Viewpoint: Passing the Baton

by F. Paul Driscoll.

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Nézet-Séguin at the Met
© Jonathan Tichler/Metropolitan Opera

ON JUNE 2, THE METROPOLITAN OPERA announced the appointment of Yannick Nézet-Séguin as its next music director, succeeding James Levine, who is now the company’s music director emeritus. The change in music directors marks an extraordinary generational shift in the company’s history; Levine made his Met debut on June 5, 1971, almost four years before Nézet-Séguin was born, and has led more than 2,500 performances for the company in the years since. Levine, who celebrated his seventy-third birthday in June, came of age as an artist at the Met, and in many ways the company came of age with him, as Levine raised the company’s musical standards and established the international reputation of its orchestra and chorus. 

There has been speculation for some time that Nézet-Séguin would be given a more prominent role at the Met. A brilliant, charismatic musician, he has delivered an impressive number of first-class performances in New York since his company debut, leading the premiere of Richard Eyre’s Carmen staging in 2009. The maestro’s appearances with the company since then have included Don Carlo, Faust, Rusalka, La Traviata and—perhaps most memorably—Otello, which Nézet-Séguin led to scorching effect on opening night of the 2015–16 season, creating a richly colored, thrillingly paced account of Verdi’s masterpiece. In spring 2017, Nézet-Séguin will conduct his first Wagner opera with the Met, when he paces Michael Volle and Amber Wagner in Der Fliegende Holländer

Although Nézet-Séguin’s podium appearances at the Met will be relatively limited until he officially becomes music director, in 2020–21, he will participate fully in planning for upcoming seasons while he is music director designate, beginning in 2017–18. He is already thinking ambitiously. In an NPR interview in June, the conductor shared his hope that the Met could “be an example … internationally of how we can be the house of every people, and make opera passionately relevant to as many people as possible.” spacer 

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