THE METROPOLITAN OPERA announced today that James Levine, the company's music director since 1976, will retire at the end of the company's current season owing to health reasons.
Capping an historic tenure of more than four decades that saw Levine conduct more than 2,500 performances of no fewer than eighty-five different operas—far exceeding any conductor in Metropolitan Opera history—the maestro will assume the new position of Music Director Emeritus next season, the Met announced. Levine will continue as the artistic leader of the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, and will still conduct some Met performances, but today's announcement acknowledged the degree to which the progression of Levine's Parkinson's disease had made "it increasingly difficult for him to conduct a full schedule of Met performances." Levine has struggled in recent years with the symptoms of the disease as well as other health issues, including kidney cancer and a spinal injury that left him partially paralyzed and resulted in his withdrawal from performances during the company's 2011-12 season as well as the cancellation of appearances during the 2012-13 season. This season, Levine withdrew from the company's new production of Lulu, opting to shepherd his resources in preparation for the company's revival of Tannhäuser.
A plan to identify Levine's successor is in place, and the Met announced that, in the coming months, it would name its new music director—one of classical music's most prestigious positions and a key figure at the largest performing arts organization in the United States. The company also announced that John Fisher, currently the company's director of music administration, has immediately been promoted to the role of Assistant General Manager, Music Administration. Fisher's duties include overseeing the company's staff conductors, rehearsal pianists and prompters; coaching principal singers; and working with Maestro Levine and the conductors for each Met performance to prepare and maintain the company's musical quality.
Levine has withdrawn from conducting the Met's new production of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier next season, but the company reported that he does intend to lead revivals of Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri, Verdi’s Nabucco and Mozart’s Idomeneo. This season, he will conduct the company's remaining performances of Simon Boccanegra as well as five performances of the company's revival of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail in April; he will also lead the Met Orchestra in May 19 and 26 concerts at Carnegie Hall. He has withdrawn, though, from an orchestral concert scheduled for May 22 at Carnegie.
“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, the 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.”
“Through 45 years of unwavering devotion, Maestro Levine has shaped the MET Orchestra into the world-class ensemble it is today,” said Jessica Phillips, a clarinetist in the Met’s orchestra and chair of the orchestra committee said. “He has a unique ability to inspire those around him to perform to the best of their abilities and beyond. We eagerly anticipate his upcoming projects as Music Director Emeritus, which promise to add to an already incomparable legacy of tireless dedication and artistic integrity. It is an honor to carry the values Maestro Levine has instilled in us into this new era at the Metropolitan Opera—the house that Jimmy built.”
Levine made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1971, when, at the age of 28, he conducted a performance of Puccini's Tosca. Less than a year later, he was appointed as the company's principal conductor, and he became the Met's music director in 1976. To this day, he had led a total of 2,551 performances with the company—more than twice the number led by any conductor in Met history—of works by thirty-three composers. Levine significantly also expanded the breadth of the Met's repertoire, conducting the company's first ever staged performances of Berg's Lulu; Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess; Rossini’s La Cenerentola; Verdi’s I Vespri Siciliani, Stiffelio, and I Lombardi; Mozart’s Idomeneo and La Clemenza di Tito; Schoenberg’s Erwartung and Moses und Aron; Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny; Busoni’s Doktor Faust; and Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini, as well as world premieres that included John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles and John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby.