In yet another indication of James Levine's troubled health, the Metropolitan Opera music director today announced his reduced schedule for the remainder of the season.
Reportedly following the advice of his doctors in light of debilitating back pain, Levine has withdrawn from Met performances of Das Rheingold on March 30 and April 2, which will be conducted by Fabio Luisi. Performances of Il Trovatore on April 20, 23, 27 and 30 will be conducted by Marco Armiliato.
Levine plans to remain on the podium for Wozzeck on April 6-16; the new production of Die Walküre on April 22-28 and May 2-14; and two concerts with the Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall scheduled to take place on April 10 and May 15.
The current season is the conductor's 40th associated with the Metropolitan Opera.
"Obviously Jimmy's health is somewhat precarious," Met general manager Peter Gelb told WQXR. "We're adopting a kind of 'wait and see' approach. We're hopeful that he is going to be physically able to conduct and we're counting on it. On the other hand, we're also concerned that he not overtax himself, which is why I agree with his decision to cut back on his schedule for the remaining weeks of this season, a very difficult and demanding schedule."
Gelb cited Levine's many recent medical procedures as contributing to the scheduling change. "Given [Levine's] less-than-perfect health and the fact that he's recovering from a series of procedures, and the latest has obviously weakened him somewhat, it made sense for him in the context of his health for him to focus on the two most significant chunks of work he has this spring -- Die Walküre and Wozzeck."
Gelb added he is not currently thinking about who might replace Levine down the line, but only reiterated his concern for the music director's health. "We have every intention of continuing to support [Levine] as long as he can conduct," Gelb said.
Others are less certain of this strategy.
"It used to be Jimmy's house," said New York Magazine classical music critic Justin Davidson. "Nothing happened that he wasn't aware of and in control of. He was really the dominant artistic force at that house, and that hasn't been true now for a while."
Davidson believes the problem extends beyond current readjustments. "I feel that his health problems have left the Met essentially without a music director, without a musician who can shape the artistic planning" Davidson continued. "There's a vacuum in the artistic vision. If he's not going to do it, and I don't think he's really able to anymore, unfortunately, he needs to recognize that."
Levine's health troubles have markedly shaped his schedule in recent seasons. Earlier this month, the Boston Symphony announced Levine will be stepping down from his music director post there after a series of cancellations. In 2009, surgery for a herniated disk pulled him away from several Met performances of Tosca as well as of Der Rosenkavalier. Levine had a cancerous kidney cyst removed in 2008. Rotator-cuff surgery following a bow-taking fall in Boston cost him additional time and performances.
During the Metropolitan Opera's 2011-12 season-announcing press conference, held on February 16, Levine addressed questions of his health and reiterated his intentions to continue working. "I feel very good when I'm in whatever position I'm in," Levine said. "But the first minute or two of walking from here to there is a bit different every day." Just two weeks later, Levine announced he would step down as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, effective September 1, after seven seasons with the symphony.