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James Levine is Stepping Down at the Met


WilliamM
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http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/15/arts/music/james-levine-transformative-at-the-met-opera-is-stepping-down.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

 

 

James Levine, who transformed the Metropolitan Opera during four decades as its music director but has suffered from poor health in recent years, will step down from his post after this season to become music director emeritus, the company announced Thursday.

 

The announcement about Mr. Levine, 72, capped a difficult year in which he struggled to hold on to his position amid a variety of health problems, including Parkinson’s disease. The Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, originally planned to announce Mr. Levine’s retirement this winter but held off to see if a change in his treatment would improve his condition

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Levine certainly has come a long way as a conductor over the years. If one listens to his early MET broadcasts and early commercial recordings from the 1970's he showed promise but he sounds like any other operatic band master of the period. I found him to be particulately crude with his forays into Bel Canto and Verdi as if he didn't quite understand the style. Then something happened in the 1980's where he finally blossomed into a conductor of great stature. I particularly liked his way with Wagner's Ring where at times his slow tempos squeezed every ounce of romanticism that was evident in those scores. He also had a way with Mozart and especially Idomeneo. Eventually, he even mastered conducting early Bel Canto operas. I am also quite fond of his approach to Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri where his precision in conduciting that score is on the same level as that of the late Carlo Maria Giulini. Indeed he eventually came to realize that conducting such operas, where things were exposed and precision and exactness are the order of the day, is much more difficult than conducting Wagner or Puccini where the broad strokes of orchestral color might allow a more lax approach to hide a bit of imprecision.

 

In any event, he is the main reason that the MET now has a first class orchestra. If one compares the level of orchestral playing from the pre-Levine years there is absolutely no contest. He might have begun his career as a clone of Fausto Cleva, but he certainly evolved into something quite special and more importantly took the MET orchestra on the ride with him!

 

(PS: for those who don't know, Fausto Cleva was a conductor at the MET in the 1950's and 1960's. The old joke was as follows: Why did Fausto Cleva conduct so often at the MET? Because no other opera company would hire him! )

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Any speculation as to a replacement? James Conlon might be a good fit. He has held the position of music director at Maggio Musicale in Florence, 10 years as the principal conductor of the Opera National de Paris (something of a miracle given the prickly nature of both the Parisian audiences, and the orchestra), and has conducted at the Met since the 70's.

He is also a native New Yorker, and graduate of Juilliard. I read that he got his first break when Schippers pulled out of a production of La Boheme at Juilliard, and Maria Callas ( who was teaching a Master Class) suggested Conlon as a replacement. I'm sure there are many others and until the successor is announced this will the subject of much speculation. I would love to know the thoughts of Whipped Guy on this subject. I am continuously astonished by the depth of his knowledge on all matters Operatic, and have been informed by his posts here.

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@body2body thank you for your kind words. However, you are no slouch yourself and I certainly have leaned a thing or two about James Conlon's career! In any event, I have always enjoyed Conlon's work. Actually, while I knew that he has been quite active I have not specifically followed what he has done recently. In fact the last time I saw him conduct live at the MET was in 1991 if I recall correctly. He sounds like a great candidate for the position.

 

I somehow always thought that the MET's current principal conductor Fabio Luisi would be next in line for Levine's position. However, in addition to being Principal Conductor of the Metropolitan Opera he is General Music Director of the Zurich Opera and will become Principal Conductor of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra in the 2017-18 season. Regarding opera, he excels in wide variety of musical styles from Mozart to Berg and all in addition to the symphonic repertoire. As far as I can tell he is only scheduled to conduct Don Giovanni and William Tell next season at the MET. Perhaps his other duties might prevent him from being offered the position.

 

Another conductor who has been creating some buzz on the operatic scene is Gianandrea Noseda who is currently music Director of the Teatro Regio di Torino. He will be the Principal Guest Conductor of the London Symphony beginning in 2016-2017, and Music Director of the National Symphony in Washington DC from the 2017-2018 season. So possibly another candidate who might be overly busy for the MET position. Still, conductors have been known to juggle quite a few assignments of late.

 

It will be interesting to see who gets the assignment.

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James Levine......will step down from his post after this season

 

Finally!

 

James Levine should have stepped down 10 years ago

 

Why can't men...who help build amazing institutions in their youth...

realize when, for the good of the institution that they love, they need to retire?

 

It's always about 10 years too late....opera, dance, accounting, law....it really doesn't matter the field.

 

The Met would be a better and healthier institution if he had taken these steps much earlier.

 

The latest "let's wait for the miracle from his neurologist" almost put me over the edge.

 

For the love of god...give it up!

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Another likely possibility for a successor is Yannick Nezet-Seguin.

 

I started listening to the Met broadcasts when I was around 13 or so, in the late 1970's, and so essentially Levine has been there for my entire operagoing/listening life. So this announcement comes with mixed emotions for me. I'm glad he's not totally disappearing, and yet I do agree he probably should have stepped down from this official position a while ago. (It's actually a bit ironic that he's currently conducting a production of Simon Boccanegra with faux-baritone Placido Domingo in the title role - as it's time for Domingo to give it up as well IMO. This despite the fact that both men clearly have brought much knowledge, passion, and experience to this production.)

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Another likely possibility for a successor is Yannick Nezet-Seguin.

 

I started listening to the Met broadcasts when I was around 13 or so, in the late 1970's, and so essentially Levine has been there for my entire operagoing/listening life. So this announcement comes with mixed emotions for me. I'm glad he's not totally disappearing, and yet I do agree he probably should have stepped down from this official position a while ago. (It's actually a bit ironic that he's currently conducting a production of Simon Boccanegra with faux-baritone Placido Domingo in the title role - as it's time for Domingo to give it up as well IMO. This despite the fact that both men clearly have brought much knowledge, passion, and experience to this production.)

I agree with you regarding Domingo. He conducts with some frequency here in LA where he is the Artistic Director of L.A. Opera (Conlon is the Music Director). I have never been impressed by his conducting. I still have glorious memories of Domingo the singer in Otello, Fanciulla del West, Les Troyens, and just a couple of years ago in Xerxes.

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I was very amused by Anthony Tommasini's recent review in the New York Times of Simon Boccanegra. He was insightful on the overdue retirement of both men. Like others here, I have fond memories of Levine in his heyday and of Domingo as a singer in his prime.

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I first heard Domingo sing at the MET in 1970 as Edgardo opposite Sutherland's Lucia. He sang with his arm in a sling as he fell off a bicycle a few days previously and suffered a fracture. I recall that the voice had a steely quality to it back then which seemed to indicate that larger roles would be in his future. Indeed Verdi's Otello appeared in 1975. At the time many critics were predicting that it would ruin his voice. I guess that time has proven them to be wrong. I recall Domingo stating in an interview from the seventies that one critic used a recording that he had made that was released after he had sung Otello on stage as proof of his demise. Domingo laughingly noted that the critic didn't know what he was talking about and was totally in error as that recording had actually been made before Domingo had ever sung a note of Verdi's Moor.

 

Given the fact that he made his debut in 1961 he has been singing for eons! I last heard him a couple of years ago in Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride where he sang the low lying role of Orestes. As far as baritone roles are concerned he really has a tenor sound to his voice and lacks a certain heft. He probably should retire, but as long as he sells he might just continue for a period. I have not really been impressed with his conducting.

 

One of the few operatic figures to get out while he was on top of his game was Gioachino Rossini. He quit composing operas at age 37 when he was the toast of Europe. He lived to be 76. For well over a century and a half much has been written speculating why he made what has been referenced as "The Great Renunciation". While a number of factors were in play, I say that it was mostly based on his genius...

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I was very amused by Anthony Tommasini's recent review in the New York Times of Simon Boccanegra. He was insightful on the overdue retirement of both men. Like others here, I have fond memories of Levine in his heyday and of Domingo as a singer in his prime.

 

I saw Simon Boccanegra at the Met on Saturday afternoon. Domingo: it;s sad to see so many other singers at that performance sings better than Domingo.

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I saw Simon Boccanegra at the Met on Saturday afternoon. Domingo: it;s sad to see so many other singers at that performance sings better than Domingo.

 

Actually, I have to say I'm quite amazed at the healthiness I still hear in Domingo's voice. And as I said, I think he brings a lot to the role in terms of his take on the character. But I miss the baritone heft the role truly requires. And it doesn't help that Calleja, who plays his eventual son-in-law in the story, has a magnificently strong youthful tenor voice, and is singing a role that is exactly in his wheelhouse.

 

I admire Domingo's chutzpah, but this whole quasi-baritone thing is really a mistake.

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Yannick Nezet-Seguin, very short and openly gay, has already been hired as the MET's new music director. It just hasn't been announced. They are just trying to get all their ducks in a row. It was supposed to happen months ago but Levine and his minions tried one last desperate measure to keep the king on his throne (literally), it didn't work.

 

This "retirement" is coming five years too late. He has already tarnished his once great musical reputation by hanging on far past the time he was fit for the job. His conducting of Tannhauser this season was awful.

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Yannick Nezet-Seguin, very short and openly gay, has already been hired as the MET's new music director. It just hasn't been announced. They are just trying to get all their ducks in a row. It was supposed to happen months ago but Levine and his minions tried one last desperate measure to keep the king on his throne (literally), it didn't work.

 

I agree. It was a last desperate measure. A change in medication for a Parkinson patient might help, but only for a very limited time.

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It took him 5 plus years to even openly admit he had Parkinson's long after he denied it. Well, at least with a new openly gay music director they won't have to pay millions in donor money to keep Levine's little boy problem quiet any longer. He was a musical genius but he's also a very sad, depressing person.

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I dunno. Bernstein wasn't really openly gay (though it seems everyone knew) and he may also have had "a boy problem." But I don't hear harsh words about him very often - just the opposite. Why the need to attack Levine? I'm not defending his actions, just not wanting to turn this into "page 6" either.

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Unfortunately, where Levine was concerned, keeping unpleasant problems a secret from the public had become a habit over many years.

I dunno. Bernstein wasn't really openly gay (though it seems everyone knew) and he may also have had "a boy problem." But I don't hear harsh words about him very often - just the opposite. Why the need to attack Levine? I'm not defending his actions, just not wanting to turn this into "page 6" either.

I am just as guilty as any other guy about having enjoyed all the gossip surrounding Mr. Levine over the years! He sometimes was "caught with his pants down," unfortunately (as rumor had it) to the extent of sometimes having to pay hush money! Still, as time goes by, he won't be remembered for his tearoom antics but as a great conductor and musician, one of the best the Metropolitan has ever had. Should he have disclosed his medical condition and retired back then? I can't judge how someone decides to live their life. As for Domingo, no, he will never be a baritone but as WG says, as long as he sells tickets and has his rock-solid vocal technique, he'll continue singing. Everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion, though.

 

TruHart1 :cool:

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I am just as guilty as any other guy about having enjoyed all the gossip surrounding Mr. Levine over the years! He sometimes was "caught with his pants down," unfortunately (as rumor had it) to the extent of sometimes having to pay hush money! Still, as time goes by, he won't be remembered for his tearoom antics but as a great conductor and musician, one of the best the Metropolitan has ever had. Should he have disclosed his medical condition and retired back then? I can't judge how someone decides to live their life. As for Domingo, no, he will never be a baritone but as WG says, as long as he sells tickets and has his rock-solid vocal technique, he'll continue singing. Everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion, though.

 

One of my closest friend died several years ago from Parkinson's. It took him years to address his illness to his immediate family. As a result, they took care of him at home, until it was impossible. Levine's situation is much more complicated, but one could conclude that like my friend, Levine put himself first.

 

I also know that we seldom disagree, so I thought long and hard about responding, TruHart1.

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A moment too to recall his revival of the Boston Symphony Orchestra after its long meander downward under Ozawa.

 

Unfortunately, his taste for some more "avent garde" material did not put him in good stead with the Boston Establishment. Oh, those LOLs at the Friday Matinee.

 

In his defense, Ozawa started out enthusiastically, but was ALSO at the BSO for too long. And not very fun to perform under. My favorite guest conductor was the late Sir Colin Davis, whose Mozart was enough to make you long for the orgasm, and whose Berlioz was equally compelling. My, how those years are merely a memory at this point.

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I dunno. Bernstein wasn't really openly gay (though it seems everyone knew) and he may also have had "a boy problem." But I don't hear harsh words about him very often - just the opposite. Why the need to attack Levine? I'm not defending his actions, just not wanting to turn this into "page 6" either.

 

A friend of mine notes his being present (at the age of 18, I think ... his freshman year at M.I.T.) at Nine Knox street, a Boston restaurant the only served Beef Wellington. [Good Lord, I love Boston!] He says that Lenny chased him around the table.

 

That is all I am telling:

My discretion is such that of the things that follow

I give not a single hint.

And tomorrow? The same old song!

- Ancient Egyptian Poetry, which can be found
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One of my closest friend died several years ago from Parkinson's. It took him years to address his illness to his immediate family. As a result, they took care of him at home, until it was impossible. Levine's situation is much more complicated, but one could conclude that like my friend, Levine put himself first.

 

I also know that we seldom disagree, so I thought long and hard about responding, TruHart1.

I respect what you say, William. Because you were personally involved with someone with Parkinson's and I have never known anyone with such a debilitating illness myself, your opinion is perhaps the more valid. I was just trying to say that Maestro Levine will most likely be remembered much more as a musician than as a Parkinson's sufferer or, for that matter, as a person prone to sexual peccadilloes!

 

TruHart1 :cool:

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Bernstein went for young men. Levine, rumor has it, liked them a lot younger than that.

 

I can't honestly "like" this post, but it makes an important point. Given what the rumors are about Levine's conduct, how is this different from Jerry Sandusky or clergy who molested prepubescent boys?

 

I agree that Levine has been a stellar music director, but if the rumors are true, is his talent a reason to keep covering up behavior that is harmful to people who are not in a position to orotect themselves easily?

 

By that standard, talent trumps harm to others. I don't buy that.

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