The Return of James Levine

James Levine(Photo: baltimore sun)
James Levine(Photo: baltimore sun)

James Levine, born seventy years ago in Cincinnati has been music director of the Metropolitan Opera for decades. He is recognized as one of the world’s great conducts. He was music director of the Boston Symphony for a few years until illness ended his tenure. It is Levine’s musical sense that has been the ‘face’ of lots of music making in this country and around the world.

So it’s great to report that Maestro Levine had a triumph last night, when he conducted at his Metropolitan Opera House for the first time in two years. A special mechanical podium has been installed to allow for Levine’s wheelchair, but there he was, conducting young singers in Mozart’s sublime Cosi fan Tutte.

Levine made his Met debut in 1971 and within a very years was the dominant musical personality in the world’s most visible opera company. His retreat because of illness was international news. This is a man who was playing piano concertos with the Cincinnati Symphony at age seven; not so long after that he was apprentice to the ferocious George Szell, conductor of The Cleveland Orchestra. No looking back since the late 1960s,  Levine has been everywhere. He has a huge cache of recordings, from Vivaldi to Alban Berg.

His illness, from reported Parkinson’s to injured back vertebrae left a vacuum in world music making. He has been coaching young artists since last summer. But there was quite the nervous tension, I’m told at the Met last night before the conductor appeared. Once sighted wheeling along to the podium, there was a 71 second standing ovation (timed, pardon the pun, by the New York Times.)

From this morning’s papers (just a brief sample)

“Over the years I have heard Levine give some remarkable accounts of Mozart operas, and I don’t I’ve heard a more vibrant, masterly and natural performance than this Cosi fan Tutte” -Anthony Tomassini NY Times

“This was prime Levine, a lithe transparent and energetic account of Mozart’s miraculous score” -Mike Silverman, AP

The world of music is better off with Levine back where he belongs, conducting an orchestra he developed into one of the world’s finest, in or out of the opera house.

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