The American conductor, who has led the New York opera company for 45 years, will be Music Director Emeritus from 2017.
The Metropolitan Opera in New York has announced that James Levine, the illustrious American conductor who has been music director at the Met since 1976, will retire at the end of the company’s current season due to health reasons. Levine is suffering from the degenerative neurological condition Parkinson’s disease.
In recent years, Levine has had several hiatuses from the podium resulting from a string of health issues including kidney cancer, torn muscles in his right shoulder and a significant spinal injury, which forced him to withdraw from the majority of performances from 2011 until 2013. However, after overcoming tremendous odds, Levine’s Parkinson’s has now progressed to the point where his movements are no longer controllable. Levine will continue to shepherd the Met as its Music Director Emeritus, and while he will no longer be a regular fixture in the pit, he does still intend to conduct a handful of productions next season, including Rossini’s L’Italiana in Alegri, Verdi’s Nabucco and Mozart’s Idomeneo.
Levine’s contribution to opera in America and throughout the world is almost peerless, cementing the Met’s reputation as one of the world’s greatest opera companies. During his 45-year tenure as music director, Levine has conducted more than 2,550 performances of 85 different operas by 33 different composers. Making his debut with the Met at the age of 28, Levine has conducted more than twice the number of performances led by any other conductor in the Met’s history. He has also been responsible for expanding the Met’s repertoire to include a number of major works never previously staged by the company, including Berg’s Lulu, Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron.
After such a long and decorated service with the company, stepping down has been a tough call for Levine. Sources close to the company have revealed on social media that Levine’s retirement has been a difficult process for many at the Met, describing the deterioration of the conductor’s fine motor skills as “frightening,” adding that “extraordinary measures behind the scenes,” were required to hold certain performances together. “Orchestra players who had trouble reading Mr. Levine’s beat relied more on an intuition of what they thought he would want or on watching the concertmaster. Singers onstage looked more to the prompter’s box for director and the Met’s chorus master, Donald Palumbo, conducted the chorus from the wings of the stage, using an audio monitor to help him coordinate with the orchestra.”
A new music director will now be sought for the company and competition for the venerable position is likely to be fierce. An announcement of Levine’s successor is due in the coming months.