If you’ve been following the coverage of the Nézet-Séguin succession, you will note that a good deal of the coverage centers on whether the incoming maestro will “champion” this composer or that, as we are assured that the sainted and revered James Levine did with, say, Debussy.
For example, [Levine] “stumped for rarities by the likes of Debussy,” says the Guardian, and “The Met performed Berg’s Lulu and Debussy’s Pelléas et Melisande because he loved them,” contends Vulture.
La Cieca wonders if anyone champions or stumps for or even loves facts any more, or if journalists are now given license just to make shit up.
A look at the Met’s annals database reveals that between 1976 and 2016, the 40 years during which Levine was music director, then artistic director, then music director, the Met performed Pelléas et Mélisande 43 times, 37 of which featured Levine as conductor.
During the preceding 40 years, (i.e., 1935-1975), Pelléas was done 41 times.
So, depending on how you look at it, four decades of championship by James Levine (as compared to four decades of no music director at all) increased the Met’s performances of this Debussy opera by two performances, or reduced it by three. (Does anyone seriously believe that Levine was even aware of the Rattle revival of 2010-2011, let alone “stumping” for it?)
And now, a discussion question: assuming anyone else competent had been appointed music director in 1976, do you really think the Met wouldn’t have done Lulu by, say, the early 1980s? And is it at all possible that with a different music director, the rehearsal schedule for that very important premiere might not have been slashed so severely that Teresa Stratas would walk out of the production, leaving the role of Lulu to be created at the Met by (who?) Carole Farley?