Usually, when you send out a press release at 7:30 at night it’s either about a death or about something you want to make sure doesn’t get into the newspaper (because it’s too late to make the next days’ paper unless it’s something earthshaking, and it will be old news by the following day’s paper). In the Metropolitan Opera’s case, the announcement is that James Levine will conduct again, and one can only guess that their reasons for downplaying the announcement include ambivalence about having had to announce so many performances followed by cancellations in the past few years, and caution lest these performances, too, be cancelled.
In any case, Levine is to conduct the Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall on May 19th and is down, next season, for a new production of “Falstaff” and performances of “Cosi fan tutte” and a Levine staple, “Wozzeck.”
“Jim’s return to conducting is the welcome news that our company has long been waiting for,” Peter Gelb said in the release with perhaps unwitting candor; the Met has certainly been on the lookout for welcome news for a while, at least from the standpoint of those of us who have been underwhelmed by their recent offerings.
The press release also detailed Levine’s health issues, an unusual measure but probably a wise one given the amount of speculation that has grown up about them in the face of absolute radio silence on the topic; the Met may also want to forestall more speculation when it emerges that Levine now uses a motorized wheelchair to get around. He has a “benign form of Parkinsonism” that was aggravated by the pain from his fall in August, 2011, which left him partially but temporarily paralyzed; this fall followed a number of previous back surgeries for spinal problems including stenosis and herniated disks.
“His upper body strength is greater than it has been in years,” thanks to rehab work, his neurologist comfortingly said.
Above: How it used to be: here’s Levine leading Act I of “Die Walkuere” with Behrens, Norman, and Ludwig.