NEW YORK — The Metropolitan Opera, which has been rocked this season by sexual misconduct accusations against its former music director, James Levine, is passing the baton to his successor. And fast.
The company announced Thursday that Yannick Nézet-Séguin would become its new music director next season, two years ahead of schedule. The accelerated ascension will give much-needed musical stability to the Met, the nation’s largest performing arts organization, which suspended Levine, its longtime conductor, in December and opened an investigation into his behavior.
“The orchestra and the chorus, they need a leader,” Nézet-Séguin, 42, said in an interview, noting that a music director didn’t just conduct performances but was also responsible for a host of tasks, such as granting tenure to new musicians and molding the company’s overall sound.
Nézet-Séguin is scheduled to conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra this summer at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in several performances from Aug. 8 to Aug. 17. A SPAC official said Friday that the accelerated appointment will not affect his commitment at SPAC.
Met officials said that they had been discussing moving up Nézet-Séguin’s start date long before Levine’s troubles surfaced in December, and that they had hoped to be able to announce it with the company’s next season. But they said that Levine’s suspension had given extra impetus to the plan. The sped-up succession was unveiled along with the 2018-19 season, which will feature the Met debut of conductor Gustavo Dudamel; the planned return of elusive tenor Jonas Kaufmann; a revival of Wagner’s “Ring” cycle; and four new productions.
The season will open Sept. 24 with Darko Tresnjak’s new staging of Saint-Saëns’ “Samson et Dalila,” starring Elina Garanca and Roberto Alagna. Michael Mayer will direct both Nico Muhly’s Hitchcockian “Marnie” and Verdi’s “La Traviata,” with Diana Damrau. Anna Netrebko will star in David McVicar’s new production of Cilea’s “Adriana Lecouvreur.”
Nézet-Séguin, who is also the music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, will conduct three productions next season (“La Traviata” and revivals of Debussy’s “Pelléas et Mélisande” and Poulenc’s “Dialogues des Carmélites”) as well as two Met Orchestra concerts at Carnegie Hall; beginning in 2020, he will lead at least five operas a year. The Met said that in recognition of a new $15 million gift from the Neubauer Family Foundation, he would officially be the Jeanette Lerman-Neubauer Music Director.
Asked how he viewed the case of Levine, and whether he felt the company needed healing, Nézet-Séguin was circumspect. “For me, I see my own curve with the institution, and I’m focused on this, solely,” he said, adding that the more he got to know the workings of the opera house and its company, the more eager he was to begin.
“I know what I want to do, and I just needed to have the time to start doing it,” he added.
Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, predicted in an interview that Nézet-Séguin’s arrival would cheer the entire company.
“The Met, obviously, has suffered from what happened with Jim,” he said. “And I would say the healing process began the day Yannick set foot in the building conducting rehearsals of ‘Parsifal,’ because the orchestra and the chorus clearly gravitate to him.”
Some musicians said that they were ecstatic about the move. Jessica Phillips, a clarinetist and the chairwoman of the Met’s orchestra committee, said in an email, “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.”
The company’s investigation of Levine, who was suspended after The New York Times reported the accusations of four men who said that he had sexually abused them when they were teenagers or his students, continues. Levine has denied the accusations.
Next season will feature a number of notable conducting debuts. Dudamel, music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, will conduct Verdi’s “Otello.” Robert Spano, of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, will conduct “Marnie”; James Gaffigan, “La Bohème”; and Cornelius Meister, “Don Giovanni.”
A number of Met favorites will make star turns. Kaufmann, who has canceled his last three planned appearances at the Met, is set to return in a revival of Puccini’s “La Fanciulla del West.” Gelb said that since Kaufmann had made it clear that he does not wish to leave his home in Germany for long stretches of time, Gelb had offered to “tailor-make” repertoire for him to sing when he is free.
Nézet-Séguin said that he had been happy to rearrange his schedule and cancel a number of appearances in Europe to make the directorship and added performances possible. But he will be busy, he acknowledged in New York on Tuesday at the end of the interview — which he joined after traveling from Philadelphia, where he had announced in the morning that he would be leading the Philadelphia Orchestra on a tour of Israel.
When the interview was over, he got up, saying that he needed some time to rest before his next engagement: the nearly six-hour “Parsifal.”
“There’s a tiny show that’s coming up tonight,” he said with a smile.