Scene Last Night: Kovner, Domingo Celebrate Met’s James Levine

Tap for Slideshow
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

The New York Philharmonic's executive director, Zarin Mehta, with Metropolitan Opera music director James Levine.

Close
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

The New York Philharmonic's executive director, Zarin Mehta, with Metropolitan Opera music director James Levine. Close

The New York Philharmonic's executive director, Zarin Mehta, with Metropolitan Opera music director James Levine.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Renee Fleming and her fiance Tim Jessell greet Placido Domingo, as Stephanie Blythe, center, approaches. Close

Renee Fleming and her fiance Tim Jessell greet Placido Domingo, as Stephanie Blythe, center, approaches.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Suzie Kovner and Bruce Kovner, Met Opera board member and chairman and CEO, Caxton Associates LLC. Close

Suzie Kovner and Bruce Kovner, Met Opera board member and chairman and CEO, Caxton Associates LLC.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Ann Ziff, co-chairman of the Metropolitan Opera. Close

Ann Ziff, co-chairman of the Metropolitan Opera.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Guests are welcomed on to the stage for dinner at a gala celebrating maestro James Levine's 40th anniversary at the Metropolitan Opera. Close

Guests are welcomed on to the stage for dinner at a gala celebrating maestro James Levine's 40th anniversary at the Metropolitan Opera.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

The table decor for the gala, by David Stark. Close

The table decor for the gala, by David Stark.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Kewsong Lee, managing director, Warburg Pincus, and Terry Lundgren, chairman and CEO, Macy's Inc. Close

Kewsong Lee, managing director, Warburg Pincus, and Terry Lundgren, chairman and CEO, Macy's Inc.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Matthew Polenzani, tenor, and his wife, Rosa Polenzani. Close

Matthew Polenzani, tenor, and his wife, Rosa Polenzani.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Rebecca Arcaini and Anthony Arcaini, who is 15 and aspires to be a conductor. Close

Rebecca Arcaini and Anthony Arcaini, who is 15 and aspires to be a conductor.

James Levine surveyed the gala crowd as he rolled along one aisle at the Metropolitan Opera House on his motorized chair. Placido Domingo and Renee Fleming ambled down another.

Then the curtain rose on “James Levine: America’s Maestro,” a new documentary directed by Susan Froemke.

The maestro, 67, has been a halo-haired presence at the Met since his debut in 1971 with “Tosca” starring Grace Bumbry and Franco Corelli. He’s now conducting Wagner’s “Die Walkure” -- an epic that could upend younger stalwarts without his health problems.

When the lights went up, Levine beckoned 620 guests to join him on stage where tables decorated with white hyacinths and tulips showed off vintage photographs of the maestro illuminated by flickering votive candles.

Many of these pictures may also be viewed in the new hagiography, “James Levine: 40 Years at the Metropolitan Opera.”

Gala chairmen Mercedes Bass and Sid Bass presided over a meal including vegetable timbale, filet of beef and baked Alaska.

Guests included Ann Ziff, sponsor of the new “Ring” cycle, Bruce Kovner, chairman and chief executive of Caxton Associates LLC, Frederick Iseman, chairman and CEO of CI Capital Partners LLC, Barbara Walters and Frank Langella.

Levine sat at a long banquet table with the general manager of the Met, Peter Gelb.

‘Broadway Baby’

The motley group of entertainers included Elaine Stritch who sang “Broadway Baby,” an acknowledgment of Levine’s love for musical theater (though the Met bans cross-over repertoire on its lofty stage). Bryn Terfel led the crowd in a round of “Home on the Range.” “This is so you can tell your grandchildren you sang on the stage of the Met!” he joked.

Barbara Cook offered a sprightly rendition of “Here’s to Life!” Board members presented Levine with a portrait of Richard Wagner by Elizabeth Peyton, whose lighthearted evocation of “Die Walkure” fill the Met’s gallery space.

Domingo sang from “Otello,” which he first performed with Levine in Hamburg in 1975. He recalled Levine’s advice.

“He said, ‘When you arrive at the fourth act, you’ve sung such a difficult role. At the end, when the tragedy is so big, you have to enjoy it and make the public feel it,’” Domingo recounted. “In every one of the 250 performances I’ve done, I remember those words.”

Callings and Choices

Finally, an emotional Levine stood up at his table.

“You know some things are jobs, and some things are callings. Some things are inspirations and some things are choices.”

He then thanked the board for its support “through thick and thin, so it’s possible to triumph over this hydra-headed art form.”

The event raised $2 million.

“James Levine: America’s Maestro” will air as part of the PBS American Masters series on June 1.

(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)

To contact the writer on this story: Amanda Gordon in New York at agordon01@bloomberg.net or on Twitter at @amandagordon.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

Bloomberg reserves the right to edit or remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.