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Yannick Nézet-Séguin is remaking the Metropolitan Opera from the bottom up

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NEW YORK — Yannick Nézet-Séguin is remaking the Metropolitan Opera from the bottom up.

When the 48-year-old conductor leans forward to extend his arms and emphasize vibrato or stretches high for a fortissimo during an orchestra concert, the red soles of his patent leather Christian Louboutins become visible. He nearly leaves the ground, a visual contrast to the final years of predecessor James Levine, who conducted while seated from 2001 on and from a motorized wheelchair during his final five seasons because of Parkinson’s disease.

“I still feel that we are at the beginning of our journey together,” Nézet-Séguin said during a rehearsal break last week. “I can appreciate maybe the growth in our understanding of music, common understanding and the trust, so it feels much more like — I hate to say Yannick’s orchestra, because it’s not what it’s about — I’m there to just curate.”

Finishing his fifth season as music director, he takes the Met on its first tour since 2011 and the first solely of the orchestra since 2002, giving concerts from Tuesday through July 2 in Paris, London and Baden-Baden, Germany.

Nezet-Séguin has led eight new productions and five revivals as music director, among 23 stagings he’s conducted since his 2009 debut.

Music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra since 2012-13 and of Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain since 2000, Nézet-Séguin has teamed with Met general manager Peter Gelb to turn the 140-year-old Met to more contemporary music in an attempt to engage a wider audience. For years, the Met had been synonymous with Levine, its chief force as music or artistic director from 1976 to 2016, known for bushy hair and emphasis on Verdi, Wagner and Mozart.

“With the exception of the Vienna Philharmonic, great orchestras need music directors to create unifying forces artistically,” Met general Peter Gelb said. “They were still the same group of wonderful musicians but they were artistically rudderless without having a music director.”

Among a Met record 2,552 performances from 1971 to 2017, Levine conducted just two operas written after 1951: John Corigliano’s “The Ghosts of Versailles” (1991) and John Harbison’s “The Great Gatsby.”

Nézet-Séguin has led five since becoming music director, a varied assortment of Poulenc’s “Dialogues des Carmélites,” Terence Blanchard’s “Champion” and “Fire Shut Up In My Bones,” Matthew Aucoin’s “Eurydice” and Kevin Puts’ “The Hours.” Nézet-Séguin is scheduled to conduct Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking,” Daniel Catán’s “Florencia en el Amazonas” next season and Jeanine Tesori’s “Grounded” to open 2024-25.

“What’s striking is the catholicity of his taste. I think for a long time, certainly in the Levine years, it seemed sometimes there was one new piece a decade,” said Aucoin, who is in the early stage of adapting Dostoyevsky’s “Demons” for the Met. “What’s really healthy about the kind of aesthetic ecosystem that Yannik is nurturing is that it relieves the pressure on every piece to be a singular masterpiece in the same tradition. And it also genuinely exposes audiences to some sense of the real diversity of music that’s out there. … You’ve got to write the bad operas to get to the good ones. Verdi knew that.”

Nézet-Séguin has given the Met a new look in his coiffure and attire. He dyed his short-dropped hair blond before the 2019-20 season and has traded the conductor’s uniform of tuxedos and tailcoats for outfits created by the Met costume department: colorful and sometimes floral shirts, a boxing robe for “Champion” and a blue band leader’s jacket with gold braid for Puccini’s “La Bohème.”

“He enjoys being a showman,” Gelb said, “but if anything it really is icing on the cake because what’s most important is that musically he is deeply sound.”

Originally hired by the Met in 2016 for a music director term to start in 2020, Nézet-Séguin moved up his start to 2018-19. Twelve orchestra musicians have been hired since Nézet-Séguin became music director designate in 2017.

“With Jimmy, he would basically just sit on the podium, shape the music and everybody just sort of came in to him in a way. And it was more a communication through eye contact, occasionally a wry smile on his face,” said Donald Palumbo, the Met’s chorus master since 2007. “With Yannick, you always feel there’s an active process going on with him trying to pull things out of the chorus and out of the orchestra.”

Nézet-Séguin has led the original French version of Verdi’s “Don Carlos,” the first performances of Wagner’s “Lohengrin” since 2006, and in February conducts the return of Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino.” He is to conduct a new-to-the-Met Claus Guth staging of Strauss’ “Salome” in 2024-25, along with a revival of “Die Frau ohne Schatten” and in later years a new staging of Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen” with a director still to be chosen.

He led a traveling party of 143 that flew to Paris last weekend and needed 76 trunks of equipment in a 747-400 freighter. The concerts feature Aucoin’s “Heath (King Lear Sketches),” which premiered at Carnegie Hall last week. New music has become more central than he envisioned.

“After `Fire,′ I went to Peter and said, look, the audience is sending us a message here,” Nézet-Séguin said. “We must take care of welcoming all the communities in our hall and so we need to reprogram and think: How can we build on these communities?”

Nézet-Séguin’s enthusiasm stimulated composers who regarded the Met as a museum.

“This new approach to programing the Met has undertaken is obviously really exciting, not just for me, but for all composers everywhere, that they’ve placed contemporary music at the center of what they’re doing,” Puts said. “The first time the orchestra plays the piece, you sense his excitement. That’s really important for a composer to get to feel that enthusiasm.”


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Book Review: Explosive debut novel ‘Fireworks Every Night’ is a bittersweet celebration of survival

“Fireworks Every Night” by Beth Raymer (Random House)

C.C.’s isn’t your typical rags-to-riches story. She remembers growing up in a single-wide with her older sister, stay-at-home mom and car-salesman dad. But she also remembers when they moved to Florida after everything in the car lot burned down — including their home — launching them into a comfortable middle-class life and a fresh start in a state her dad proudly brags has fireworks every night.

“Fireworks Every Night” is Beth Raymer’s debut novel, but not her first book. Following her 2010 memoir “Lay the Favorite,” she borrows from her life to create a deeply personal story of a dysfunctional family.

Having grown up in West Palm Beach, Raymer puts her local knowledge to use as her protagonist — a resident of Loxahatchee, Florida — rattles off the schools she plays basketball against, and how worn down or rich they are. She’s familiar with the Baker Act and who’s been institutionalized through its use. She knows all the neighborhoods and has eaten at Benny’s on the Beach.

If the gorgeous cover designed by Elizabeth A. D. Eno isn’t enough to draw you in, let the heartbreakingly determined main character and the promise of an earnest look at the skeletons in her closet convince you.

In adulthood, C.C. is engaged to a well-educated and absurdly wealthy man — a far cry from the childhood in which she learns what it means to fight for survival. Hopping between the two timelines in stark juxtaposition, the full picture of C.C.’s life emerges.

As kid-C.C.’s home life comes completely unraveled, the story morphs from tragicomedy to horror, revealing how her family fell apart and left her sister struggling with addiction, her mother chronically absent and her father homeless. All the while, adult-C.C. is juggling a host of modern stresses: the viability of having children, climate change, living in a world that makes it far too easy to compare yourself with the 8 billion others who inhabit it, and reconciling your self-worth with the balance in your bank account.

Raymer launches addiction, homelessness, neglect and poverty shamelessly into the lexicon, treating C.C. and her family with nothing less than respect.

A nature motif runs throughout the story, blurring the line between animal and human and calling into question what is “natural” in a world so unnaturally shaped by people. Animals play a quiet but pivotal role throughout “Fireworks Every Night,” shaping Raymer’s engrossing novel into a bittersweet celebration of the scrappy Americans who are finding a way to survive even as the elite push humans and animals alike out of their habitats.

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Book Review: ‘White House by the Sea’ tells storied Kennedy tale through family’s compound

“White House By the Sea: A Century of the Kennedys at Hyannis Port” by Kate Storey (Scribner)

The history of the Kennedy family is so well-chronicled — from the modern Camelot legend surrounding John F. Kennedy’s presidency to the series of tragedies that marked the family throughout the 20tb century — that it’s hard to imagine new ways to tell their story.

But Kate Storey does just that in “White House By the Sea: A Century of the Kennedys at Hyannis Port” — revisiting the family’s history through their time at the famed Kennedy compound on Cape Cod.

Storey, the senior features editor at Rolling Stone magazine, weaves a fascinating narrative about the Kennedy family using Hyannis Port as the backdrop. The book traces the family’s ties to the compound back to the 1920s, when Joseph Kennedy bought Malcolm Cottage, what became known as the Big House.

Many of the stories feel so familiar, from Joseph Kennedy Jr.’s death during World War II to John F. Kennedy Jr.’s fatal plane crash in 1999. The compound was also the setting for much happier occasions, including John F. Kennedy’s presidential acceptance speech and the wedding of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver.

Storey gives them a fresh look with new details and well-sourced reporting that opens up a traditionally private community — “what’s left of Camelot,” she writes.

Storey’s research gives the book a more intimate feel than many other histories of the Kennedy family, introducing figures that aren’t as well-known but played a key role in the family and its compound. Fittingly, it’s written in an accessible way that makes the book a welcome beach read.

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Fox News unveils primetime lineup with Jesse Watters in Tucker Carlson’s former time slot

Jesse Watters will fill the Fox News Channel time slot left vacant by the firing of Tucker Carlson, part of a dramatic revamp of the network’s evening lineup announced on Monday.

Greg Gutfeld’s late-night show that combines news and comedy will move up an hour to start at 10 p.m. Eastern, displacing Laura Ingraham. She’ll shift to 7 p.m., the hour that Watters has occupied. Sean Hannity will stay in his 9 p.m. time slot, Fox said. The new lineup debuts on July 17.

The announcement comes roughly two months after Fox News fired Carlson shortly after settling a defamation lawsuit with the voting machine maker Dominion Voting Systems on the eve of trial. The case, which centered on the network’s airing of false claims following the 2020 presidential election, exposed a trove of private messages sent between Fox hosts, including Hannity and Carlson, in which they criticized peers at the network.

Carlson has since begun doing occasional monologues for Twitter, although Fox is attempting to get him to stop the broadcasts.

Fox has seen its ratings tumble since Carlson exited. Carlson averaged 3.25 million viewers at 8 p.m. in the first three months of the year, and the string of guest hosts who replaced him the past two months usually reached under 2 million, making the network’s command more tenuous.

The lineup change signals that Fox is doubling down on its opinionated evening programming strategy, with three sharp-tongued men filling the prime-time hours. It’s something of a triumphant return for Watters, who got his start at the 8 p.m. hour, doing man-in-the-street interviews and other features for Bill O’Reilly before O’Reilly’s firing in 2017.

It also means double duty for Gutfeld and Watters, who are both panelists on “The Five” and will continue there. The late-afternoon political talk show has become Fox’s most popular program.

Keeping that show’s chemistry intact appeared to be a priority for Fox. Gutfeld said in a Wall Street Journal interview last week that he would no longer appear on “The Five” or do his late-night show if he were to get Carlson’s old time slot.

Trace Gallagher, who has worked at Fox since the network began in 1996, will host a news show at 11 p.m., filling the hour that Gutfeld is leaving vacant.

“The unique perspectives of Laura Ingraham, Jesse Watters, Sean Hannity, and Greg Gutfeld will ensure our viewers have access to unrivaled coverage from our best-in-class team for years to come,” Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott said in a statement.

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