The Metropolitan Opera has announced that, after 40 years as music director, conductor James Levine will retire from the role at the end of the current season.
Observers have chronicled mounting tension at the Met in recent months, with Levine and the board reportedly at odds regarding how and when the maestro would take his final bow. Levine has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, among health issues that have "increasingly affected" his work, reports the Associated Press.
The Met's current production of Simon Boccanegra was a "trial run" regarding whether new medication might help ameliorate Levine's symptoms, reported the New York Times in a mixed review of the production. Now, blogger Norman Lebrecht writes that Levine's coming retirement is at the board's insistence. When Levine switched his medication regimen this past winter, the board took the unusual step of publicly discussing the conductor's health challenges.
Bumpy though this transition might be, there's no doubt that Levine, 72, has been one of the towering forces of the classical music world — and, perhaps, the most influential person in all of opera — during his tenure at the Met. The Times calls today's Met "the House that Levine Built":
He was in the pit for lavish spectacles by directors like Franco Zeffirelli and Otto Schenk. He championed 20th-century operas by Berg, Schoenberg and Stravinsky that had previously been rare or unknown at the Met; he became known as a Mozartian; and, by leading the company's first complete "Ring" cycles in decades, he helped make the Met a top Wagner house. Along the way, he conducted more than 2,500 performances, more than twice as many as anyone in Met history.
Levine will lead the Met for the remainder of this season and will conduct three revivals next season, but will withdraw from a new production of Der Rosenkavalier scheduled for next season.