Is it Time For James Levine to Leave the Met?

A Survey of Opinions on the Revered Conductor

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

James Levine with the Boston Symphony Orchestra James Levine with the Boston Symphony Orchestra (Michael Lutch)

Ongoing health problems recently forced conductor James Levine to announce his resignation as music director of the Boston Symphony, and now his main gig as music director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York is suffering too. The Met said Monday that Levine will reduce his conducting dates for the rest of the season while he continues to deal with pain in his back.

Opera-watchers are increasingly divided over Levine’s perilous status with the company. Some bloggers argue that it’s time the Met follow Boston’s lead and cut him loose. They argue that his continued presence there will create "destructive dissension and strife." Washington Post classical music critic Anne Midgette noted that "the fact is, he hasn’t sounded quite as fabulous in recent outings as he did in his prime."

Still others, including WQXR’s Naomi Lewin believe that he has plenty more to give the opera world, and that he should rest up for a full recovery on the podium. What do you think? Is it time for Levine to step down? Or should he continue in a curtailed role? Take our poll: 

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Comments [21]

Ingeborg from califfornia

I do not care if Levine is gay or not. So far
no scandel, and his conducting is one of a kind. Very dynamic.
There is one thing he can do is to loose some weight. About 100 lbs. He would feel
a lot better. 5lbs in the front is 10 lbs in the back.
Or go swimming in a spa to take it off. It works, I know I lost it.
Keep conducting james.

Dec. 13 2011 02:41 PM
Charles Fischbein from Washington D.C.

James Levine is a man of music, and opera, a man of the atrs. If in fact he has an eye for young boy's he must be controlled. However like Joseph Volpe James Levine is totally divoted to the Metropolitan Opera. He is not a man of confrontation, and he shuns the spotlight for whatever reason, but he loves the Metropolitan Opera and would do it no harm.
On the other hand Peter Gelb has led the Met to the verge of bankruptcy, he has virtually pawned the Shagall's that decorate the Met, and is taking the Met down a road to ruin. He is using amplification when both Levine and Volpe like ever other major manager or director of an Opera house would never allow that, (see notes on Nixon in China) he is pimping Opera to movie houses so "the folks" can down popcorn while seeing an HD movie of an opera.
He knows nothing about running an Opera Company. His claim to fame is managing Michael Jackson's stash of recordings.
If Michael were alive when Gelb was fully into running the Met, no doubt Gelb would have managed private parties for Jimmy and Michael's pleasure, (they both seemingly have the same outside interests.)
That may be going a bit far but Gelb is nothing but a self permoting pimp who needs to leave the upper west side of manhattan for the management companies on Madison Ave. I, like many long term Met supporters whould rather see Jimmy step in and cover for Gelb until a real man of the Opera was found to manage the met the way Bing, Volpe and other did.
The fact that the Met Board of Directors brough Volpe back to oversee union contracts and avoid a lock out, show's just how little faith the Board has in Gelb, hopefully they will come fully awake and throw him out before it is too late.
As for Jimmy, the man in spite of his personal shortcomings is a true artist and doing his best while in chronic pain. He deserves a Brovo. As a classical musician who lives with chronic pain I know just how hard it is to even walk a few steps, how this man can focus on the music and conducting in his physical condition is beyond me. James Levine loves music enough to know when he can no longer help make it beautiful.

Apr. 16 2011 10:53 AM
Joe Pearce from Brooklyn, NY

The question and its three possible answers are an insult to Mr.Levine, your listeners, and to what WQXR is supposed to stand for. It seems geared more to the sensibilities of reality show adherents than to serious music lovers. When this type of question about retirement comes up, it is usually in connection with singers or other performers whose current level of performance is an embarrassment to their own reputations and injurious to the art they practice. Mr. Levine is simply ill and, contrary to what someone stated above, his own appearances, when he can appear, are still as praiseworthy as they have ever been - witness his wonderful conducting of RHEINGOLD in the new production. It worries me that WQXR should have anything to do with floating such a question. I may have problems with the NYTimes on occasion, but when WQXR was under their ownership, someone would probably have taken a whip to any "management" that would even allow such a question to be raised, at least in the context in which this one has seen the light of day. To paraphrase Mr. Welch, "Have you no shame?"

Mar. 25 2011 12:19 PM
Barry from UWS

@CL I take your point but - he is a fine artist but I don't see a problem with calling attention to what everyone in the classical music world knows - that he enjoys the company of young boys. He may give pleasure to opera goers but if you ask the kids he was arrested with I doubt they'd say the same thing.

Mar. 25 2011 05:55 AM
C. L. DuBarton from New Jersey

I do not like the limited 3 choices above for a way to pass judgement on Maestro Levine. I believe there is another way. The pit is not so strenuous as certain administrative duties, there is the place for some relief. Already we have many great conductors beside Jimmy, the belated premiere of Daniel Barenboim, the great Boris with Gergiev are but two. Perhaps a Principal Guest Conductor position would not be amiss, and offer the Maestro time for rest and rehabilitation. One more thing I do not like is the character assassination made by another post. Mentioning family members negatively, and referring to purported arrests is a shameful display, an attack on a great artist whose entire life work has been to give pleasure to others. Boo to that post, give it the hook!

Mar. 24 2011 12:35 PM
Harry Matthews from Brooklyn, NY

Levine is a brilliant musician who has raised the performance level at the Met and helped bing new talent and new ideas into the house. Outside the house, he has made questionable decisions, including overly ambitious conducting commitments and poor choices affecting his health. He really needs to recognize his own limitations, and either devote a year or more to weight loss and rehab or adapt his commitments to his diminished abilities.

Right now, he risks being remembered as "the cancelled conductor," rather than the maestro of the Met.

Mar. 24 2011 01:45 AM
Michael Meltzer

The last sentence should have read, "I welcome WQXR's response."

Mar. 24 2011 12:06 AM
Michael Meltzer

At 5:15 PM I posted a comment referring to the multi-talented James Levine as "collaborative pianist extraordinaire." Someone at WQXR, not blessed with the gift of understanding, deleted it, presumably as offensive.
I suggest that if Mr. Levine felt that way, he would not at the height of his conducting career recorded the Debussy: Ariettes Oubliees with Dawn Upshaw, or the Schubert F-minor Fantasy for Four Hands with Evgeny Kissin.
Those are no less than magnificent recordings which can be expected to become archival classics.
I welcome your response.

Mar. 23 2011 11:33 PM
arden anderson broecking from connecticut

Maestro Levine should rest on his many glorious laurels, and take care of himself. He has had a spectacular career, and he deserves a peaceful retirement.

Mar. 23 2011 11:20 PM
prmco from New York

There is a time for all things, and now is Maestro Levine's time to abdicate.

Mar. 23 2011 09:27 PM
Jessica Marlow

I hope Levine stays on forever!

Mar. 23 2011 09:03 PM
Tony from Bayonne, NJ

It's easy for people to tell someone else to retire. After all, they're not bringing down the curtain on their passion and their life's work. With Mr. Levine being a conductor, how can anyone say it's time to go? If he were a singer who's voice was going and couldn't reach those high notes anymore, it would be easy to tell. I've seen many superstar athletes hang on a year or two too long, after their skills had deteriorated. It's painful to watch because we remember them as being great. Mr. Levine is one of those conductors, like Toscanini and Bernstein, who just seem to get a lot more out of a company than the others do. He should focus on his health first and then continue conducting if he is able and wants to. He's earned the right to decide for himself. The Met management should give him the courtesy and respect he deserves. By the way, Peter Gelb is the one I'd like to see go.

Mar. 23 2011 09:00 PM
Henry Miner

The 3 choices are ridiculous. Whether or not Mr. Levine continues with the Metropolitan Opera is up to Mr. Levine and his doctors. It is not for his audience or the press to decide. Enjoy his talents and wish him well.

Mar. 23 2011 07:47 PM
Barry from UWS

I must add a dissenting voice to the mix here. I never really got what made people so infatuated with Levine. Yes, he provides music direction to an incredibly difficult company with lots of complex moving parts, which is no small feat. But he's not a particularly charismatic or dynamic figure on the podium.

His personal life always bothered me - the controlling brother, his passive-aggressive working style, his reported arrest(s). I know plenty of great artists had problematic lives but I also believe it's important to see the whole person when it comes to a public figure who accepts public money.

In any case, I wish the Met and Mr. Levine well for whatever happens next.

Mar. 23 2011 07:34 PM
Phyllis Murphy from New Jersey

He should stay as long as he is able to conduct. If there are times he cannot work for health reasons substitute conductors can fill in and ultimately one of them may prove to be the genius that he has been for all these years.

Mar. 23 2011 07:10 PM
Jeep Gerhard from New York City

At the time Peter Gelb's appointment was announced I said to a critic I know that the "gorilla in the middle of the Met stage" -- and Gelb's biggest assignment -- would be to persuade Levine to accept a package with something like a 'laureate' title, and a single new production a year along with his choice of three revivals or repertoire works, for three seasons. I'm sure Mr. Gelb has thought of something similar. The two Met titans share a 'godfather' in Ronald Wilford, who should bow out of HIS role for this round. Whether or not Mr. Levine accepts a package is another matter altogether. It's time: it's not that 67 is old, it's that 67 and in bad physical shape is not good for a conductor with heavy administrative duties AND a busy conducting schedule. This week's announcement was the first MET shoe to drop. I expect the other one will hit the floor during the summer.

Mar. 23 2011 06:56 PM
Frederick Schmid

R. Bing, former general manager of the Met, once said to a diva -- "better to have your fans say -- too soon -- rather than -- at last. Mr. Bing's advice is correct. Mr. Levine think about it.

Mar. 23 2011 05:47 PM
Irene Kokai from Old Saybrook, CT

He is too young to retire, and we the audience will not let him! He has been wonderful over the years, even my 6 year old calls him "My favorite conductor." (Of course she has been brainwashed by this grandmother, but I could have done worse with a grandchild, right?) James Levine retiring would be like removing the chandeliers from the Met, the light would not shine on performances. Sure there are other good conductors, but Levine is SPECIAL one never ever had a bad performance under his baton.

Mar. 23 2011 05:47 PM
Anthony Limina from Saddle River NJ

Maestro Levine should continue to make whatever contributions he can to the music world as long as he is able. Hopefully, he will be able to recover from his physical ailments and return to a full schedule, including his duties with the Boston Symphony.

Mar. 23 2011 05:46 PM
Robert Poda from New York

James Levine has given so much over the past 40 years, my hope with the adjustments he has made for the balance of the season, his health will improve and we will look forward to see him far into the future. We really hope he does not step down/retire. He is so necessary to the Met and we who so admire him.

Robert Poda

Mar. 23 2011 05:40 PM
Jack Mendelson from New York NY

Mr Levine has helped to make the Met what it is today. One of the finest opera houses in the world. The chorus and the orchestra have become supurb instruments always providing performances of the highest quality. Mr Lines influence and contribution to the operes should not be under-estimated As long as he is able he should remain with the Met to help prepare future works and conduct as much as he is physically able.

Mar. 23 2011 05:32 PM

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