Monday, January 31, 2011

Why Levine Will Leave

(who will read this? I have no idea)

(old Jimmy)
James Levine will announce his retirement from the Met by the end of the season. At this point, it's inevitable. Either Fabio Luisi will find a way to weasel out of his new Zurich Opera contract, or an as of yet unknown older A-Lister will replace him. It could be any star conductor between the ages of 45 and 60: Semyon Bychkov (needs a job), Daniele Gatti (opera-free after 2013), James Conlon (made a career out of replacing Levine), Riccardo Chailly (perpetually threatening to leave Leipzig), even Antonio Pappano (probably leaving Covent Garden after 2013), or Vladimir Jurowski (provided he doesn't replace Pappano).

The one person it will not be is Yannick Nezet-Seguin. Two reasons:

(young Jimmy)
1. Nobody can replace James Levine. He is a singular event in the opera world that can never be repeated - a musician who managed to keep standards high during the lowest ebb of opera's entire history. Levine was the first great opera conductor who did not evolve the artform. He preserved it almost exactly as it was before he came, and did more in the last four decades to save it from oblivion than any other figure. Being at the Met is often like walking into a timewarp, but in the absence of great new operas regularly arriving, tradition well-preserved is all with which we can content ourselves. Nobody can ever replace James Levine, we can only hope for an intelligent successor who can content himself with smaller achievements than those of a singular giant. In other words, Luisi would be perfect.

2. YNS is perfectly suited for Philadelphia. He's a charismatic showman in the manner of Leopold Stokowski, arriving as the cultural savior of a city in decline to take the appointment that rightfully should have been his mentor's three times over (and thrice since then). However good things currently look for him at the Met, he would wilt under the weight of expectations and it would only undermine the career goldmine he captured in Philly. Levine was always an unglamorous workhorse who valued consistency over variety. He was perfectly suited to the opera house. YNS is a concert conductor, at 36 he's far younger than Levine was when he was ten years younger. His interpretive style is a textbook ADHD-case, drawn in by every immediate gratification rather than long-term thinking. Running an opera house has always been a slow uphill battle, and some conductors will never be cut out for its slow-yielding rewards. Let him guest there as much as he likes, but in music as in life, some things are best left in the 'might have been' category.

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