James Levine Withdraws from Japan, Tanglewood

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It’s sad to see a celebration go awry. In what should have been Levine’s crowning year—his 40th anniversary with the Metropolitan Opera—his schedule was generously peppered with cancellations following major spinal surgery in April of last year. 

In the midst of a PBS special set to air June 1 (James Levine: American Maestro), a glossy commemorative book published by the Met and released this week, and a planned memoir to be written with Harvey Sachs, the feting of Levine seems to be somewhat overshadowed by his continual physical decline. Though the maestro has taken to avoiding curtain calls, he did come onstage for opening night of the Met’s new Die Walküre on April 22, though even then he was supported by Bryn Terfel on one side and Deborah Voigt on the other.

Which is why it’s unsurprising, though no less disappointing, to hear earlier this evening that Levine will be canceling his summer engagements to “recuperate from his ongoing back condition.” Die-hard Wagnerites can breathe easy knowing that he will still be in the pit for the remaining two performances of Walküre (May 9 and 14, the latter the HD broadcast). Gone, however, is the Met Orchestra’s final Carnegie Hall concert with Natalie Dessay on May 15—Fabio Luisi, one of Levine’s maestros-in-waiting, will step into the fold (the program also sustains a change with Richard Strauss’s Don Juan replacing Debussy’s Images pour orchestre). Luisi will also be replacing Levine on the Met’s planned tour to Japan in June; a tour that was also under fire earlier this month due to the devastating March earthquake and nuclear accidents.

Also off the table this summer is Levine’s engagements with Tanglewood, as part of his other job as music director with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Levine already canceled his engagements with the BSO’s regular season in March and then confirmed that he would step down as the orchestra’s music director in September. How disappointing it is to see Levine’s career in Boston go out with a wheeze.

Levine’s next scheduled appearance with the Met will be in October to conduct its new production of Don Giovanni, starring Mariusz Kwiecien. One hopes that this time off will leave him in better condition, but at the same time it seems increasingly uneasy placing such expectations on a man nearing 70. What—and who—we see on the podium in five months will be a good indicator of this beloved maestro’s future.

Will a summer off do James Levine good? Will he make it to October's production at the Met? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.