The seismic shock of James Levine’s exposure as a male molester has triggered further ripples of speculation as to the future of the Metropolitan Opera.
The wildest flight of fantasy has come from the critic Justin Davidson who argues:
For decades, the Met was essentially the Levine Company. Its identity was intertwined with his. His taste in composers, his relationships with singers, his hires, orchestra, conducting style, and even, for a while, his eye for productions all shaped what happened onstage in seven performances a week. Divas remained loyal to the Met because they felt safe onstage so long as he was in the pit. Audiences burst into applause as soon as his corona of springy curls bobbed into the spotlight. Critics — and I include myself — lauded his leadership as well as his musicality. His cheery, seemingly eternal presence thrilled the board and helped keep the spigot of donations open.
I’m not sure the Met can survive Levine’s disgrace.
This is hyperbole gone bonkers. Levine was shuffled off to emeritus status 20 months ago and has been a waning influence for several ears. Peter Gelb has long urged to board to order his retirement and, while the board must consider the consequences of years of playing three monkeys to Levine rumours, none of the possible outcomes is powerful enough to turn out the lights at America’s premier opera house. Levine was just one man in a vast machine. The machine will continue without him.
The allegations – which Levine has called ‘unfounded’ without specifically refuting any of the four accusations or taking action against his accusers – will rumble on. They will deflect attention from the Met’s real problems and actually buy time for Gelb and the board to bask in a kindlier light as the incoming music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, starts to work his magic.
The real problems, though, will not go away. The Met is selling barely two-thirds of its seats. Some nights it is more than half empty. Gelb’s credit is running out. No new money is coming in.
These are the crises at the Met.
As for the Levine scandal, a widely-circulated petition for him to be reinstated at the Met has attracted fewer than five dozen signatures. Levine is history, for better or worse.
The Met must face the future.