Cher Public

The double negative has led to proof positive

La Cieca has been mulling over Michael Cooper‘s recent “bizarreNew York Times story about Peter Gelb‘s rationale for the putative departure (or non-departure, as the case may be) of James Levine from the Met, and after a lot of pondering she thinks she has this thing figured out. Inspector, will you ask the guests to gather in the Eleanor Belmont Room?  

Thank you, Inspector. La Cieca would like to emphasize that what she is offering here is a hypothesis, a suggested explanation based upon the limited amount of information we have available to us. She welcomes any and all alternative theories.

So to, begin:

Sometime after last fall’s difficult Tannhäuser at the Met, Gelb and Levine negotiate a plan to have Levine retire from his current position at the Met at the end of this season.

Concurrently, the process begins, or rather goes into high gear, of signing a successor to Levine as Music Director or in some parallel position. That successor is almost certainly Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

The plan is that the announcement of these developments will be made in the form of a “passing of the torch” story, toward the end of the season, let us say around the time Levine is conducting Entführung.

But Cooper sniffs out the “retirement” aspect of story and starts to write it for the Times.

And then someone, it doesn’t matter who, blabs. Word gets through to some of the more powerful machers on the Board and they dig their heels in, saying, “If Jimmy is forced out, then not a dime from us.”

So, while it is still obvious Levine needs to exit (and for all we know, wants to exit) the Board must be mollified. The only way to do this is to make the Board understand the transition to Emeritus staus is very clearly and specifically Jimmy’s idea.

But there’s this Cooper piece about to break. So the Met must regain ownership of the story, including its timing.

(This is pure guesswork.) Gelb approaches Cooper and says something along the lines of, “I understand you’re working on a big story about the Met. You are missing one very important fact that I predict will completely change the emphasis of your piece. Perhaps you might want to hold off on publishing until we can discuss this information?”

Gelb and Levine and Levine’s doctor explain to Cooper that, yes, Levine’s medical condition has in some ways adversely affected his conducting recently. But there seems to be a simple change in regimen that can fix the problem. Assuming that “fix” works, Levine can, much to everyone’s joy and relief, stay on at the Met indefinitely.

Cooper then incorporates this information into this story, which now has a completely different angle: it’s not about how Levine is leaving the Met, but rather how Levine was on the verge of leaving the Met but now seems to have a reprieve.

This brings us to the present. Now, some speculation moving forward.

A few months from now, after the Met’s season announcement and a series of closely-watched performances of Simon Boccanegra, it perhaps turns out that the change of dosage of L-dopa does not turn out to provide so miraculous a “cure” as expected.

Levine and his doctor give another interview, expressing their regret that what seemed to be their last best hope has not panned out.

Rather than pursing further medical solutions, Levine decides that in fact the time is ripe to relinquish his very demanding post at the Met after nearly a half-century of service.

Cooper writes a followup story focusing squarely on Levine’s noble decision to abdicate. Sidebar to this piece is the exciting news that somehow, through Gelb’s genius as an administrator, he has managed to convince the gifted Nézet-Séguin to rescue the Met in its time of need.

James Levine is hailed as a saint; Peter Gelb’s reputation as a fucking genius is restored; Yannick Nézet-Séguin starts shopping for a pied-à-terre in Hell’s Kitchen… and Michael Cooper clears a place on his mantel for his Pulitzer.

  • Chenier631

    I think La Cieca’s theory is spot on.
    It all makes perfect sense.
    However, for me, there is one glaring detail in Michael Cooper’s story that wasn’t mentioned, which makes me question the truthfulness of Levine’s intent on releasing this information.
    That is, if Levine’s doctor thought that adjusting his medication would benefit him and make him able to conduct more easily, then why wasn’t this done months if not years sooner?
    This makes no sense whatsoever.
    As usual, it’s what Gelb and Levine don’t say that has me wondering.


    • messa di voce

      Parkinson’s drugs loose their effectiveness over time, so the general idea is to delay increased dosage or changing to new drug as long as possible.

      • Gualtier M

        I just spoke to a friend who lost two dear people to Parkinson’s. She said that yes, adjusting the medication can work -- but the improvements only last for a few months and then the spasms and the listing to one side return. In the end, the inevitable decline continues on.

        As for this article, I was thinking the same thing -- the press article started out as one thing and then was co-opted into something else. However, I do think that Levine is digging in his heels and refusing to go voluntarily and quickly. He has powerful long-time board members and donors who have backed him. So he has some push against Gelb and others who are trying to get him to let go gracefully. Eventually the board has to make some hard decisions that they have put off for way too long. The death of long-time manager Ronald Wilford is more damage to Levine’s foothold.

        As for Andris Nelsons -- young, dynamic but nothing that he has done at the Met has impressed me as much as Nézet-Séguin and Fabio Luisi’s best work. I hope Yannick can combine the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Met. But it seems that if the Met really wanted him they should have made the offer more than five years ago. Luisi has kissed the Met’s ass goodbye.

    • Gualtier M

      As to the “mystery” of why Levine didn’t immediately go to his doctor -- the answer is in Levine’s own words in the article:

      “Mr. Levine said that he had feared his Parkinson’s was worsening. “I was surprised, and I was worried,” he said, noting that for a while he played “telephone tag” with his doctor and did not schedule an appointment for some time. “I didn’t want to be doing substandard performances and stay working too long, but I felt so good about the way I was able to work — other than this gestural thing.”

      Clearly Jimmy doesn’t like hearing bad news and putting this off would delay the inevitable -- and it is all about Jimmy delaying the inevitable at this point. He didn’t want confirmation from his doctor. Also Parkinson’s doesn’t “get better” or stabilize -- like MS it gets worse.

      • dgf

        Denial is not just a river in Egypt. Maybe “Aida” should be Jimmy’s “Schwanengesang.”

  • SacredMonster

    I love the conjecture but I think the story is a bit different. More likely that Levine got word of Gelb’s plan and proposal brought the “Miranda Priestly” list of donors and Levine Stalwarts and I think if you look to Boston for the next succesor instead of Philadelphia you may be on to something. Look for Principal conductor position to be named Shortly and you’ll know who is runner-up.

    • Operanaut

      How would Nelsons have the time to be Met music director? He’s already stretched too thin. Also, after the BSO’s negative experience with Levine I couldn’t see them warming to that idea.

    • The Bucky

      Boston? Is Sarah Caldwell back on the job market?

    • antikitschychick

      oh my goodness, that Devil Wears Prada analogy was priceless.

      This is a very delicate situation that requires difficult decisions and I honestly hope everything works out well for all parties involved, but realistically speaking it seems the Met needs a new MD sooner rather than later. I hope Mr. Levine partakes in the decision of who his successor will be and works with that (ostensibly) young person to ensure a smooth succession while he still can and passes along some nuggets of wisdom. Whoever he will be, I’m sure he would benefit from the knowledge and advice of such a brilliant conductor and musician. He has a lot to offer in that respect as well and who knows, it may be his greatest contribution yet.

  • Chimene

    Maybe that is why Opalais is being featured so prominently this season at the Met…

  • olliedawg

    Love the conjecture.
    Still think putting all of this out for public consumption demeans the institution.

    • I disagree. If there has been any demeaning done (and I don’t know if there has), it was the NYT article — the gist of which is that Levine is ready for retirement but is going to hang on because his ego demands it.

  • Der Fiakermillo

    It is a very strange piece, aiming for transparency but only begging more questions. But the timing is obvious -- the season announcement is very soon so they needed to say something about next season and what he is announced to be conducting.

    Levine brings Gelb to his doctor appointment -- very odd and WHY? to hear the bad/good news in person? Do you bring YOUR boss to your doctor’s appt? Also, it is now publicly acknowledged that he has Parkinson’s? I thought the last “public” word was it wasn’t “real” Parkinson’s, though everyone accepted that wasn’t true. So now we have a doctor talking about medication for a man who has guarded his private life intensely. Very odd. As to La Cieca’s theory, who on the board is still a devoted Levinite and has that much influence? No one that I know. I think it is clear to EVERYONE inside the house and on the board that he isn’t who he was and can’t function the way he used to. And that the institution needs a proper music director. It seems to me it’s a strange attempt at making it look better for Levine, probably at his request, that he really wanted to keep trying, and he will still keep trying for next season but steps had to be taken.

    I actually agree with most of what La Cieca writes (YSN included (!!); it won’t be Nelsons, who has several really big commitments already (BSO, Leipzig, Bayreuth.) There really is no embarrassment in creating an emeritus position and, if he can, have him still coach young singers and conduct if possible, maybe at Carnegie where he doesn’t have to have the same stamina for a run of performances. Alas, to me, it is a sad ending to a great career and a great musician -- realize he can’t even play the piano anymore, and that was a major part of his life.

  • YigeLi

    I have a question. Why MET needs a new music director? Only three people have held the title of music director in MET’s history: Auguste Vianesi who conducted most performances in the Met’s inaugural season was listed in the playbills as “Musical Director and Conductor” in that season of 1883/84; Rafael Kubelík was music director for ONE season; and then there’s Jimmy. A conductor that conducts more than others in the house should be called principle conductor. I assume that a music director also takes some administration duties. What would the board expect a YN-S, a Nelsons (as someone mentioned above), or whoever, taking a position of “music director” do in MET outsides his conducting? And is Peter Gelb willing to share his power with another “director”? Or will it just be a principle conductor with the title of “music director”?

    • The Met needs a music director. An MD’s responsibilities go beyond conducting rehearsing and conducting performances.

      * Manage audition process for the orchestra (which is basically two orchestras)
      * Deal with musical issues within the orchestra, such as players whose work is deteriorating
      * Maintain overall musical standards
      * Hire assistant conductors / music staff members
      * Possible deal with edition issues with music librarians (see: Tales of Hoffman)
      * Work with chorus director on issues related to chorus
      * Major input on commissions
      * Major input on choosing singers
      * Major input on young singer programs (possible, don’t know whether this is one of Levine’s responsibilities)
      * Major input on hiring guest conductors

      • YigeLi

        Thank you for this detailed explanation. So my next question would be has YN-S (or any other conductor people predict) shown any sign of his ability to take over all these duties besides being a good conductor?

        • The MD of a major orchestra has similar responsibilities. If it’s someone such as Nelsons or YNS, both of whom conduct opera, they would be fine.

          There are potential candidates for Met MD among the MDs of various opera houses, though. Pappano, Runnicles, Conlon come to mind. Luisotti, NO. Davis? I don’t know his conducting. Oh, you know, Jurowski would also be a good candidate.

          • fletcher

            Oh, you can have Conlon.

            • I’ve heard him a number of times at SFS and LAO and he is consistently outstanding, so I’d like to hear what you consider to be his negatives.

            • fletcher

              Oh, I think he’s a great conductor, and Los Angeles is certainly fortunate to have him in that capacity. But looking at your own list of an MD’s responsibilities, I feel like LAO remains subpar in many of those areas. Based on surprising conversations I’ve had with people who would know, a lot of the blame for LAO’s shortcomings belongs to Conlon (vs Koelsch or even Domingo), particularly when it comes to programming and production quality. Maybe it’s all just mean-spirited gossip, but I’ve heard it enough times that it’s difficult to totally dismiss.

          • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

            No thoughts about the young, superb, and incredibly hunky Philippe Jordan? How long is is he tIed to Paris?

            • I have never heard him conduct and I am not at all familiar with his career, so I have no thoughts. Would love to hear yours, though.

            • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

              Philippe Jordan grew up (musically) in Graz where he was GMD in his early 20s and conducted EVERYTHING from “Don Carlo” to “Parsifal” (his first). He is GMD of the Paris Opera through 2018, and was GMD of, I think The Strasbourg Philharmonic, and is now the GMD of the Wiener Symphonker through 2020 (a position which I believe Luisi held when he was tapped to come to the Met). His work at Wiener Staatsoper (a gorgeous “Capriccio” among other things including the prima of the Garanca “Werther,” “Rosenkavalier,” “Don Carlo” and “Die Entführung” -- over 50 performances of nine operas) has been universally praised. He just turned 41, looks 25, is openly gsy, and is a damned good conductor, much loved by the singers and orchestra here. He also made his Bayreuth debut taking over the Herheim “Parsifal” from Gstti to great acclaim, and will be back on The Green Hill for the new “Meistersinger” in 2018.

            • Thank you, that is excellent information. Hope to hear him some time.

            • PCally

              Jungfer I saw Jorden conduct Capriccio in Wien, the premier of the production in 2008 (?). People who criticize Flemings performance in the DVD have no idea how amazing she was in the role and how the perfect the production was at the time. Jordan was amazing.

            • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

              PCally -- I was at the “Capriccio” prima at Staatsoper and it was literally breathtaking! Every single aspect! God, those Marelli sets -- the colors! The music wasn’t bad either. And that mirrored chamber for the finale! Unforgettable.

              By the way, Jordan has conducted almost 40 performances of “Figaro,” “Don Giovanni,” Die Fledermaus,” and “Carmen” at the Met (although not since 2007, when Paris became his focus).

              Afterthought: Luisi was GDM of Wiener Symphoniker from 2005-2013.

            • PCally

              Jungfer it was the finest thing that I’ve seen at the staatsoper (from a limited selection admittedly). I can’t imagine what the opera done better. And the entire cast was just perfect.

          • Donna Anna

            Conlon is retiring as the May Festival’s artistic director this May (after 35 years, one adds)so he ostensibly has a more open schedule but given his commitments elsewhere, he may not want it. He certainly has the conducting chops but after five years of singing in the MFC, I was unimpressed with his attitude toward the chorus and other non-musical issues. Could he do the job at the Met? Absolutely.

            • That is too bad about his treatment of the chorus, not a good sign.

            • Donna Anna

              The sad irony is that, despite his work promoting Jewish composers murdered by the Nazis, he has a hard time with Jews. He led a performance of Der Kaiser von Atlantis in Plum Street Temple, a venerable Reform synagogue, and made the statement that Viktor Ullmann and other artists were murdered because they were artists. An audible gasp went up from the audience.

            • CwbyLA

              Conlon said Viktor Ullman was killed because he was an artist and this statement somehow makes him having a hard time with Jews? Wow! Why don’t you just go ahead and call him an anti-semite while you can?

  • grimoaldo

    Is the discussion of Levine’s medical problems the reason why the ad at the side of the page is currently showing me bottles of pills,NOW Foods Dopa Mucuna Mood Support 15% L-Dopa and Barlowe’s Herbal Elixirs Mucuna Pruriens Extract 40% L-Dopa 60, and the ad in the middle says “Try Thermacare Knee and Elbow Heatwraps”?

  • Although the Nibelungs that live in the basement would be irate were I to speculate openly about the still-unreleased Met 2016-17 schedule, it can be safely said that Mr. Levine’s conducting commitments at Carnegie Hall have been grossly altered for next year. An examination of the Carnegie Hall schedule reveals that the ailing maestro will only conduct one weekend of “MET Orchestra” concerts (in June of 2017) with no challenging works on them--in other words concerts that can easily by taken over by a conductor in better health should his rumored retirement prove to be actual fact.

  • YigeLi

    And also, has anyone heard about rumors about Tony Pappano? It was 3 years ago when at that time someone said that Levine would retire and Pappano would come to MET and Luisi would move to ROH. I thought it was plain rumor when I heard it. And then bit later, Tony got onto the cover of Opera News--we all know the relation of Opera News with MET (though the featured article was about him being music director of ROH for 10 years). I also remember that I asked why they wanted this kind of swiping rather than just promote Luisi to music director as Luisi had already been working closely with MET as principle conductor while Pappano hadn’t been at MET since his MET debut in 1997, and the answer I got was that Luisi is pure European, and Pappano is American (he has British, U.S. and Italian citizenship), so that it would be better for the public image of MET as the American opera company.

    Just rumors. I don’t know how much I should trust it, but wonder if anyone has heard similar stuffs.

    • manou

      Hands off Pappano!

      • The Poet Lenski

        Pappano has all but said that he doesn’t plan to leave London any time soon, and I think we can take him at his word. And though he might hold U.S. citizenship and have spent some formative years in America, I don’t think I would really claim him (SIR Tony, after all) as an American. It strikes me in much the same way as many in the U.S. theater community try to claim Mark Rylance as an American, when he’s really a Brit through and through.

        • Lohengrin

          When Holten announced his change to Norway(?, 2017?) it was sayd this would take place “shoert before TP leaving ROH (2018?)”, or did I misunderstand the announcement………

  • Der Fiakermillo

    Whoever comes in as Music Director has to be respected by the orchestra and singers. Most of the job is behind the scenes and YSN is very able at building an orchestra (Montreal) and gaining their trust. YSN certainly has that going for him, as well as being telegenic and understanding the PR/fundraising side of the job, as he has shown in Montreal and Philly. He’s a genuinely wonderful guy who people love working with and for. The Met would be incredibly lucky to have him and it might save Gelb’s ass. Pappano was not a success at the Met for the Onegin and has never returned; his situation in London is very comfortable and successful, so why trade it?

  • -Ed.

    Maybe this bizarre and rather embarrassing sequence of real events was timed to coincide with the bazaar and rather embarrassing sequence of fictional events in season six of Downton Abbey. WTF was that?

  • Signor Bruschino

    First off, thanks to La Cieca for being ‘loud’ when it comes to this insane article. It would only be more absurd if the doctor was Dr. Phil, and the appointment was taped for broadcast.

    Looking to the future, I have to say that I think its interesting that Gelb already let it slip (in a Michael Cooper article) that YNS is conducting the Michael Mayer new production of La Traviata in 18-19. I know it seems to be conspiracy theorist but with those bread crumbs already dropped, YNS taking over 2 seasons from now just seems to fit the logical timeline of a new music director.

    So my prediction, YNS takes over September, 2018- as he should

  • la vociaccia

    I love the idea of YNS as Music Director at the Met but I assume after this very hands-off few years with Levine as MD the best fit would be someone with more time on their hands. YNS has contracts with Philadelphia and Montreal through 2022 (not to mention Rotterdam Philharmonic, which he is with until 2018) and he keeps a very busy schedule guest conducting as well.

    It would be a very big paradigm shift to go from his currently highly varied concert career to being MD of the Met.

  • jack_ewing

    The MET doesn’t need a Musical Director. James Levine has been completely irrelevant for the last 10 years butcollects an enormous paycheck. Get rid of him and put the fortune spent on this white elephant’s (no pun intended) salary to better use.

    What the MET needs is a full-time principal conductor who will hire world-class orchestra players and *STAR* first-rate singers.

    The MET General Manager will be making decisions about repertory (as he has been for the last 10 years), budget and contract negotiations. All he needs to make sure is that 65% of operas are by composers whose last names end in the letter i. Wagner, Mozart and Strauss should make 30% of the remaining. 5% is allocated to modern or rare titles with box office potential. Do only 2 or 3 new productions and HDs a year and only outside of the Tri-state area. No new concept-productions by untalented directors who disrespect the music and the composer. The board is happy, the audience is happy. The box office FLOURISHES.

    • fletcher

      This is pretty first-rate trolling. Hats off.

    • steveac10

      “What the MET needs is a full-time principal conductor who will hire world-class orchestra players and *STAR* first-rate singers. ”

      So really, if he’s ultimately responsible for hiring singers, this so called “principal conductor” would be expected to perform the duties one would normally assign to a music director. And where are these STAR singers going to come from? Most of the stars I know of are on the roster if one looks at it over a 2 or 3 season period. And those that aren’t have either cancelled (a la Jonas) or opted not to cross the Atlantic (such as Harteros). Gelb, probably due to the HD’s, has been rather successful at getting the current crop of big names to drop by.

      Also -- what newly happy audience is going to cause attendance to bloom? Is the number of Opera-L posters and aging UES going to miraculously multiply because everything is dramatically inert & pretty?

      • Bill

        If there is to be a full time star musical director at the Met he/she should be one who is willing to hire
        other star conductors for certain operas, performances and premieres. At the Met Levine rather hogged many of the most interesting operas for himself and there were
        not too many other really good conductors engaged and if so only for perhaps one opera not a series of performances of a wider repertoire. Great conductors
        often are able to lure great singers as well. I guess we just have to let this saga play out watching from the sidelines. Levine may not be totally incapacitated but is clearly compromised in his ability to conduct with vividness and probably also to rehearse with vision and clarity as to his intentions. In any era not every great singer hankered to sing at the Met even if desired so the current situation is not unique.

    • ” 65% of operas are by composers whose last names end in the letter i. “

      Immensely looking forward to your season of Busoni, Francesconi, Ligeti, Penderecki, Mayuzumi, Dargomyzhskii, Ichiyanagi, and Haubenstock-Ramati!

      • la vociaccia

        You forgot Szymanowski and that should make you feel terrible.

        • Heh.


          • le cerf agile

            I hope there’s some Maki Ishii too…

      • Krunoslav

        Thanks to transliteration’s variety:

        P. I. Tchaikovskii
        B. Tchaikovskii

        • I never knew that Kancheli wrote an opera. Has anybody heard or seen it?

          • Krunoslav

            Short excerpt, involving Burchulaadze, who apparently is entering Georgian politics.

            What other aging singers might take this route? I can think of a few…


            • Good catch. Maybe Maury D’Annato, whose expertise in Georgian far outstrips mine, can find a complete copy somewhere. Is that the Art of Fugue theme being intoned at quarter tempo in the final twenty seconds?

            • “Musical Offering”, I should say.

  • redbear

    The audience is happy? The box office flourishes? Not in the real world…

  • me

    It’s well possible the original NYT article was about how many at the Met and out think it’s time for Levine to go, and when Gelb, etc was asked for comment for the piece, they offered to be more involved and update the issue with the story of access to Levine’s doctor and a sympathetic piece where the Met and Levine acknowledge his challenges but are holding out one more hope. It is perhaps a face-saving piece/move to “get ahead of the story” and manage it, for Gelb to seem sympathetic (“it would be morally wrong to let Jimmy go”) and to scurry behind the scenes to have a successor lined up. The piece may be forcing Levine to go, but in a more graceful manner. As for a music director, the met sorely needs an artistic manager v. just Gelb and the uninvigorated Levine. Someone with an artistic sensibility to hire production directors, be closely involved with quality (how did some of these horrid sets/productions arise? a hands-on artistic director would raise quality hopefully).