Cher Public

Just a song at twilight

Levine“Last Thursday night… there was an overwhelming sense the world was ending in more immediate terms. Mr. Levine was conducting his beloved Wagner for what was almost certainly the last time.” [Observer]

  • danpatter

    Now, now! “De mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est.”

    Your comments are no doubt accurate, but I still envy your having heard this concert, flaws, flat notes, fortissimi, and all.

  • RosinaLeckermaul

    I didn’t hear the concert, but JJ’s summation of Levine’s conducting echoes what I have always felt about Levine’s Wagner.

    • PCally

      I agree. In general I count myself as a big fan of Levine in most things (I suppose I even like his Strauss more than most) but the Wagner I’ve never been able to understand, outside of the early Tannhauser and Lohengrin videos, which show an energy and drive that isn’t apparent in his Ring, Parsifal, or Tristan performances. The tempos wouldn’t seem so slow if there was momentum but it just seems to amble along in a very irritating way.

      I wasn’t at this concert but Goerke has sung the Siegfried once and has yet to sing the Gotterdammerung complete so it makes total sense that the whole thing is a work in progress. And while she’s never been less than committed the few times I’ve heard her, interpretive subtlety and word painting have never been her strong suits IMO. I’ve heard the criticisms of her top and while I understand them I’m not really sure who sings this music better currently and whose top is more consistently in better shape.

      • danpatter

        I just saw Goerke in SIEGFRIED and she was very, very good. And left right after the performance to fly to DC to save their WALKURE. As for Levine’s Wagner, it always satisfied me quite a bit. I saw his RING operas a number of times, and his PARSIFAL at least 7 times, and I found PARSIFAL especially moving. If age and disease cause him to falter a bit, I can accept that. I’m faltering a bit myself these days.

      • Cocky Kurwenal

        Not to derail the thread, but re your points on Goerke, I don’t think it’s to do with how well she sings it compared to anybody else. I think it’s more about the fundamental nature of her voice which means that for me she will never be more than adequate, and won’t be very rewarding, in the roles she chooses to sing.

        • PCally

          Well don’t most dramatic soprano roles require a rich sound and solid middle voice? She has that in abundance. And based on her outings as the dyers wife and elektra, the top is quite capably secure at its best. While the top is not her glory I think the notion that the notes just aren’t good is a bit much. With the current lack of fully functional dramatic voices, that’s good enough for me, at least until a more secure voice comes along.

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            It comes down to a sense of priority, in that case -- I’ll take a thrilling top at the expense of some security, if necessary. I’d take it at the expense of such a full, rich middle voice too. I just don’t think Goerke is a soprano.

  • Bluebeard

    As someone who never really got to hear Levine’s Wagner live and in Levine’s prime, I was happy to be in attendance last week. Sure, there were problems, but the sound he got out of that orchestra was magnificent at times. I genuinely liked Vinke quite a lot except at the start of the Siegfried duet, but I thought JJ hit the nail on the head regarding Goerke. Good moments, but she needs to do A LOT of work.

  • Christine Goerke sings the end of the Immolation Scene. With piano in studio.

  • Camille

    Very well observed and meticulously noted, so far as my experience of all these artists is concerned, and am very glad to have missed this Love-In. Interesting to note the observation of a problem at an F and/or G: those being critical notes of the passaggio and could likely point to the problem of, most likely, an improper placement of the voice….Caspita!

    There was a long while there in which I really liked Levine’s Parsifal, but I one day realised that it was, in comparison to others, far too drawn out for effect, inflated, and ultimately pompously lethargic. The Tannhäuser from last fall, however, had lots more energy, if not an ideal cohesiveness in the ensemble of the second act--to understate it diplomatically-- and so, was greatly surprised and heartened by these performances, so much so that I felt he was going to be able to continue…for a time. Now I am very glad to have attended that Tannhäuser several times, and which, coincidentally, will be played this very evening on the Sirius broadcast as the season highlight repetition feature of the week. For me, it will be the satisfying swansong I will care to remember him by.

    Frankly though, the things I will always remember Maestro Levine the most for are not his Wagnerising, but his accompaniments to his friend Jessye Norman’s recital in Carnegie Hall about firteen years ago now, both of them very impressive and the (I remember it as) Mozart piano trio which he played a part in at that free recital at Carnegie Hall after the events of September 11, 2001. His Mozart playing at that moment in time was a beam of clarity and upliftedness when we all most desperately needed it. God speed to a formidable artist and may he take very good care of himself and, somehow or another find peace and fulfillment in his new role as adviser and Emeritus. I don’t expect it will be easy but it’s still a LOT to be given and far more generous than what has been doled out to others at the end of their respective careers.

    • Camille

      Just now finished listening to the rebroadcast of last season’s Tannhäuser, a remarkable performance from its protagonist, absolutely remarkable. This opera did give me a cautious hope that Mo. Levine might indeed carry on for a time yet, but then, the house of cards came crashing down starting with the Lulu cancellation, one of his specialties, and then the onward march to jimmydämmerung. It’s been a ride.

      Also this afternoon, I recalled my gratitude to Levine for making me hear Mozart for the first time in my life without clenching my teeth and wincing—that would have been an early eighties Così fan Tutte: in the middle of “Soave sia il vento”, wherein I experienced a radical moment of insight, in which I finally saw what Mozart was about and how he should be played- in a word à la viennois, half smiling and half with a tear. You know, like the Marschallin. From that day forward my reform program in Mozart began and carries forward to this date, as it was already too late in my musical formation to truly remedy the damage done in my youth. I owe that consciousness, and perhaps a great deal of the genuine pleasure and exaltation experienced with what is for me his greatest opera, Idomeneo, to that one Saturday afternoon moment of Verklärung distilled from the baton of Der Jimster. Thank you, Maestro.

  • I like Levine’s Wagner for his ability to shape the long lines and keep the big musical picture in mind. I’m not talking about his work over the last 5-10 years.

    But, to me, Levine’s greatest strength and probably most enduring legacy is in Verdi.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    It’s true. Gelb keeps calling the kid Unique.

    • Camille

      He is kind of *unique*, is he not?

      Not an altogether infelicitous malapropism, is it?

      In any case, the kid stays in the picture and I’m hoping for the best. At least he’ll be solidly into his forties by the time he really takes over and no greenhorn. No matter what else there may be to bitch about, at least this time around I won’t hear old geezers grousing about “all those goddam conducting lessons Jimmy got at our expense”, as I did for a couple decades. By that time, YaNé-Sé will be well past that stage. Bonne chance!

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

  • Porgy Amor

    I never “got” Levine in Wagner. I don’t doubt that, in his ’80s/’90s prime, he was securing exactly the performances he was hearing in his head, but of all the conductors of the recorded era who are talked of as being great Wagnerians, I can think of none whose results were less appealing to me. It was a beautiful-sounding, technically shipshape demonstration of something with which I just couldn’t go along.

    Conrad L. Osborne said it best, as he said most things best. He was describing a 1993 Met Parsifal that was taped for broadcast and video release with Jerusalem, Meier, Weikl, and Moll.

    If you believe no Parsifal can be too slow, take this one out for a spin. True, there have been conductors capable of sustaining the movement and tension of such vast structures at very slow tempos (though sixteen minutes longer than Knappertsbusch, Bayreuth ’62, is pushing it). Levine does not have this gift. Indeed, he apparently does not have this intention. Space precludes much detail here, but in general we’re dealing with a combination of tempo (slow), accent (softened), and the discrete musical gestures themselves, which seem always to aspire to clarity and loveliness rather than drama. I’m not talking about such gross, overt intrusions as the first entrances of Kundry and Parsifal, which are vigorously addressed, but of the subtler potential dramatic events of the long stretches between. Essentially, there aren’t any--at least, that’s how it feels. Double bar, key change, tempo marking, entry of new voice or choir; we just slip seamlessly through, over and over. But the music already does what Levine is trying to make it do. Wagner succeeded in subsuming a thousand subtle but vital signs of life into a span that suggests eternity itself, at a pace that suggests that of evolution itself. The performers’ job is to reawaken the thousand signs. The orchestra plays superbly and the chorus gives a sturdy repertory account; there are many exquisite sounds.

    That’s it exactly, and “the music already does what Levine is trying to make it do” could be the one-sentence review of every Ring opera or Meistersinger or Tristan (et cetera) I have heard him lead.

    I admired him greatly in other things, for example, Berlioz, late Verdi (less so the early/middle Verdi), a good deal of 20th-century repertoire, and I’ve always been fond of his Mozart too.

    • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

      Osborne nails it (thanks, Porgy, for sharing his review). It was at the 1991 premiere of that production (with Domingo and Jessye Norman and all those bouncing daisies) when I swore I would never again subject myself to a Levine Wagner performance (or an Otto Schenk production). The opening theme stated in the first 22 measures spun out followed by a fermata so long I started to think something had gone wrong and Levine had halted the performance. It was absurd: you could have sent out for a pizza in the time he took between phrases, robbing the opera of all cohesion and line. It was one of those nights when I left the opera house angry.

      • Cicciabella

        This very broadcast was the first time I heard Parsifal. I had no idea what was happening re plot, but found it mesmerising and was glued to the end. It’s the kind of experience I envy first-time listeners of any opera or music in general: no preconceptions, no comparison material and no specific expectations.

      • Porgy Amor

        It was absurd: you could have sent out for a pizza in the time he took between phrases, robbing the opera of all cohesion and line

        Marianne, the first time I listened to the DG recording with a similar cast, I repeatedly thought it was time to change the disc, when it wasn’t.

      • It was absurd: you could have sent out for a pizza in the time he took between phrases, robbing the opera of all cohesion and line.

        Nehmet hin meinen Teig….

  • Krunoslav

    I enjoyed Levine’ s Wagner *a lot* in the 70s and early 80s; LOHENGRIN, TANNHAUSER and PARSIFAL. Less so the TRISTANs in 1981 and 1984, partly because of the casts ( save for Matti Salminen the first year and Johanna Meier the second).

    The first time I felt Levine was kind of “doing nothing wrong but nothing particularly enlivening or interesting” was with RHEINGOLD in 1988, despite some exceptional singers (Sotin, Dernesch, Jerusalem, Julian Patrick, Graham Clark). That approach dovetailed with Schenk’s basically mindless RING production.

  • Signor Bruschino

    Schenk’s ring production now looks downright revolutionary since we are saddled with the disaster that is the LePage production!

    • No it doesn’t. It looked reactionary then, and now it would look like a low camp.

      • Signor Bruschino

        Ok, LaCieca, the LePage ring is vastly better than anything we had to sit through at the Met previous to it.

        • armerjacquino

          Need a screen for all that projecting? It’s possible to criticise one production without having to praise another.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

  • Cocky Kurwenal

    Re Levine’s Wagner, of course I don’t disagree with the comments above. One observation I had however during the Tristan I attended, in which Voigt withdrew partly through Act II and Janice Baird stepped in, was that he certainly knew how to help a singer give of their best. I could see Levine clearly from my seat, and time and again he managed to get Baird to do something better than what she was about to do, just with an arm gesture and a facial expression. It didn’t stop the whole show from dragging, of course.

    • PCally

      It depends of how generous he’s feeling. I’ve seen him drown just as many singers out as he has aided singers. Most of the singers I’ve had trouble hearing were during his performances.

  • tancredipasero

    Something fascinating comes through here -- almost every segment of Levine’s repertory is singled out for particular like or dislike by different witnesses. He clearly got Mozart across to somebody better than he did to me, but I clearly got something in his (prime) Wagner that some others missed. Interesting.

    Give it up on the Schenk “Ring.” A production can’t, in and of itself, have a character -- only a performance can; the Schenk “Ring,” being around for a couple of decades, had as many characters as it had cast changes. (A production *can*, of course, *get in the way* of a performance….that one, in my experience, didn’t, if a performance was trying to happen in the first place. LePage, pretty obviously, did.) As for “look” -- fashion choices come and go, and come again. Anyone who tries to say now how the Schenk Ring will look when we’re far enough away from parochial debates to view it with the perspective we bring to “art of the past” in general is naive at best.