Back

Levine quits Lulu

October 4, 2015 by norman lebrecht

19 comments.


The Met’s music director has pulled out of one of his signature pieces.

The company says James Levine, 72, wants to reserve his early-season energies for Tannhäuser.

Talk of a sidekick and successor has warmed up again. Lothar Koenigs will stand in for Lulu.

levine-thumb-500x280-62355

press release:

Faced with the demands of rehearsing and performing two large-scale operas simultaneously this fall, Met Music Director James Levine has decided to lighten his workload by removing the new production of Berg’s Lulu from his schedule so that he may focus his energies completely on Wagner’s epic drama Tannhäuser. 


Comments (19)

  1. Marshall says:

    There must be more-sadly-going on here. 72, is not old for a conductor, and for Levine the Berg operas have always been favorites of his. You would imagine that he would have given up Tannhauser-not a new production anyway.

  2. Andreas B. says:

    Again: the name is Lothar Koenigs.

  3. Daniel F. says:

    Agree with Marshall. Tannhauser would have been performed only six times during the month of prep for Lulu. Possible alternative scenarios: 1. Levine could not abide the new production–i.e. the artistic differences were too great for him to continue; 2. in early rehearsals Levine could not abide the casting; 3. alternatively neither the cast nor the director could abide Levine’s “way” with the music and/or rehearsing. 4. Something has gone very wrong again with Levine physically and he will not even be able to complete (or begin?) the Tannhauser run. Anybody out there with some insider poop?

  4. William Safford says:

    I wish he had pulled out of Tannhäuser and stayed in Lulu.

    1. Patrick John Gordon Shaw says:

      I can tell you for a fact he’s not in to Lulus of any sort! Doubtless health related and he’ll withdraw from the Tannhauser performances in due course of time!

      1. William Safford says:

        Oh, shoot. I enjoy word play, but I meant my posting to be taken at face value.

        I was looking forward to Levine conducting Lulu. That’s all I meant.

        I hope he doesn’t have to drop out of anything more.

  5. Emil says:

    He DOES have a sidekick; Fabio Luisi has been principal conductor since the first Levine leave. That does not mean that he is sitting on his hands waiting for a call to jump in.

    1. John Kelly says:

      I am confident that Mr. Luisi is busy elsewhere and, trust me, he is way more than a “sidekick”. Based on my experience of more than a few performances at the Met under his direction, he is an excellent conductor who delivered terrific performances in a wide range of repertoire (German, Italian etc). Frankly I’d like to see him succeed Mr. Levine.

  6. Robert says:

    Good for him, always have a decent production and his conducting of Wagner is superb. Lucky Met audiences. The Met orchestra in Wagner with him conducting is sublime.

    1. Daniel F. says:

      Yes: Luisi is a fine conductor and is, moreover, reputed to be very popular with the musicians for his very efficient use of rehearsal time. He is does not, however, ever produce incandescent performances as Levine, at his best, does or at least has done in a wide variety of repertory. Nobody seems to recognize that what has happened to Levine’s health is the most tragic thing to have hit a great conductor since the series of accidents and illnesses that beset (the still greater) Otto Klemperer.

      1. Neven P. says:

        Daniel, what did you think of Kissin and Nelsons this weekend? Did you attend?

        1. Daniel F. says:

          Neven P: I’ve had to live in the DC area (alas) for the past three years, so no I did not attend. Am booked to see the BSO’s Elektra in NYC though.

      2. Mark says:

        Exactly correct. Luisi is a very good conductor, but Levine is a great one, one of the very few truly great conductors in the world today. His performances have a quite unique aura of grandeur and excitement. I was at the Met on opening night, and while Nezet-Seguin did an admirable job, his Otello did not seem on par with Levine or Karajan. I am really looking forward to Tannhauser !

        1. Patrick John Gordon Shaw says:

          ‘A great one’, Mark? Give us a break!! Have you ever performed with him? Think Muti, Gergiev, Barenboim if you are talking about great, inspiring conductors currently working!

  7. Sandy McCourt says:

    Norman, we need you now more than ever! Start snooping!

    The Tannhauser rehearsal is this morning (Monday) at 1030am. Agreed with the posters above, that something bigger is going on here. Also, as of this morning, the Met hasn’t updated the website after the Friday news dump (and don’t give me the ‘not updating stuff over the weekend- they have web staff that is employed for working on Saturday and Sundays, especially when there are HD broadcasts (as in the case of this past weekend with Trovatore)). They either don’t have a photo of Koenigs, or who knows, maybe after announcing the replacement conductor Friday, something fell through (nothing would surprise me anymore).

    1. Daniel F. says:

      For the record, I spoke with two veteran ushers at the Met Opera this past week and both of them said they did not believe the press release. “Nobody in the house believes it,” one of them added but neither seemed to “know” anything either. The Met has not only not changed their website (at least as of your last perusal) but, as of the middle of last week, had not changed their program book: the ad and also an article about the season both indicate Levine will conduct Lulu.

    2. Jennifer C. says:

      Everyone seems to be too afraid to say this out loud, but maestro Levine is, unfortunately, not able to conduct any more. He is waving his arms left and right, but those movements have very little to do with the music going on. It is really stunning and amazing how much the Met cast, chorus and the orchestra can do, and still give a relatively good performance, despite the fact that there is basically no conductor. The prompter and the principal players in the sections have to do a lot of leading and conducting. Let’s hope maestro Levine realizes soon that it’s time to go, before it gets even more embarrassing.

      1. Daniel F. says:

        Jennifer C: Are you a member of the orchestra, cast, chorus, or otherwise involved with Met Opera productions? Are you suggesting that while his deficits could be masked in Wagner, they precluded the sharp “traffic-direction” required by Lulu? And that his bowing out was thus really done “in everyone’s best interest?”

        In any event, what you say used to be said about Klemperer all the time in the later stages of his career (1960–1972) and yet, at times barely “conducting” at all in the customary sense, he managed to create entirely “Klemperer-like” performances, both with his own orchestra and with all other orchestras he conducted as well.

      2. Daniel F. says:

        Since “Jennifer C” has chosen not to reply to my questioning of her authority in asserting such a negative assessment of James Levine’s current capacities, one has to infer that she is either a surrogate for the blog-keeper, who has never made a secret of his own negativity regarding Levine as a conductor and as the Met’s music director, or else is a musician who at one time crossed swords with Levine and lost, or is the close friend or spouse of such a musician. Be all that as it may, her assessment seems far from being self-evidently true.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *