La Cieca has been mulling over Michael Cooper‘s recent “bizarre” New 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.