Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to conduct

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John F
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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by John F » Fri Apr 15, 2016 2:31 am

Thanks for the heads-up. I'll post the Times story here, in case its pay wall prevents any interested readers from seeing it.

James Levine, Transformative at the Met Opera, Is Stepping Down
By MICHAEL COOPER
APRIL 14, 2016

He struggled with health problems and surgeries for years, and missed two full seasons after a serious spinal injury in 2011. But James Levine, whose name became virtually synonymous with the Metropolitan Opera since becoming its music director four decades ago, always seemed to battle back, even conducting from a motorized wheelchair in recent years.

But his health battles have made it difficult to focus on a daunting range of responsibilities over the company’s artistic direction. And this season his body rebelled again, as complications related to his Parkinson’s disease sometimes caused his left arm to flail and made it increasingly difficult for performers to follow his conducting. So on Thursday, after a vigorous internal debate in recent months over his future, the Met announced that Mr. Levine, 72, would step down after this season to become music director emeritus, a position in which he would still conduct.

Mr. Levine summoned the orchestra and chorus to an unusual meeting Thursday afternoon in List Hall, a small auditorium at the opera house, to deliver the news. There he spoke frankly about his health and his love of the company, according to several people who attended, and at one point quoted a letter about artistic integrity by Samuel Beckett. Some listeners grew teary, and at the end Mr. Levine’s colleagues gave him what so many audiences had over the years: a standing ovation.

“For more than four decades the Met has been my artistic home, and I am tremendously proud of all we have been able to achieve together as a company,” Mr. Levine said in a statement, “from expanding the repertory to include new and seldom-heard works, to the development of the orchestra and chorus into one of the glories of the musical world. Although I am unable to spend as much time on the podium as I would like,” he added, “I am pleased to step into my new role and maintain my profound artistic ties to the Met.”

His retirement marks the end of an era at the Met — and of an important period in New York City’s cultural history. Since his debut in 1971, Mr. Levine has conducted 2,551 performances with the company, a dedication to a single institution that is almost unheard of in an age of jet-setting maestros. He became the Met’s music director in 1976, when Gerald R. Ford was the president, Abraham Beame was mayor and Reggie Jackson was just deciding to join the Yankees.

But if his departure solves one problem, by addressing a situation that some at the opera house had warned was growing untenable, it also raises new questions about the next chapter at the Met, which is facing financial challenges and box office struggles.

The company — which, with its roughly $300 million annual budget, is the largest performing arts organization in the nation — said that a plan to appoint a successor to Mr. Levine was in place, and that it would make an announcement in the coming months. Much speculation has centered on Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, who has taken on increasingly high-profile assignments at the Met.

Mr. Levine’s effect on Met history can hardly be overstated. He transformed the orchestra from a second-rate pit band to one of the finest in the world; conducted several generations of opera’s leading singers; and helped the Met maintain, and build on, its international reputation. He became the company’s artistic director in 1986 and held that post for nearly two decades, and was lauded for conducting the core Italian repertory as well as works by Wagner and Mozart, and for championing key 20th-century operas by Berg and Stravinsky, several of which he brought to the Met for the first time. Through his struggles he has remained an audience favorite, receiving a lengthy ovation earlier this month at a performance of Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” before the orchestra had even played a note.

Jessica Phillips, a clarinetist and chairwoman of the Met’s orchestra committee, said that the orchestra looked forward to his upcoming projects as music director emeritus. “It is an honor to carry the values Maestro Levine has instilled in us into this new era at the Metropolitan Opera — the house that Jimmy built,” she said in a statement.

Mr. Levine has been dogged by health problems for more than a decade, and they caused him to resign as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2011, after seven seasons. Later that year he fell and injured his spine, causing him to miss two seasons at the Met. But he returned in 2013, initially appearing energetic and in control. But this season he visibly worsened, sometimes listing to the right during performances and having trouble controlling his left arm. The company has of late sometimes had to resort to extraordinary measures when Mr. Levine conducted — with the orchestra looking to the concertmaster for guidance, soloists looking at the prompter’s box, and the chorus being led by Donald Palumbo, the chorus master, from the wings.

Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, initially planned to announce Mr. Levine’s retirement this winter, but delayed the announcement when Mr. Levine’s doctor said that a change in the dosage of the medication for his Parkinson’s could solve the problem. Mr. Levine said in an interview in January that he hoped to stay on as music director: “Sometime in the foreseeable future I have to stop, but I would hope that we could decide it in a way which wasn’t rushed by the fact that I wasn’t giving them what they need.”

But while several musicians and colleagues said that they had seen some improvement, it was not as dramatic as many had hoped, and that his stamina sometimes seemed to flag. When Mr. Levine conducted “Simon Boccanegra,” Anthony Tommasini wrote in The New York Times that he had “led a radiant, stirring, if sometimes uneven performance.”

Now his departure raises questions about the immediate future. Several musicians said they were concerned that a long wait for a new leader could leave the company without strong artistic leadership. David Frye, the chairman of the Met’s chorus committee, said performers would be concerned if, in an era when top talent is booked for years in advance, no new music director had been engaged who could start reasonably soon.

The Met announced that it was promoting John Fisher, its director of music administration, to the new post of assistant general manager for music administration. Mr. Gelb, who declined to comment further about the search for the next music director, said that he had promoted Mr. Fisher to send a signal that the company prioritizes musical quality. “My perspective on the opera company is one that emphasizes the great musical qualities of the Met above everything,” he said, noting that he had worked during his tenure to bring in leading conductors and singers who have never worked at the Met before.

Mr. Levine’s next task? More conducting. He plans to lead the remaining performance of “Simon Boccanegra” on Saturday and five of Mozart’s “Die Entführung aus dem Serail,” which opens April 22, as well at the Met Orchestra’s May 19 and May 26 concerts at Carnegie Hall (but not its May 22 concert). Next season he will withdraw from a new production of Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier,” but still plans to conduct revivals of Rossini’s “L’Italiana in Algeri,” Verdi’s “Nabucco” and Mozart’s “Idomeneo” — three operas, the company noted, that he has led at the Met more than any other conductor.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/15/arts/ ... -down.html
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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by jserraglio » Fri Apr 15, 2016 4:20 am


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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by John F » Fri Apr 15, 2016 4:27 am

I'm not going to try and guess who the Met's new music director will be. Both articles speak of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who has conducted a number of times at the Met with general public and critical approval and is now music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra. I've nothing against him but to tell the truth, he leaves me unmoved.

What I want and what I believe the Met needs is a conductor who is (a) committed to the house for the indefinite future, (b) able to prepare and lead outstanding performances in a widely ranging repertoire, up to 50 a season, and (c) able to continue the growth in excellence of those permanent members of the Met's ensemble, the orchestra and chorus. That's a tall order, and Nézet-Séguin hasn't proved himself in any of these respects. But then, to be fair, that was also true of James Levine when the Met made him chief conductor less than a year after his debut, and it was years before we fully realized what a prize we had. We can only hope that the Met is so lucky this time.
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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by jserraglio » Fri Apr 15, 2016 4:37 am

Levine raised the Met's standards so high that it's gonna be tricky to replace him. When he arrived in the seventies nobody thought of the orchestra as one of the greatest in the world. Now, to his credit, it is. I have dozens of his Met bcst performances and love them. His early orchestral recordings with the CSO were wonderful, so too his imaginative BSO concerts. He is a great conductor.

Here's the WashPost's Anne Midgette's "Whaddya done fer me lately?" take on Levine's departure:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/sty ... age%2Fcard

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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by John F » Fri Apr 15, 2016 5:09 am

Completely unworthy of the sad occasion - it's just a long whine from a journalist who feels she should have been let in on more details of Levine's health problems and that the Met shouldn't have been so protective of his privacy - which the New York press generally respected. Midgette used to write for the NY Times but did not distinguish herself here, and has been based in Washington DC for the last 8 years. Maybe she just doesn't know enough about Levine's activity in this period, or what he means to the house.
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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by Ricordanza » Fri Apr 15, 2016 5:47 am

John F wrote:I'm not going to try and guess who the Met's new music director will be. Both articles speak of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who has conducted a number of times at the Met with general public and critical approval and is now music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra. I've nothing against him but to tell the truth, he leaves me unmoved.

What I want and what I believe the Met needs is a conductor who is (a) committed to the house for the indefinite future, (b) able to prepare and lead outstanding performances in a widely ranging repertoire, up to 50 a season, and (c) able to continue the growth in excellence of those permanent members of the Met's ensemble, the orchestra and chorus. That's a tall order, and Nézet-Séguin hasn't proved himself in any of these respects. But then, to be fair, that was also true of James Levine when the Met made him chief conductor less than a year after his debut, and it was years before we fully realized what a prize we had. We can only hope that the Met is so lucky this time.
Looking at this from an admittedly local and selfish perspective, if this would mean that Yannick would leave the Philadelphia Orchestra, I'm against his appointment as the new Met music director.

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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by John F » Fri Apr 15, 2016 9:04 am

Not necessarily, not these days. Levine himself shared his time with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, until his physical problems forced him to give it up. Philadelphia is even closer to New York than Boston is. :) And Daniel Barenboim, with the same commitment to the Berlin State Opera as Levine's to the Met, was also music director of the Chicago Symphony. Whoever becomes the Met's new music director will inherit an orchestra in magnificent shape and a chorus in the excellent charge of Donald Palumbo - a very different situation from Levine's in the 1970s. I don't see why it couldn't work, though Nézet-Séguin would have to cut back on his guest appearances.

Just read Alex Ross's piece - thanks again, jserraglio. Now there's the appreciation that Levine deserves, including cavils as well as praise.
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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by Beckmesser » Fri Apr 15, 2016 9:47 am

By any standards, Levine's was a remarkable career. It is sad that it has to end too soon in comparison with other conductors. Still, the Met must do what is best for the company and it is time to find vigorous new musical leadership.

I ordered tickets for next season's new production of Der Rosenkavalier and am disappointed that Levine will not be on the podium. I will, however, get to hear him (fingers crossed!) conduct an upcoming performance of Abduction from the Seraglio.

Parkinson's disease can produce very unpleasant symptoms as it progresses. I hope Maestro Levine will be able to live out his days free of pain and discomfort.

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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by maestrob » Fri Apr 15, 2016 12:34 pm

jserraglio wrote:Alex Ross on Levine's retirement:

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultur ... at-the-met
Thanks for that!

Levine was not a perfect conductor, especially in orchestral music: he could paint by numbers well, but he could produce a shallow sound at times. That he had this weakness only made him human. Levine's real talent lay in working with voices: he found his home at the MET and he excelled at all kinds of opera, even during the seventies, when the orchestra couldn't get its act together until December when the radio broadcasts started. Levine's recorded repertoire from that era is superlative. His contribution to music has been immense, as is the breadth of his repertoire, a giant of a musician. Not since Toscanini and Bernstein have we seen the depth of understanding and the consistently great quality of music-making in one person. He will be missed.

As for Nezet-Seguin, I enjoyed both his Carmen and his Rusalka tremendously. Too bad Fabio Luisi's not available, but the MET will surely find someone: Levine will be a hard act to follow, for sure.

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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by arepo » Fri Apr 15, 2016 4:08 pm

"Looking at this from an admittedly local and selfish perspective, if this would mean that Yannick would leave the Philadelphia Orchestra, I'm against his appointment as the new Met music director."

Henry, I'm in your corner one this one. Let Yannick stay in Philadelphia, where he's done a fine job and is much admired by the orchestra members and the public as well.

Levine is an icon and it will be hard to replace his many skills but the Met will find a good one, as well.

Thank you , Mr.Levine, for a remarkable career.


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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by Chalkperson » Fri Apr 15, 2016 9:38 pm

John F wrote:I'm not going to try and guess who the Met's new music director will be. Both articles speak of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who has conducted a number of times at the Met with general public and critical approval and is now music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra. I've nothing against him but to tell the truth, he leaves me unmoved.

What I want and what I believe the Met needs is a conductor who is (a) committed to the house for the indefinite future, (b) able to prepare and lead outstanding performances in a widely ranging repertoire, up to 50 a season, and (c) able to continue the growth in excellence of those permanent members of the Met's ensemble, the orchestra and chorus. That's a tall order, and Nézet-Séguin hasn't proved himself in any of these respects. But then, to be fair, that was also true of James Levine when the Met made him chief conductor less than a year after his debut, and it was years before we fully realized what a prize we had. We can only hope that the Met is so lucky this time.
I have followed Nézet-Séguin since his first recordings for ATMA with Montreal in 2003.

I think he may be your man, John F.

Just a feeling, but this young man was always destined for greatness, and I think he may follow in Levene's footsteps and do this for the long haul.

You rarely rate the young conductors as highly as myself and a couple of others here, with no offense, I always think it's an age thing.

You come from a different age, as does Lance, you stick with the 50's and 60's conductors.

I listen to them, those before them, and more importantly those after them.

Forget the that baby Rattle, there are many fine conductors out there, but the orchestras are not the 'big five' and you don't rate them like I do, I have zero prejudices, I let the recordings speak for themselves.

Give him a chance, if he gets the gig I think he'll do well.
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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by John F » Sat Apr 16, 2016 2:55 am

It may indeed be an "age thing," Chalkie, but your implication that the artistic opinions of older people are somehow out of date and therefore not valid is untenable. Thanks to recordings, we no longer have to depend on our memory of past performers but can hear them here and now. Toscanini, and indeed the young James Levine, are as much a part of our present as Nézet-Séguin. If some of us oldies - not all of us - rate one performer who happens to be dead ahead of another who's still alive, it's qualitatively much the same as comparing two performers we heard in person on successive nights last week.

I think it's true, though possibly boastful, to say that we who have been committed to classical music throughout a long life, acquiring a corresponding richness of experience and depth of knowledge, live in the present as much as you or anybody, but our judgments come out of a longer perspective and a wider frame of reference. When we say - OK, when I say - that the Met's current Brünnhilde, Deborah Voigt, does not stand comparison with Birgit Nilsson in that role, not to mention Kirsten Flagstad, Astrid Varnay, Frida Leider, and other more or less famous singers of the recent or distant past, that's not just nostalgia - I know what I'm talking about. You don't have to take my word for it, but to dismiss my opinion as prejudiced or out of date evades the issue. Listen to the recordings and judge for yourself, and if you disagree, say why. As for the future, Christine Goerke and/or Nina Stemme may have what it takes for that immense three-opera role; I hope so. We'll have to wait and see.
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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by THEHORN » Sat Apr 16, 2016 3:40 pm

Chalkperson, Rattle is a very mature "baby" at the age of 60. And I'm really looking forward to the new Met production of Tristan which he will be conducting on opening night this September . S are countless other opera fans .

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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by lennygoran » Sat Apr 16, 2016 7:27 pm

THEHORN wrote: I'm really looking forward to the new Met production of Tristan which he will be conducting on opening night this September
Bob well not me-nothing to do with Rattle-I'm sure his conducting will be great-still the updated production looks crazy to me and some reviews of it make me tremble. You know opera is more than just a great conductor and great singers. Regards, Len :(

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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by Ricordanza » Sun Apr 17, 2016 11:03 am

Just as Harris and I were fretting that we could lose Yannick to the Met, the Philadelphia Inquirer published an article in today's paper headlined, Phila. Orchestra isn't fretting its director will leave:

by David Patrick Stearns & Peter Dobrin - Philadelphia Media Network
Will a seismic movement on the podium of the Metropolitan Opera have reverberations in Philadelphia?

Yannick Nézet-Séguin, music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, has been frequently seen as a prime candidate to succeed James Levine, whose shift to music director emeritus after a four-decade tenure was announced Thursday in New York by the Met.

But apart from whether the Met actually offers the job to Nézet-Séguin, the Philadelphia Orchestra is quelling any concerns that the ensemble might be facing a music director change.

"I'm not worried about losing him," said orchestra board chairman Richard B. Worley. "We very much want Yannick to be here for a long time, and I believe that he wants to be here for a very long time. He loves this orchestra, he has many friends in Philadelphia, and I know that he and Pierre [Tourville, his partner] thoroughly enjoy their experience with the orchestra and the community here in Philadelphia."

The young conductor - who regularly draws praise from critics and who was Musical America's 2016 Artist of the Year - has a contract with the Philadelphia Orchestra that was extended last year through the 2021-22 season. And while contracts often contain escape clauses, there are good reasons to think that the Montrealer won't be escaping for New York anytime soon.

For one, many Met musicians are said to favor Gianandrea Noseda, the Italian conductor who has experience running the opera company in Turin and who was recently named music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington - a fairly easy commuting distance.

A short list

An inquiry of Nézet-Séguin's agent went unanswered, and an orchestra spokeswoman declined to make the conductor available after Friday afternoon's concert in Verizon Hall.

Nézet-Séguin, 41, has been repeatedly asked the Met question in the past - Levine, 72, has suffered from poor health for several years and stepped down because of Parkinson's disease - and has always talked about how he cherishes his relationship with the company and would never want to give it up.

And why would he when given blue-chip assignments such as a new production of Verdi's Otello on opening night of the current season? But expanding that relationship? He is on a very short list of likely contenders, including Fabio Luisi, who has gracefully declined to comment.

Less power?

The Metropolitan Opera podium is one of the most prestigious in the opera world, though the post may have less power than it once did. "Peter Gelb, the Met's general manager, has become its artistic director in all but name," wrote New York Times chief music critic Anthony Tommasini on Friday. "He has likened himself to general managers of the past, especially Rudolf Bing, who also claimed full artistic leadership of the company."

Philadelphia hired Nézet-Séguin, the orchestra's eighth music director, for the start of the 2012-13 season at a time when he led the small Orchestre Métropolitain in Montreal and was principal conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. The orchestra says that his compensation in 2013 was $519,319, plus $12,564 for primarily travel-related expenses, and that in addition it paid the IRS $227,950 on his behalf for taxes.

Worley repeated his wish that Nézet-Séguin have a long tenure as the orchestra's music director - even beyond the 2021-22 end of the current contract.

"We are counting on him being a vital part of our future and hopefully for even a longer period of time [than the current contract]," he said. "I have no reason to believe that that will not be the case."

Of course, it would not be logistically difficult for him to hold titles with both Philadelphia and the Met; he already sometimes conducts a matinee in Philadelphia, and an evening opera in New York.

It would be a question of how the conductor would carve up the rest of his time at orchestras he guest-conducts and with which he has relationships.

"He has a busy schedule, both here but also away from here," said Worley, "and I expect that he will continue to have a busy schedule. Whether that is doing the same things he is doing now or whether it will include a position at the Metropolitan Opera remains to be seen."

He has had ongoing relationships with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Konzerthaus Dortmund, and Chamber Orchestra of Europe, plus other groups.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/columnists ... 7fr3R1m.99

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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by Chalkperson » Tue Apr 19, 2016 7:08 pm

John F wrote:It may indeed be an "age thing," Chalkie, but your implication that the artistic opinions of older people are somehow out of date and therefore not valid is untenable. Thanks to recordings, we no longer have to depend on our memory of past performers but can hear them here and now. Toscanini, and indeed the young James Levine, are as much a part of our present as Nézet-Séguin. If some of us oldies - not all of us - rate one performer who happens to be dead ahead of another who's still alive, it's qualitatively much the same as comparing two performers we heard in person on successive nights last week.

I think it's true, though possibly boastful, to say that we who have been committed to classical music throughout a long life, acquiring a corresponding richness of experience and depth of knowledge, live in the present as much as you or anybody, but our judgments come out of a longer perspective and a wider frame of reference. When we say - OK, when I say - that the Met's current Brünnhilde, Deborah Voigt, does not stand comparison with Birgit Nilsson in that role, not to mention Kirsten Flagstad, Astrid Varnay, Frida Leider, and other more or less famous singers of the recent or distant past, that's not just nostalgia - I know what I'm talking about. You don't have to take my word for it, but to dismiss my opinion as prejudiced or out of date evades the issue. Listen to the recordings and judge for yourself, and if you disagree, say why. As for the future, Christine Goerke and/or Nina Stemme may have what it takes for that immense three-opera role; I hope so. We'll have to wait and see.
You should re-read what I wrote.

I suggested you didn't listen to many modern recordings, based on your posts.

I suggested your ears, like all generations, tends to stick with their musical loves from 15-30 years old.

Nor did I dismiss your knowledgeable opinion.

I prefer the Bjorling etc era Met to Levene

I'm no Toscanini fan.

Levene was great on RCA, I loved his opera recordings from back then.

I can't stand Wagner.

I said that I don't have prejudices, I'll listen to anything (once).

I dd not say you were prejudiced, but it may have read that way.

I was referring to you putting down orchestras you deem of low stature or merit. I don't think you can deny that we have sparred over that aspect of musical appreciation.
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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by John F » Tue Apr 19, 2016 9:52 pm

Chalkie, I responded directly and relevantly to what you actually said: "You rarely rate the young conductors as highly as myself and a couple of others here, with no offense, I always think it's an age thing. You come from a different age, as does Lance, you stick with the 50's and 60's conductors." That certainly does imply that "the artistic opinions of older people are somehow out of date," which in turn implies that they are somehow less valid than, well, yours.

What you're now saying shifts the ground. "I suggested you didn't listen to many modern recordings, based on your posts." This discussion isn't about recordings, it's about the here and now; I go to many live performances, I'd guess many more than you do. "I was referring to you putting down orchestras you deem of low stature or merit." That too is irrelevant - this thread isn't about orchestras, it's about conductors. Let it go, Chalkie.
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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by Chalkperson » Wed Apr 20, 2016 3:53 am

John F wrote:Chalkie, I responded directly and relevantly to what you actually said: "You rarely rate the young conductors as highly as myself and a couple of others here, with no offense, I always think it's an age thing. You come from a different age, as does Lance, you stick with the 50's and 60's conductors." That certainly does imply that "the artistic opinions of older people are somehow out of date," which in turn implies that they are somehow less valid than, well, yours.

What you're now saying shifts the ground. "I suggested you didn't listen to many modern recordings, based on your posts." This discussion isn't about recordings, it's about the here and now; I go to many live performances, I'd guess many more than you do. "I was referring to you putting down orchestras you deem of low stature or merit." That too is irrelevant - this thread isn't about orchestras, it's about conductors. Let it go, Chalkie.
I call you on your post, attempting to clarify what I said and it's deemed 'Irrelevant"

May I then deem your response totally and utterly irrelevant?

Thanks
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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by maestrob » Wed Apr 20, 2016 11:36 am

Gentlemen:

Every age has great conductors and singers, some ages more than others. Right now, in spite of terrorism and tensions with China, artists are permitted to travel to most countries to perform (We even had the NY Philharmonic in North Korea recently, as I recall.). This means that we in NY can hear great artists from all over the world. That's part of the reason that I say we are living in a golden age of not just singing, but of music-making in general.

JohnF: I'm afraid I have to side with Chalkie on this one, with all due respect to the immense depth of your knowledge and experience. Are Kaufmann and Alagna & others singing today better than previous generations? Not necessarily, but they are great in their own ways (I've never known a voice as beautiful and versatile as Kaufmann in any generation.). Sure, Voigt didn't live up to Flagstad or Nilsson, but that's just one example that balances the scale. Look at all the great Baroque music that's being rediscovered on disc that's being sung for the first time in hundreds of years. Wow!

Just because you are familiar with certain performances and periods in depth doesn't disqualify others that you haven't heard from consideration. I appreciate your youtube postings: they educate and inform me, as in the discussion we had about Shostakovich V.

We've gone round and round about this: de gustibus and all that. Music appreciation is like the three blind men trying to describe an elephant: we each rely on our own experience, no one can possibly touch the entire beast in a lifetime, although we try. My weakness is pre-1955 recordings, while yours is modern-day discs. Either way, we have agreed to disagree, but it makes for an interesting discussion! :D

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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by John F » Wed Apr 20, 2016 11:54 pm

Of course every period has both greater and lesser artists, and I've never suggested otherwise. But when you speak of a "golden age" of singing or music-making, as you have, that's a generalization which necessarily implies a comparison with other ages which you consider less "golden." Comparisons are odorous, as Mrs. Malaprop said, but without them such a claim is meaningless. Are we living in a time when the overall level of singing, however one judges it, or the number of great singers, however one chooses them, is a great higher (more "golden") than at other peak times? I say not, and I don't think you've made a convincing argument that we are.

What would that take? More than praise for this or that individual singer. For every Jonas Kaufmann you name, I can name half a dozen tenors of at least comparable excellence from periods that not only I but many others think of as a golden age. In the early 1960s, for example, there were Jussi Bjoerling and Giuseppe di Stefano and Fritz Wunderlich and Jon Vickers and Nicolai Gedda and, on the rise, the young Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo, all with voices no less beautiful than Kaufmann's and with musical styles and personalities no less distinctive. In the Wagner repertoire, for another example, our time has never heard the likes of the Met's Wagner ensemble of the 1930s, led as often as twice a week by Kirsten Flagstad, Lauritz Melchior, and Friedrich Schorr.It isn't mere name-dropping, all of these singers made studio recordings and were captured in live broadcasts that we can hear and evaluate for ourselves. I could give many more examples, and I will if I must, but these should be enough to make my point.

(The expansion of repertoire to include more Baroque opera, which incidentally has nothing to do with James Levine and little to do with the Met, is irrelevant to this topic, though an interesting topic in its own right. In the 1920s, for example, the repertoire was expanded by new operas ranging in style from "Turandot" to "Wozzeck" which sooner or later became standard works; where are such new operas in this millennium? It's also irrelevant that nowadays more singers are able to travel to where we can conveniently hear them in person. Singers such as Galina Vishnevskaya, Pavel Lisitsian, and Mark Reizen seldom or never sang on this side of the Iron Curtain but they were great singers nonetheless, as their many Soviet recordings showed to those who sought them out.)

Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that we're now at a low ebb in the art of singing. And even at times when this was so, there have always been outstanding singers who stood out all the more amid their lesser contemporaries. I'm also not saying that today's singers can't or don't give performances that are at least satisfying and sometimes much more than that. What I am saying is that all in all, they do not add up to a golden age of singing. To claim that they do is to ignore history and overrate their merits compared with their great predecessors', individually and as a generation.

Yes, that's a challenge, and if you or anyone would like to take it up, I'd be very interested in what you all have to say. But let's have it in another thread - this one is supposed to be about James Levine.
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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by Chalkperson » Thu Apr 21, 2016 3:37 am

John,

Firstly, threads meander and that's how life is.

Secondly, my reply dealt with Levene's possible replacement, a Conductor.

I also responded about Orchestras and recordings.

You are the one who chose to reply with a list of Wagner singers and changed the subject totally.

Now you deem many things 'irrelevant' simply because you don't like what we say.

So was the list of Wagner singers, in my opinion even more so.

It had nothing to do with my post, nothing at all. It was totally irrelevant.

But, I would never have used such a word to you, or anyone else here for that matter, this is CMG and we discuss classical music due to a mutual love of it. We are all experts of one kind or another, to deem Maestro's or my comments irrelevant is simply your way of avoiding addressing our point.

You do not listen to many modern recordings, and you refuse to allow the current generation of singers, conductors, orchestras to be considered golden, but to many younger people they are.

Surely, if these younger generayion of people support Opera and Classical Music then that's a good thing, otherwise it's all eventually going the way of the Dodo.
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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by maestrob » Thu Apr 21, 2016 12:09 pm

For every Jonas Kaufmann you name, I can name half a dozen tenors of at least comparable excellence from periods that not only I but many others think of as a golden age. In the early 1960s, for example, there were Jussi Bjoerling and Giuseppe di Stefano and Fritz Wunderlich and Jon Vickers and Nicolai Gedda and, on the rise, the young Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo, all with voices no less beautiful than Kaufmann's and with musical styles and personalities no less distinctive.
None of the singers you named was able to sing Werther and Siegmund in the same stage of his career, as did Kaufmann. Also Kaufmann has a dynamic range on high notes that boggles the mind. Please listen to his Puccini and Verdi albums which both show a wider rang of roles than any of the tenors you mentioned. He ranges from Rigoletto to Otello successfully without a hint of strain in the tone.

As for keeping Levine in the conversation, the great Maestro, when confronted with Domingo's insistence that he wanted to perform Otello, initially advised the tenor not to do so, but Domingo insisted, thus we have the excellent recording. OTOH, I heard Domingo live twice in the role, and to this day I believe Levine was right, for Domingo sounded strained to my ears. Even on a telecast, (the one with Renee Fleming) I found him overpowered by the role, and even worse with Samson, which I heard on TV only. Again, just my opinion, but there it is. Domingo also recorded Rigoletto with Giulini, and performed the role at the MET in 1977.

(Edited to correct misinformation.)

For Domingo fans: I'm certainly not picking on the great singer, just using him as an example. Levine has a great instinct about voices, which is why he's been so successful at the MET.
Last edited by maestrob on Fri Apr 22, 2016 11:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by lennygoran » Thu Apr 21, 2016 2:39 pm

Brian watch it on placido-he`s a favorite of mine! Len hiding out in brooklyn :lol:

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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by Chalkperson » Thu Apr 21, 2016 6:57 pm

maestrob wrote:
For every Jonas Kaufmann you name, I can name half a dozen tenors of at least comparable excellence from periods that not only I but many others think of as a golden age. In the early 1960s, for example, there were Jussi Bjoerling and Giuseppe di Stefano and Fritz Wunderlich and Jon Vickers and Nicolai Gedda and, on the rise, the young Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo, all with voices no less beautiful than Kaufmann's and with musical styles and personalities no less distinctive.
None of the singers you named was able to sing Werther and Siegmund in the same stage of his career, as did Kaufmann. Also Kaufmann has a dynamic range on high notes that boggles the mind. Please listen to his Puccini and Verdi albums which both show a wider rang of roles than any of the tenors you mentioned. He ranges from Rigoletto to Otello successfully without a hint of strain in the tone.

As for keeping Levine in the conversation, the great Maestro, when confronted with Domingo's insistence that he wanted to perform Otello, initially advised the tenor not to do so, but Domingo insisted, thus we have the excellent recording. OTOH, I heard Domingo live twice in the role, and to this day I believe Levine was right, for Domingo sounded strained to my ears. Even on a telecast, (the one with Renee Fleming) I found him overpowered by the role, and even worse with Samson, which I heard on TV only. Again, just my opinion, but there it is. Domingo also recorded Rigoletto with Giulini, but never to my knowledge sang the role live.

For Domingo fans: I'm certainly not picking on the great singer, just using him as an example. Levine has a great instinct about voices, which is why he's been so successful at the MET.
Some people, including my dear old friend Paul McCartney, can't take criticism, nor will they retire gracefully.

They seem intent to sing till they drop.
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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by maestrob » Thu Apr 21, 2016 10:36 pm

lennygoran wrote:Brian watch it on placido-he`s a favorite of mine! Len hiding out in brooklyn :lol:
As he is of mine: he's a magnificent artist both as singer, conductor and producer: I wish I had 1/5 of his talent and brains. However, even the greatest among us has limits, and it's not putting someone down to point that out.

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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by John F » Thu Apr 21, 2016 11:52 pm

maestrob wrote:None of the singers you named was able to sing Werther and Siegmund in the same stage of his career, as did Kaufmann. Also Kaufmann has a dynamic range on high notes that boggles the mind. Please listen to his Puccini and Verdi albums which both show a wider rang of roles than any of the tenors you mentioned. He ranges from Rigoletto to Otello successfully without a hint of strain in the tone.
I haven't questioned Kaufmann's excellence as a singer, so you don't have to try to prove it to me. But one swallow doesn't make a summer and one excellent tenor does not make a golden age of singing. I named a half dozen famous operatic tenors of the early '60s and could have named more, and singers of other kinds too (Maria Callas!), to provide a concrete example of what it means to speak of a golden age of singing. To answer me, you'd need to go beyond Kaufmann to consider a much larger sample of today's opera singers.

But I'll answer you, though it's somewhat beside your original point. Versatility in itself is not a measure of greatness. When I was in Germany, I saw Wolfgang Windgassen sing Siegfried and Eisenstein in the same season; that's not what made him a great singer, if he was. Anja Silja sang Isolde and Brünnhilde and also the Queen of the Night and Lulu; Maria Callas sang Brünnhilde, Kundry, and Lucia in the space of a few years. If they were great singers, and nobody doubts that Callas was, that's not the reason why. As for Kaufmann's versatility, how is he in the florid music of the Baroque and bel canto composers? No one singer can do it all, and it's no black mark against him if he can't, or chooses not to.

Staying with you as you change subjects, Plácido Domingo is up there with Jon Vickers as one of the greatest Otellos I've heard in the opera house, and I've heard a few. If he had heeded James Levine's advice, this would never have happened. He knew his own voice better than the doubters did - even Levine didn't always get it right. Parts of the role may have strained Domingo's voice, but what of it? He sang the role many, many times from 1979 to 2002; it did not damage his voice, for all we know it may have strengthened it, as he is still singing leading roles on a professional level at the age of 75. Giovanni Martinelli wasn't one of nature's Otellos either, but in his 50s he sang the role at the Met dozens of times, and the recordings of his three broadcast performances are gripping. Great singing isn't all about ease of vocalism.



Quite a few singers have recorded roles they had not previously sung in the opera house. Maria Callas first sang Cio-Cio-San and Amelia ("Ballo") for EMI's microphones. Of course she could have sung them in the opera house, and in fact she did - but later, and only once each. Nonetheless her mastery of the vocal line is as complete and her characterizations are as deep as in her signature roles of Tosca and Norma. I haven't heard Domingo's Rigoletto, but his not having sung it on the stage can't be because he couldn't, not after he's sung so many other Verdi baritone roles, but rather because he chose not to. So I don't get your point.
Last edited by John F on Thu Apr 21, 2016 11:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by Chalkperson » Thu Apr 21, 2016 11:56 pm

John F wrote:
maestrob wrote:None of the singers you named was able to sing Werther and Siegmund in the same stage of his career, as did Kaufmann. Also Kaufmann has a dynamic range on high notes that boggles the mind. Please listen to his Puccini and Verdi albums which both show a wider rang of roles than any of the tenors you mentioned. He ranges from Rigoletto to Otello successfully without a hint of strain in the tone.
I haven't questioned Kaufmann's excellence as a singer, so you don't have to try to prove it to me. But one swallow doesn't make a summer and one excellent tenor does not make a golden age of singing. I named a half dozen famous operatic tenors of the early '60s and could have named more, and singers of other kinds too (Maria Callas!), to provide a concrete example of what it means to speak of a golden age of singing. To answer me, you'd need to go beyond Kaufmann to consider a much larger sample of today's opera singers.

But I'll answer you, though it's somewhat beside your original point. Versatility in itself is not a measure of greatness. When I was in Germany, I saw Wolfgang Windgassen sing Siegfried and Eisenstein in the same season; that's not what made him a great singer, if he was. Anja Silja sang Isolde and Brünnhilde and also the Queen of the Night and Lulu; Maria Callas sang Brünnhilde, Kundry, and Lucia in the space of a few years. If they were great singers, and nobody doubts that Callas was, that's not the reason why. As for Kaufmann's versatility, how is he in the florid music of the Baroque and bel canto composers? No one singer can do it all, and it's no black mark against him if he can't, or chooses not to.

Staying with you as you change subjects, Plácido Domingo remains the greatest Otello I've heard in the opera house, and I've heard a few. If he had heeded James Levine's advice, this would never have happened. He knew his own voice better than the doubters did - even Levine didn't always get it right. Parts of the role may have strained Domingo's voice, but what of it? He sang the role many, many times from 1979 to 2002; it did not damage his voice, for all we know it may have strengthened it, as he is still singing leading roles on a professional level at the age of 75. Giovanni Martinelli wasn't one of nature's Otellos either, but in his 50s he sang the role at the Met dozens of times, and the recordings of his three broadcast performances are gripping. Great singing isn't all about ease of vocalism.



Quite a few singers have recorded roles they had not previously sung in the opera house. Maria Callas first sang Cio-Cio-San and Amelia ("Ballo") for EMI's microphones. Of course she could have sung them in the opera house, and in fact she did - but later, and only once each. Nonetheless her mastery of the vocal line is as complete and her characterizations are as deep as in her signature roles of Tosca and Norma. I haven't heard Domingo's Rigoletto, but his not having sung it on the stage can't be because he couldn't, not after he's sung so many other Verdi baritone roles, but rather because he chose not to. So I don't get your point.
The Guilini Rigoletto is excellent.
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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by Chalkperson » Thu Apr 21, 2016 11:57 pm

Are you ever going to address the real questions John, or keep just waffling on about your decades old experiences.

You may be knowledgable beyond reproach. But it's limited.

Maestro and I have far more open ears than you.

Your kind of attitude is what's driving people away from Opera.
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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by maestrob » Fri Apr 22, 2016 12:45 am

Small point, JohnF: I was talking about Domingo's recording of the role of the Duke, not the film he made of Rigoletto he made in the title role just a few years ago that was broadcast on TV. Both are excellent, except for a few sections of the film where the role requires real low notes (Cortigianni,vil razza......). The film features historic locations and costumes, and is fascinating to watch as well as hear.

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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by lennygoran » Fri Apr 22, 2016 6:14 am

maestrob wrote:
lennygoran wrote:Brian watch it on placido-he`s a favorite of mine! Len hiding out in brooklyn :lol:
As he is of mine: he's a magnificent artist both as singer, conductor and producer: I wish I had 1/5 of his talent and brains. However, even the greatest among us has limits, and it's not putting someone down to point that out.

Brian yes, definitely understand! Len :D

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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by John F » Fri Apr 22, 2016 7:20 am

maestrob wrote:I was talking about Domingo's recording of the role of the Duke, not the film he made of Rigoletto he made in the title role just a few years ago that was broadcast on TV. Both are excellent, except for a few sections of the film where the role requires real low notes (Cortigianni,vil razza......).
Ah so. I'd like to see that. It's not for nothing that Domingo's baritone roles have mostly been Verdi, as the tessitura is relatively high.
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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by maestrob » Fri Apr 22, 2016 10:21 am

John F wrote:
maestrob wrote:I was talking about Domingo's recording of the role of the Duke, not the film he made of Rigoletto he made in the title role just a few years ago that was broadcast on TV. Both are excellent, except for a few sections of the film where the role requires real low notes (Cortigianni,vil razza......).
Ah so. I'd like to see that. It's not for nothing that Domingo's baritone roles have mostly been Verdi, as the tessitura is relatively high.
I'll bet youtube has some, if not all of it available. .....

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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by maestrob » Fri Apr 22, 2016 11:17 pm

lennygoran wrote:Brian watch it on placido-he`s a favorite of mine! Len hiding out in brooklyn :lol:
Len: I just corrected my post above. Domingo DID sing the role of the Duke in Rigoletto live at the MET in 1977. My bad.

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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by lennygoran » Fri Apr 22, 2016 11:34 pm

maestrob wrote: Len: I just corrected my post above. Domingo DID sing the role of the Duke in Rigoletto live at the MET in 1977. My bad.
Brian we were just getting into opera-actually Sue was already subscribing with a friend to NYCO but it was one of our first operas together-1977! We were there:

[Met Performance] CID:251350
Rigoletto {531} Metropolitan Opera House: 11/12/1977.


Metropolitan Opera House
November 12, 1977


RIGOLETTO {531}
Giuseppe Verdi--Francesco Maria Piave

Rigoletto...............Cornell MacNeil
Gilda...................Ileana Cotrubas
Duke of Mantua..........Plácido Domingo
Maddalena...............Isola Jones
Sparafucile.............Justino Díaz
Monterone...............John Cheek
Borsa...................James Atherton
Marullo.................Robert Goodloe
Count Ceprano...........Philip Booth
Countess Ceprano........Loretta Di Franco
Giovanna................Ariel Bybee
Page....................Alma Jean Smith
Guard...................Peter Sliker

Conductor...............James Levine

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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by maestrob » Fri Apr 22, 2016 11:55 pm

Interesting! Isola Jones sang Nabucco with me led by La Selva in Central Park in 1979. That was the first time I sang with him (in the chorus, of course!). Small world. :D

When I studied conducting with La Selva at Juilliard a decade later, I sang baritone and he sang tenor, along with various other singers who were working on roles with him in the other parts. We had a great time!

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Re: Levine to step down as Met director; still plans to cond

Post by lennygoran » Sat Apr 23, 2016 7:23 am

maestrob wrote:Interesting! Isola Jones sang Nabucco with me
We heard her a lot when we first started out back in the 1970`s. A search reveled 505 appearances at the Met-look how the Met used her in this production: Regards, Len :lol:

Metropolitan Opera House
March 24, 1978


DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN {24}
R. Strauss-Hofmannsthal



Servant.................Isola Jones

Unborn..................Isola Jones

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