James Levine Plans Met Opera Return in May

Listen to host Naomi Lewin's Analysis of Levine's Planned Comeback

Thursday, October 11, 2012 - 08:00 PM

James Levine with the Boston Symphony Orchestra James Levine with the Boston Symphony Orchestra (Michael Lutch)

James Levine plans to return to the podium at the Metropolitan Opera in May following a two-year absence, conducting from a wheelchair following a fall last year that left him partially paralyzed.

The Met announced Thursday that its music director intends to conduct a concert at Carnegie Hall on May 19 and will lead three productions in the 2013-14 season: a new staging of Verdi's Falstaff and revivals of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte and Berg's Wozzeck. He also is scheduled for all three of the Met orchestra's Carnegie Hall concerts that season.

Levine, 69, has not conducted since a televised performance of Wagner's Die Walkure on May 14, 2011. He canceled his entire schedule for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons following surgery to address spinal stenosis on May 31 and July 20, 2011, and another operation that Sept. 1 after he fell and damaged his dorsal spine No. 4 vertebrae, an injury Dr. Patrick O'Leary said caused "major paralysis."

O'Leary said Levine currently is free of back pain.

Levine made his Met debut in June 1971 and has led the most performances of any conductor in the company's history (2,442). He has been the leading force at the Met for four decades as chief conductor (1973-76), music director (1976-86 and 2004-present) and artistic director (1986-2004).

In Levine's absence, the Met promoted Fabio Luisi to principal conductor in September 2011, and Luisi took over from Levine to complete a new production of Wagner's Ring Cycle.

"I'm feeling better with each passing day," Levine said in a statement. "It has been a long healing process, but with a team of excellent doctors and the unwavering support of my friends and colleagues, I'm looking forward more than I can say to getting back to work."

O'Leary, a neurosurgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery who operated on Levine, said in a statement that "he is no longer in need of additional surgery, his upper body strength is remarkable, and his prognosis is good."

Levine used a cane before last year's injury; he currently is unable to walk. The Met said he will conduct from the motorized wheelchair he uses. The Met is designing podiums that elevate, which will be used at the opera house and at Carnegie Hall.

The Met said Levine's back injuries, which include broken and herniated disks, aggravated Parkinsonism — a relatively benign form of Parkinson's disease — that had afflicted him since 1994. The Met said the medication L-dopa had contributed to the shaking in his legs and left hand that was noticeable from the audience.

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Comments [3]

Donovan from Maplewood, NJ

Thank you for this great piece, Naomi. My comment pertains more to the framework of the interview: after hearing this piece, I tuned in to Weekend Edition on 10/13 to hear the exact same interview replayed--with all the same speech idiosyncrasies, pauses, and phrasings--except with all of the questions edited out. The new host had inserted his own questions that were reverse-engineered to address the answers that Naomi already gave here. He even pretended to be "hmmmm"-ing along in agreement, as if it were happening live. I realize this is a relatively trivial comment, but the principle struck me as potentially unethical--taking something that has been recorded and playing it again as if it were occurring in the present tense. What is WQXR/WNYC's policy on reframing interviews as new, with new questions?

Oct. 13 2012 10:20 AM
carol from New York

Welcome back to the Master Maestro Levine.

Oct. 12 2012 06:02 PM
Les from Miami, Florida

Hallelujah! Maestro Levine, I'm SO delighted to hear about your progress and offer all best wishes. As you know, we music lovers miss you, and so does the professional music world. Take good care!

Oct. 12 2012 09:34 AM

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