Yesterday, the Metropolitan Opera sent out an advisory that James Levine would not be conducting last night’s “Die Walkuere” (Derrick Inouye stepped in to replace him). A Met spokesman attributed the cancellation to a case of the flu. Today, however, the announcements went a step further: Levine will conduct the remaining “Walkueres,” but then take the summer off to recover from his ongoing back problems. No Japan tour, no Carnegie Hall concert on May 15 (Fabio Luisi will replace him), and no Tanglewood.
The Boston Symphony Orchestra announced its 2011-12 season today, late in the season, visibly scrambling to find replacements for Levine’s scheduled appearances (he already announced earlier this year that he was stepping down as the BSO’s music director). Now, Tanglewood is open as well (though be sure that administrators have already been working for a while on finding replacements for him there).
I’ve grown weary of speculating about Levine’s health, which has been a subject of conjecture for more than 10 years (I remember it coming up when he was originally in talks about the BSO, because I rather gauchely asked him about it in an interview we did in 2000 or 2001. His response: ”I’m fine. Thank you”). There was a period in the early 2000’s when something was badly impacting his conducting, but that’s over; now, we’re in a period when he seems barely able to walk, but his conducting sounds quite good and sometimes very good. I thought there was quite a lot to like about “Die Walkuere,” particularly the third act, and attributed some of the coolness or lack of pizazz of the first two acts to Levine’s relationship to the not-very-good production. Others were less sanguine.
In any case: health is clearly a big concern. Levine’s two remaining Walkueres are on Monday and next Saturday, May 14, when it will be broadcast live on HD. Inevitably, some people will speculate about whether that might be Levine’s last performance. My money is on him making it back to the podium for next season’s “Don Giovanni,” as scheduled, in October. Some would be only too happy to take my bet.