James Levine: End of an era

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John F
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James Levine: End of an era

Post by John F » Sat May 28, 2016 3:35 am

A few weeks ago, James Levine conducted his last performances as the Metropolitan Opera's music director - Mozart's "Die Entführung aus dem Serail." For what appears to be his last concert with the Met Orchestra (he won't be conducting them mext season), he conducted a program of music from Wagner's "Ring." Here's a review.

James Levine Ends a Climactic Season With the Met Orchestra
MAY 27, 2016

In 1994, James Levine, always on the alert for promising singers, brought the soprano Christine Goerke into the Metropolitan Opera’s young artist development program. When she had her breakthrough at the house a decade later, singing Donna Elvira in “Don Giovanni,” Mr. Levine was conducting. That same year, she sang the Third Norn in Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung,” again with Mr. Levine in the pit. It is just a supporting role, a small showcase but not much of an assignment.

How things have changed for her — and, much more sadly, for him. On Thursday at Carnegie Hall, Mr. Levine led the Met Orchestra in sizable excerpts from Wagner’s “Ring” operas with Ms. Goerke now singing Brünnhilde — no supporting part, but the cycle’s heroine — thrillingly. It was an exhilarating yet poignant evening.

On May 7, the last day of the Met’s opera season, Mr. Levine conducted Mozart’s “Die Entführung aus dem Serail,” his final performance as the company’s music director, ending a momentous tenure of more than 40 years. He is now music director emeritus. Given his continuing struggles with his health, including Parkinson’s disease, it’s unclear what he will be capable of in the future. But Wagner’s “Ring” has long been a Levine specialty. For this highly anticipated concert, he summoned the requisite energy and focus to draw plush, powerful — at times a little too powerful — playing from the orchestra.

In recent years, Ms. Goerke has emerged as one of the leading dramatic sopranos of the day. She triumphed in her first staged Brünnhilde last year with the Canadian Opera Company. The Met has announced that she will perform the role in a complete “Ring” in the 2018-19 season, when the company is scheduled to bring back Robert Lepage’s clunky production. Mr. Levine will almost certainly not be on the podium then, but at least he and Ms. Goerke could collaborate here. After a rehearsal on Monday, Ms. Goerke, sounding awe-struck, posted on Facebook: “Just sang through bleeding chunks of Brünnhilde with James Levine and got all the wisdom thrown at me.” During the performance, it felt like one era at the Met was giving way to another.

The company is facing enormous problems, including a worrisome decline in ticket sales. Critics, fans and insiders have been suggesting potential remedies. Everyone seems to agree on one point: The Met must somehow bring down prohibitive ticket prices. The first order of business, though, is to find a successor to Mr. Levine.

Given the company’s much-discussed challenges, it’s important to see the larger picture: The Met continues to put on some terrific shows. This season alone, three new productions joined my list of all-time great experiences in opera. There was William Kentridge’s visually arresting staging of Berg’s “Lulu.” Penny Woolcock’s sensitively updated production of Bizet’s “Pearl Fishers” fielded a winning cast, led by the dynamic conductor Gianandrea Noseda. Last month, the director Patrice Chéreau’s wrenching take on Strauss’s “Elektra” had Esa-Pekka Salonen leading outstanding singers and an energized orchestra. (Mr. Chéreau died in 2013.)

Mr. Levine, conspicuously, had no direct involvement with these presentations, though he had been scheduled to conduct “Lulu” before withdrawing for health reasons. Yet he was crucial to each one. Over decades, he has made Berg’s “Wozzeck” and “Lulu” pivotal to the Met’s repertory. “The Pearl Fishers” featured two singers Mr. Levine guided closely during their early years with the company: the tenor Matthew Polenzani and the baritone Mariusz Kwiecien, who trained in the young artist program. Mr. Levine has also made a specialty of “Elektra,” a work he first led at the Met in 1980 with Birgit Nilsson, no less, in the title role and Leonie Rysanek as Chrysothemis.

It’s pretty clear that the orchestra, though devoted to Mr. Levine, has struggled in recent years as his gestures have become hard to follow and his stamina has flagged. But by this point, the players know what he wants in the “Ring.” There were occasional slip-ups and tentative moments during Thursday’s concert. Still, the audience was treated to engrossing highlights from all four parts of the cycle.

Mr. Levine began with orchestral excerpts: the Entry of the Gods into Valhalla from “Das Rheingold” and the Ride of the Valkyries from “Die Walküre,” with radiant, full-bodied string playing and stirring, brassy climaxes. Illness forced Mr. Levine to cede “Siegfried” and “Götterdämmerung” to Fabio Luisi when the Lepage productions were introduced. Mr. Levine seemed hardly able to wait to tear into the music, but his enthusiasm got out of hand. During the transformative love duet that concludes “Siegfried,” Mr. Levine encouraged the orchestra to let loose with lush, shimmering sound and enveloping fortissimos. Even Ms. Goerke, with her powerhouse voice, was sometimes covered, as was her partner, the strong German tenor Stefan Vinke, whose grainy, virile voice was impressive in this daunting scene. Ms. Goerke has it all: clarion top notes and supple lyricism; tenderness and chilling intensity. She achingly conveyed the identity crisis Brünnhilde faces when, a goddess no longer, she knows her destiny is to love, and be loved by, Siegfried.

After intermission, Mr. Levine led an hour of excerpts from “Götterdämmerung,” starting with the prologue’s dawn music and the duet between the now-devoted lovers, which Mr. Vinke and Ms. Goerke sang beautifully. Mr. Levine conducted a restless account of Siegfried’s Rhine Journey and brought dark weightiness to Siegfried’s Death and Funeral March. Ms. Goerke was vocally glorious and emotionally vulnerable in Brunnhilde’s Immolation Scene.

The ovation went on for almost 15 minutes. At one point, the concertmaster, David Chan, presented Mr. Levine with red roses as the players warmly applauded.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/28/arts/ ... estra.html
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Re: James Levine: End of an era

Post by jbuck919 » Sat May 28, 2016 7:29 am

For what it's worth, I used to be intimidated by the main concert/opera venues in New York. When I walked into the Met a short time ago to see Elektra, I might as well have been walking into the lobby of the local cineplex. I don't know it is I who have changed or the Met, or some combination of the two.

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Re: James Levine: End of an era

Post by Lance » Wed Jun 01, 2016 12:20 am

Absolutely tragic what has happened to Levine. From the time he first appeared, even as a pianist, I felt him to be one of the finest musicians of current times.
Lance G. Hill

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rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]


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Re: James Levine: End of an era

Post by stenka razin » Wed Jun 01, 2016 1:51 pm

Lance wrote:Absolutely tragic what has happened to Levine. From the time he first appeared, even as a pianist, I felt him to be one of the finest musicians of current times.
I agree completely. So sad.


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