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Friday, October 2, 2015

He-Dropped a Lulu, It Was His Baby

James Levine pulls out, we don't mean maybe.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
She's dangerous: Marliss Peterson's Lulu has claimed her first victim.
Photo by Kristian Schuller © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.

The Metropolitan Opera's new production of Lulu, the Alban Berg tale of a femme fatale who leaves a trail of bodies in her wake has claimed its first victim: music director James Levine.

Late this afternoon, the Met press office announced that Mr. Levine has withdrawn his baton from the  William Kentridge production of the Berg opera. This new production is scheduled to premiere on Nov. 8. (The news arrived via an article at our friends parterre box, as Superconductor did not receive a copy of the press release.)

From the 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."

Lulu stars Marliss Petersen and Susan Graham, and is the Met's first new production of the Alban Berg opera since Mr. Levine introduced the completed three-act version of the score at the house in 1980. The show is designed by Mr. Kentridge, the South African conceptual artist whose 2010 production of Shostakovich's The Nose has proved a surprise success at a house where 20th century opera is usually tolerated more than it is enjoyed.

Tannhäuser on the other hand, is the Met's sole Wagner offering this season. This sturdy and traditional showdates from 1977 and is the last of the Met's elaborate Wagner productions designed by the German team of Otto Schenk and Gunther Schneider-Siemssen. Mr. Levine will conduct the season premiere on October 8, with tenor Johan Botha in the title role: a man torn between doing what is right and what is easy, between the chaste love of the saintly Elisabeth and ecstasy in the arms of the goddess Venus.

Although he has returned to full time duties at the Met, Mr. Levine has had a history of health problems in recent years, from a back injury to a bout with cancer. These issues have forced him to use a wheelchair and conduct from a specially built podium that meets his physical needs. In recent years, the Met appointed Italian conductor Fabio Luisi to the post of Principal Conductor, although the music directorship remains firmly in Mr. Levine's hands.

The press release mentioned that the first five performances of Lulu will be conducted by Lothar Koenigs. Mr. Koenigs is the current music director of the Welsh National Opera, a post he took over in 2009. He recently conducted the Berg work in a 2013 production directed by David Pountney. The conductor for the last three performances of this complex opera is that old favorite "T.B.A."

"Conducting evening performances of Tannhäuser while rehearsing Lulu in the daytime would be an ambitious undertaking for any maestro, let alone for someone who only recently returned to full-time conducting,” said Met General Manager Peter Gelb in the press release. "I’m pleased that Jim will now be able to concentrate his energy on Tannhäuser and that Lulu will be in the capable hands of Mr. Koenigs."

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.