Levine's ugly exit, & the disposable Met

Levine's ugly exit, & the disposable Met

Jenna Simeonov

What a gross way to wrap up four decades at the Metropolitan Opera. As Michael Cooper reports in the New York Times, James Levine has been properly fired after the Met’s investigation into accusations of abuse came up with evidence of, well, abuse.

The reports of Levine’s cult-like following during his quick rise to stardom - a weird mix of young musicians inspired by his extraordinary talent, and 17-year-olds whom Levine convinced to exchange hand jobs - paints perhaps a picture of a man who was unaware of what constitutes abuse, but definitely a tapestry of victims who lived their whole adult lives with the aftermath of how Levine treated them.

Even if the former is true - that a kooky musical genius didn’t really understand the boundaries he should have set - there were people around Levine who did know better. We can group a lot of these people under the umbrella term, “The Met”.

When I last wrote about this topic, I posed the question: “do we want the Metropolitan Opera to suffer for their handling of a figure like Levine?”

I was insinuating, at the time, that we needed to consider the ripple effect of having a major operatic institution collapse under the rumblings that the Met knew about Levine’s behaviour, and either did nothing or paid accusers to keep quiet.

Now, as I read the conclusion of the Met’s gross display of Righteous Response™ - their investigation, launched with seriousness only after this group of victims came forward with corroborating, damning accounts of abuse by Levine - I say, let it fall.

Did the Met really think that opera, and Levine’s place in the company’s legacy, was worth more than listening to these victims and reporting abhorrent behaviour? It appears so, and that’s a thought that should make your stomach twist. When everyone found out about Levine - for real this time, and in the midst of #MeToo - the Met’s reaction was akin to their saying to the public, “Oh, I’m so glad you’re here. We were just about to do something about this guy.”

I think opera is extraordinary, and the Met has been home to some of the most magical moments in its history. But I don’t love any of that enough to align myself with a company that puts opera - opera, for chrissake - above taking true responsibility for someone like James Levine.

Happily, any fears I had about the opera industry being decimated by the demise of the Met were assuaged with the announcement of their so-boring-it-gives-me-energy 201819 season. The Met is no longer doing anything that we can’t find elsewhere. It’s not bringing us new works, it’s not unique in broadcasting their performances worldwide, and it’s not the only place to see world class singers.

None of this means the Met inherently deserves to collapse, but it’s an important reminder that the Met is disposable. Opera is happening across the globe, in all shapes and sizes, being its creative, adaptive self. We do not need to put up with old institutions who, in the face of disgusting actions within their walls, cede to donors and the self-aggrandizing concept of “legacy” and keep quiet.

We’ll have to wait to see how the Met finalizes its position on James Levine. Decades from now, how will people remember him? Will he be in the history books as a genius, with a footnote about his ugly exit from the Met? Will he be among the people in history who “had demons” or were “troubled” or any other vagueries, adding spice to a great biography of an irreplaceable maestro?

You could argue that the Met has in front of it a great opportunity to change its public persona. Will it take that chance, or will it hurry to push this nasty bit of company history behind it, and get on with its latest production of Tosca?

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