Respect or Continuity? A Dilemma of Organizational Culture

26Sep11

Music Director James Levine debuted at The Metropolitan Opera in June 1971. Since then, he has “developed a relationship with the company that is unparalleled in its history and unique in the musical world today” (Metropolitan Opera). Entering his fifth decade of service to The Met, Levine has conducted over 2500 performances of 85 different operas in that house.

Maestro Levine did a lot to bring the opera company to its world-wide acclaim. He began a television series for the Met on PBS, founded the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, and revived former traditions such as performing the complete Ring cycle, recitals and concerts with Met artists, and touring with the Met Orchestra.

Not only is he known as one of the most brilliant musicians of our time, Levine is also a distinguished pianist, having accompanied some of the world’s best singers. He has worked with some of the most renowned orchestras, opera companies and music festivals across the globe. Levine has been honored with many awards – national and international – and holds a variety of honorary doctorates.

Despite being a musical genius and perhaps one of the “greatest opera conductors alive,” (Wakin) Levine began having serious health issues in 2006 missing portions of seasons every year since – sometimes for several months at a time. Two years ago, I saw Maestro Levine fall asleep on his chair in the pit during intermission! On September 6, 2011, Levine withdrew from performances through January due to one of many back injuries.

As of right now, principal guest conductor Fabio Luisi became principal conductor in Levine’s absence. Luisi was named principal guest conductor last year after having served as a frequent guest conductor before that.

James Levine’s contributions to the Met have built an army of beloved fans globally, especially with the new Live in HD productions that allow viewers to experience productions all over the country. However, his health leaves General Manager Peter Gelb in a very difficult situation. What should take priority – respect to the creator of “one of the greatest orchestras in modern history” or continuity? “Morality aside, any effort to sideline Mr. Levine would go over poorly with the public and many who work at the house, given his popularity,” said Wakin.

In this situation, we see the organizational culture theory at work. Fabio Luisi is a phenomenal conductor but Mr. Gelb’s decision will ultimately have a large impact on supporters of the Met. Organizational culture is an important factor here where Levine is artistically supported as an artist, at the Met, in the opera world, and in the music world in general.

Gelb has not made a permanent decision out of respect to Mr. Levine. “It makes things much more complicated…but it’s a small price to pay for not making a mistake and jumping the gun,” he said. I completely agree.

“James Levine, Music Director.” The Metropolitan Opera. Web. 26 Sept. 2011. <metoperafamily.org>.

Deuze, Mark. “Organizational Culture Theory.” Managing Media Work. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2011. 18-19. Print.

Wakin, Daniel J. “A ‘God’ With Baton vs. the Met’s Mortal Needs.” New York Times. 24 Sept. 2011. Web. 25 Sept. 2011.

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