Nezet-Seguin becomes Met Opera's music director next season

NEW YORK — Yannick Nezet-Seguin will become the Metropolitan Opera's music director next season, two years earlier than planned, providing a leader to an orchestra fighting drift and defections for more than a decade.

Nezet-Seguin's appointment was announced in June 2016, two months after Parkinson's disease caused the end of James Levine's 40-year run. The company announced Nezet-Seguin would start a five-year contract in 2020-21 after three seasons as music director designate.

Levine became music director emeritus but was suspended in December following multiple allegations of sexual misconduct from the 1960s to '80s.

"They need guidance. They need leadership," Nezet-Seguin said Thursday. "If this can be something to stabilize the future, my advanced presence, then I'm happy to provide this."

He gave up European guest conducting next January and will lead 17 performances next season, adding a revival of Debussy's "Pelleas et Melisande" to his previous commitment of a new production of Verdi's "La Traviata" and a revival of Poulenc's "Dialogues des Carmelites." He will conduct three operas in 2019-20, then at least five each season starting in 2020-21.

"I think he realizes how important it is for the Met to have a music director who can also handle the important decision-making that only a musical director from a contractual point of view can do in terms of tenured positions in the orchestra," Met General Manager Peter Gelb said. "This obviously has not been the easiest time for the company with the news about maestro Levine, so it will be very comforting and reassuring to the orchestra and the chorus to know his tenure is starting earlier than originally planned."

Nezet-Seguin turns 43 next month and represents a generation change. He felt an impetus to move up the timetable after returning to the Met last spring for the first time since appointment.

"I became even more eager to get started with the orchestra and the chorus and the music staff, seeing and feeling they needed the leadership at that moment," he said.

Gelb said the Met's investigation of Levine is getting "very, very close to its conclusion." Levine, who turns 75 in June, is not scheduled to conduct next season.

While Levine helped raise the Met orchestra to among the world's best in the 1980s and '90s, his physical ability started to deteriorate in 2001, when he began to conduct from a chair. Tremors in his left arm and leg became noticeable in 2004, and his health worsened with shoulder and kidney surgery followed by three back operations. His frequent absences led to orchestra players feeling a lack of direction, and many left. An improved relationship with the orchestra and other unions could be significant heading into labor negotiations this summer, when the Met is expected to ask for permission to schedule regular Sunday performances for the first time.

"As fellow musicians excited by Yannick's vision for the future, it is our hope that the Met's inspired investment in his brilliance underscores its commitment to the musical artists and artistry that are the lifeblood of the Met Opera," Jessica Phillips, a clarinetist who chairs the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra Committee, said in a statement.

Next season will have just four new productions, the fewest for the financially challenged Met since 2005-06. Gelb said the reduction was due to the need for stage time to rehearse a revival of Robert Lepage's controversial staging of Wagner's four-part Ring Cycle in the spring of 2019. Paris Opera music director Philippe Jordan leads a cast that stars Christine Goerke as Bruennhilde.

Darko Tresnjak's new staging of Saint-Saens' "Samson et Dalila" opens the season Sept. 24. Nico Muhly's "Marnie" gets its North American premiere Oct. 19 conducted by Robert Spano in his Met debut. Michael Mayer directs "La Traviata," which opens Dec. 4, and the last new production is David McVicar's staging of Cilea's "Adriana Lecouvreur," opening New Year's Eve with Gianandrea Noseda conducting a cast led by Anna Netrebko.

Acclaimed Los Angeles Philharmonic music director Gustavo Dudamel makes his Met debut Dec. 14 in Verdi's "Otello." Gelb said Lepage's "Ring" set with its giant planks starts a three-month remediation next week at a warehouse in Middletown, New York, to get "back in fighting shape." The set will be reprogrammed to make movements quieter.

The ticket price range remains unchanged at $25-$480. Paid percentage of box office realized is in the upper 60 percent range this season, Gelb said, the same as last year. Gelb said the Met is considering collaborating with other institutions in New York to present a "chamber-sized opera in a more appropriate venue other than the Met."

Nezet-Seguin is moving forward with plans for the Met premieres of the French versions of Verdi's operas that premiered in Paris plus contemporary projects.

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