the performances” and “keeps guest conductors out.” They wanted Carlos Kleiber--unaware of the genius they had. By the end of the ’80s the truth was out. I recall being blown away by Elektra and Wozzeck in the 90s. I thought he programmed them just to show off the orchestra. And show off they did!

      I remember the 70s-90s and am very thankful. I can’t say, think, or even, barely, read anything bad about Jimmy. Even if it is true. I don’t think I am the only one like this, and that’s why it is all the way it is right now.

      • The Met proved that there is no situation so difficult that it can’t be improved by throwing more than a billion dollars or so at it. Of course, that leaves the company with enormous financial obligations at a time when the audience is dying off, but the important thing is that Jimmy is happy.

      • mercadante

        Maybe Levine isn’t talking because the decision wasn’t 100% his. He may be going a little senile for all we know. Comes to work with his underwear on over his pants, starts conducting Lulu and segues into Lucia, thinks Scotto is on the stage. Who knows? Nobody at the Met would ever say.

      • SilvestriWoman

        No offense taken here in Chicago! When he led the CSO, as soon as a concert ended, he couldn’t get out of town fast enough. At one rehearsal (Moses und Aron?), he informed the chorus at one point that, if they were looking for him for a cue, they wouldn’t be getting one. Since Muti accepted the offer to be the next artistic director, he’s proved a complete 180 -- free concerts, going to prisons and schools, always available for press and, well, that musical genius.

  • Remember the huge silence, at the end of which we heard about Levine’s Parkinson’s and partial paralysis? This is more of the same.

  • steveac10

    “But by the time Levine was 13 he already knew 90% of the standard operatic repertoire!”

    And had already decided what was worth conducting (and by extension programming at the Met). Middle to late Verdi, Mozart, Wagner, the prettier Strauss works, and Berg. It can’t be a coincidence that the Met has become large scale “bel canto” central since Gelb took the helm and Levine began his health travails. Levine has shown little interest in anything earlier than middle period Verdi (other than Mozart) unless a new production and a telecast were involved. Now we have a season literally overrun with Donizetti -- which the Met largely ignored for a century, with the exception of Lucia and L’Elisir (although Levine seemed to have a bizarre fondness for the occasional Pasquale).

    • Porgy Amor

      Bizarre fondness for programming it or for conducting it himself? I believe the 2010-11 performances that included the HD were his first of that opera, at least at the Met. While I found that cast delightful, his work was not distinguished, in my opinion. Certainly a long way off from the great Riccardo (not that I’m saying they could have gotten him).

  • mercadante

    It’s the Infante of Spain, the Dauphin was in France

    • armerjacquino

      As people have been saying since the dawn of the Internet- RTFB!

      (the ‘r’ stands for ‘read’; the ‘b’ stands for ‘board’…)

    • Krunoslav

      1) RTFB


      2) Actually an Infante was a royal child NOT expected to become ruler; the equivalent of the Dauphin, or of the Prince of Wales, was the “Prince of Asturias”.

      I’m just sayin’…

      • Operngasse

        I found this interesting, and obtained the following from Wikipedia:

        • Prince of Wales, traditionally used by the heir to the British throne.
        • Dauphin of France, Used by the heir to the French throne while the country was a monarchy.
        • Duke of Brabant, Used by the heir to the King of the Belgians. The title of Crown Prince of Belgium was also used but later abandoned having been used once by Crown Prince Louis Philippe.
        • Crown Prince of Prussia & German crown prince, used by the heir to the German Empire.
        • Tsarevich of Russia, used by the heir to the Russian Imperial throne.
        • Prince of Asturias, used by the heir to the Spanish throne.
        • Crown Prince of Sweden, used in Sweden. The present heir is Victoria, Crown Princess of Sweden who holds the title in her own right.
        • Crown Prince of Norway. Used in Norway.
        • Prince of Orange used by the heir to the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
        • Crown Prince of Denmark. Used by the heir to the Danish throne.
        • Crown Prince of Greece and sometimes Duke of Sparta. Used by the heir to the Greek throne.
        • King of the Romans, used by the heir of the Holy Roman Emperor and thus the person expected to rule over the Holy Roman Empire.

        Strnagely missing is the Hapsburgs. Does anyone know if that family had a specific title for the heir to the throne?

        • manou

          Yannick Nézet-Séguin -- Used by the heir to the Levine throne?

        • gustave of montreal

          Hapsburgs: Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary
          Imperial France: Napoléon I’s son: King of Rome; Napoléon III’s son: Prince Impérial.

          The contemporary “dauphin” of France is the prince François d’Orléans, born in 1961, mentally handicaped and institutionalized.

          Be very careful on that subject, Madame Parterre was very upset that I had the audacity to correct her Dauphin of Spain.


  • EarlyRomantic

    What gets me is the blind adoration of Levine by the press. What isn’t tolerated of others gets him a free pass. To his credit, he built a great orchestra, one that is showing cracks in its armor, unfortunately. Who will rebuild it? That’s a tough call because the era of great conductors is effectively over.

  • redbear

    Lulu is a new Lanridge production!? His new Theodora opens at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees on Saturday. Permanent jet-lag, anyone?

    • redbear

      Oops… delete button…

  • Dolciamente Pipo

    Given Camille’s report of Levine’s robust engagement at the recent Tannhauser dress rehearsal, it doesn’t sound like a health issue.
    My guess is that he has irreconcilable differences with the Kentridge production.

    • steveac10

      “My guess is that he has irreconcilable differences with the Kentridge production.”

      In which case he could have cancelled before the season was announced. The look and tone was pretty obvious to me when I watched the Kentridge interview that was released when the current season was announced. Besides, nobody can convince me Levine was not intimately involved in the planning of this production and just decided he couldn’t work with the production last week. Lulu is one of his signature operas, and rightfully so. Of the three dozen performances of Lulu at the Met he has led 30 of them (and was scheduled for 33). To be frank, I don’t think he has another one in him. Intricate passages and ensembles have been a problem in his last two big shows (Falstaff and Figaro), Lulu is a 3 hour intricate passage.

      • ML


  • bluecabochon

    I was at the dress of Tannhauser as well. Levine must have stopped the orchestra at least 5 times during the performance; stage management was not happy and things got a little testy. There was some messy playing and poor coordination between singers, orchestra and pit that could be the result of not enough rehearsal. I noticed that Levine showed some physical manifestations of motor illness that I hadn’t seen the last time he conducted. Friends in the company have told me that singers and musicians have difficulty following the maestro. I heard someone, probably Palumbo, clapping time in the wings during chorus passages in the second act. They had not run all three acts together before Friday’s dress, so they were very concerned with finishing each act on time. Peter Mattei wasn’t feeling well and almost canceled the rehearsal, but he sang beautifully and you’d never have known it. I hope he’s recovered for tomorrow’s performance. If there isn’t enough rehearsal time for all involved, and the season is just starting, TPTB have to do what’s best for the new high-profile production.

    • ML

      There are 300 empty seats in Orchestra for today’s Levine-led new production premiere of Tannhäuser.

      • The above comment is a repeat from December 22, 1977.

        • ML

          No. When I was born the Met was full.

          • And when I was born the most popular film of the year was White Christmas. What’s your point? Attendance at the Met has varied over the years. I can remember an Entführung back in 1988 or so when Family Circle was literally empty: I mean, the Family Circle standees all got seats in the Balcony, that’s how few people were in the theater. I can also recall a couple of Elektras just offhand from, I guess, spring 1995 when I was able to walk, not run, out of Orchestra standing room and get a seat in the middle of an empty row around S or T, and basically there was nobody sitting behind me. There were some sellout nights, yes, particularly on Pavarotti nights and on other nights of a subscription on which a Pavarotti night was included.

            Short of bringing Pavarotti back from the dead, what do you suggest? Subscription series are bombing all over the US; there has simply been a sea change in how people attend arts events. Peter Gelb is trying to plan for the post-subscription era, an eventuality the Met essentially ignored for a generation.

            But Peter Gelb hates opera, right? Didn’t a friend of your cousin read it somewhere?

            • ML

              I would be happy to dialog with you about this serious matter but you will need to stop delaying my comments, which are presently held up anywhere from 9 minutes to 90 hours.

  • Porgy Amor

    I noticed that Levine showed some physical manifestations of motor illness that I hadn’t seen the last time he conducted.

    I remember him having some kind of dyskinesia episode in the cinema-cast Falstaff of December 2013. It took him a while to get settled to start the performance. I happened to be seeing that performance with a neurologist, but I didn’t exactly need the expert opinion (anyway, the doc, who’s not all up on the opera people, leaned over and asked me, “Parkinson’s?”). It was edited out of the PBS broadcast.

  • Um, is it possible that Levine was discreetly “let go” from this production and radio silence is being maintained because it’d be better for everyone involved? I felt like last season was his attempt to regain control of the Met. He conducted a number of tailor-made projects (the NP of Nozze di Figaro, Meistersinger) but this season’s programming seems very Peter Gelb.

    Anyway I went to last night’s Otello. It sucked.

    • Face saving would explain a lot.

    • Lohenfal

      Ivy, thanks for this review. I’m supposed to see Otello next week. Your comments and those of others here will lead me to have the lowest expectations imaginable.

      I’m also scheduled to see Lulu in November. Levine’s absence won’t bother me, since he wasn’t a factor in my getting a ticket--rather, it was the piece itself and Petersen. Still, this incident shows how the “Levine problem” has gotten out of hand. The programming this season, as you mention, definitely doesn’t reflect Levine’s normal priorities. Whether that means he has no authority left is anyone’s guess. To me, the Met seems in greater disarray than it has been for a long time.

    • Bill

      The above review pretty much echos my own feelings
      about the new Otello -- It was, for the most part,
      an extraordinarily boring evening and I could not wait
      to get out of there and go home. Yonsheva was the shining light of the performance and even she did not
      erase memories of memorable Desdemonas seen in the past,
      Tebaldi (both in 1955 and her last Desdemonas at the Met), Caballe, Te Kanawa Zylis Gara, Benackova (radiant),Stoyanova (more touching than Yonsheva), Varady, Margaret Price -- a couple of others such as Millo do not evoke so many memories and I never tried to see Fleming as Desdemona. I even felt that Cura, the last Otello I saw at the Met, with his dreadfully tattered sometimes almost non-voice, was more effective than Antonenko. Despite good conducting, a bland
      performance this time around.

      • kennedet

        I’m so sorry for you Bill. The last time I heard Cura..I was fortunate enough to be sitting down. His wobble made me off- balance. His over wooly vocal production was bound to get him into trouble.

        • Bill

          Kennedet -- true, Cura’s voice is shot, almost
          an embarrassment to be sure, but he was still able
          to develop an interpretation dramatically and be
          effective on that score. He is one of those singers
          who started out with great promise but after the first
          years began to have vocal problems which have intensified year in and year out.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Need a Rysanek fix?

    • armerjacquino

      As ARABELLA? Excuse me while I run for the hills…