On the day of his scheduled return to the Metropolitan Opera to begin rehearsals for the coming season after several months’ absence from the podium, the conductor James Levine instead announced that he had had yet another emergency back surgery last week and would cancel all of his fall performances.

Bowing to the inevitable, the Metropolitan Opera named Fabio Luisi as Principal Conductor, effective immediately. Luisi will take over all of Levine’s scheduled fall performances at the Met, including the new productions of “Don Giovanni” (October 13) and “Siegfried” (October 27), the latest installment in the Met’s new Ring cycle directed by Robert Lepage. Levine will remain the company’s titular music director.

The news is not altogether surprising, given that Levine’s ill-health – he suffers from spinal stenosis – has been playing havoc with his performing schedule for some time. In March, he stepped down from his position as Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra as of this fall, and subsequently cancelled all of his summer performances to give him time to recover.

James Levine, interviewed as one of the recipients of the inaugural NEA opera honors in 2008.

According to the official press release, Levine’s doctors said he was recovering successfully from his last back surgeries, in May and July of this year, when he fell while on vacation in Vermont and injured one of his vertebrae, necessitating yet another operation on this past Thursday.

Luisi has been rumored for some time to be being groomed as Levine’s possible successor; he was appointed the Met’s Principal Guest Conductor in April, and he had already taken over a number of Levine’s previously cancelled performances this spring. He has conducted frequently at the Met since making his debut there in 2005 with Verdi’s “Don Carlo,” and he was already scheduled to conduct the new production of “Manon” in March, 2012.

Luisi had to cancel a number of engagements, including appearances with the Rome Opera and the San Francisco Symphony, to clear his fall calendar. He does not, however, currently have another music director position. In 2007, he took over as music director of the Dresden Staatskapelle and Semper Oper, one of the leading orchestras and opera houses in Europe, but a dispute with the orchestra led him to resign in 2010, before the end of his contract.

Levine hopes to return to the Met in January, 2012, for the premiere of “Goetterdaemmerung,” and is still scheduled to lead the complete “Ring” cycles in April and May.