Levine to retire from Met at end of season
The Metropolitan Opera announced Thursday morning that music director James Levine would retire at the end of this current season. He will continue as music director emeritus, from which position he expects to continue to conduct.
Levine debuted in the pit in 1971, and rose to the position of music director in 1976. He has lead more than 2,500 performances, including the house premieres of Idomeneo and La Clemenza di Tito, Porgy and Bess, and Oedipus Rex, as well as I Vespri Siciliani, I Lombardi and Stiffelio, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Moses und Aron, Lulu, and Benvenuto Cellini. In 1989, he brought Wagner’s Ring cycle back to the house after a 50-year absence.
Those statistic might be the least important part of his tenure. As music director (and for a time artistic director), Levine completely transformed the opera’s orchestra, from a mediocre and inconsistent ensemble to the finest opera orchestra in the world and an excellent concert and touring ensemble (known outside the opera house as the MET Orchestra). Through the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, which he founded, he nurtured a new generation of singers. And through the PBS series “Metropolitan Opera Presents,” he brought regular opera broadcasts to a television audience, the absolute first step in a process that now has the Met streaming live performances to movie theaters around the world.
He is easily the most significant figure in the Metropolitan Opera’s history, and is single-handedly responsible for the prominence the company has today. Audiences understand and acknowledge this with vigorous ovations every time he takes his place at the podium.
But injuries and health problems over the last half decade have repeatedly impacted his music-making. He was forced off the podium for two years by a spinal injury—he currently conducts from a specially designed wheelchair—and Parkinson’s disease has so interfered with his gestures that he withdrew from this season’s production of Lulu. There were reported behind-the-scenes discussion regarding whether Levine could conduct clearly. New medication was said to have given him enough second life to lead a musically excellent opening of Simon Boccanegra, and be in the pit for the opening of Die Entführung aus dem Serail, April 22. He will also lead the MET Orchestra in Carnegie Hall concerts May 19 and May 22.
Levine had been slated to lead four operas in the 2016–17 season, including a new production of Der Rosenkavalier from which he is now withdrawing. He still plans to conduct L’Italiana in Algeri, Nabucco, and Idomeneo next season, three of his personal specialities. In the meantime, the company—clearly anticipating this very moment—announced that a plan to appoint a new music director is ready, and that musician would be revealed in the coming months.