Rhinegold Photo credit: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

Katy Wright

Deputy Editor, Classical Music

James Levine to step down from the Met Opera

9:47, 15th April 2016

James Levine, music director at the Metropolitan Opera, will retire at the end of the 2015/16 season for health reasons.

The Met’s announcement stated that Parkinson’s disease had made it ‘increasingly difficult for him to conduct a full schedule of Met performances.’

The 72-year-old will assume the new position of music director emeritus next season. He will continue as artistic leader of the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, and will continue to conduct some Met performances.

Levine made his Met debut at the age of 28, conducting Puccini’s Tosca in 1971. He was appointed principal conductor less than a year later, musical director in 1976, and artistic director in 1986. He has led 2,551 performances of works by 33 composers.

His tenure transformed the Met orchestra, raising it to a level comparable with leading international ensembles, and he helped the company build on its already impressive reputation. He won particular acclaim for his Wagner, Mozart and Italian repertory, and he also introduced a number of works to the Met’s repertoire, including Berg’s Lulu, Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, Rossini’s La Cenerentola, Verdi’s I Vespri Siciliani, Mozart’s Idomeneo and Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini.

Levine has struggled with health problems for some years; in 2008 he underwent surgery to remove a kidney tumour, and he was forced to withdraw from a number of dates over the 2011/12 and 2012/13 seasons following a serious spinal injury in 2011. He has conducted from a motorised wheelchair in recent years, but his Parkinson’s has increasingly affected his conducting.

‘For more than four decades the Met has been my artistic home, and I am tremendously proud of all we have been able to achieve together as a company, from expanding the repertory to include new and seldom-heard works, to the development of the orchestra and chorus into one of the glories of the musical world,’ Levine said. ‘Although I am unable to spend as much time on the podium as I would like, I am pleased to step into my new role and maintain my profound artistic ties to the Met.’

The Met has promoted John Fisher, currently director of music administration, to assistant general manager of music administration with immediate effect. He will oversee staff conductors, rehearsal pianists and prompters; coach principal singers; and work with the conductors for each Met performance.

Levine has withdrawn from conducting a new production of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier next season, but intends to lead revivals of Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri, Verdi’s Nabucco and Mozart’s Idomeneo.  This season, he will conduct the remaining performances of Simon Boccanegra, five performances of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail, and will lead the Met Orchestra on 19 and 26 May at Carnegie Hall.

‘There is no conductor in the history of opera who has accomplished what Jim has achieved in his epic career at the Met,’ said Peter Gelb, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera. ‘We are fortunate that he will continue to play an active and vital role in the life of the company when he becomes music director emeritus at the end of the season.’

The company said that a plan to appoint a successor was in place, and that it would make an announcement in the coming months.

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