James Levine Returns to the Met

Levine in Met

 

James Levine is a singer’s conductor.  Since 1971 he has riled the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra into frenzies of Wagnerian fortitude, balanced the beautiful webbed orchestration in Strauss, enchanted with the soaring cantilena of Puccinian melody, and exuded the splendour of Verdi’s unparalleled palate and all to showcase the instrument he knows how to support and promote more about than practically any conductor, the voice.  I have always been fascinated by this man, his intelligence, his understanding of opera, and most of all his ability to make the written page come to life in colours and flashes of light that are unfortunately missing in the bag of tricks that belong to most conductors today.

James Levine Boston Met

When I heard that Maestro Levine was going to return to the podium this season, I waited in great anticipation to hear which operas he would conduct.  Sorely disappointed was I that he would only conduct three, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.  For those three works, Cosi Fan Tutte (which premiered last evening), Falstaff, and Wozzeck, opera fans and aficionados who truly understand the art will flock to the Met to listen to the grandeur of Levine’s conducting.  It’s interesting how someone can be missing for a couple of years and when they return, we REALLY know what we’ve been missing.  How does that old adage go:  you don’t know what you have until you’ve lost it?

Levine made his Met debut in 1971 following a June Festival performance of Tosca. Following further appearances with the company, he was named principal conductor of the Metropolitan Opera in February 1972 and became the Met’s music director in 1976.  He rose to higher acclaim In 1983 when he served as conductor and musical director for Franco Zeffirelli’s screen adaptation of La Traviata, which featured the Met orchestra and chorus members. He became the company’s first artistic director in 1986, but relinquished the title in 2004.  There is no question that during Levine’s tenure, the Met orchestra expanded its activities into the realms of recording, and performing in separate concert series for the orchestra and chamber ensembles at Carnegie Hall.  Additionally, he has led the Metropolitan Opera on many domestic and international tours. For the 25th anniversary of his Met debut, Levine conducted the world premiere of John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby, commissioned especially to mark the occasion. On his appointment as General Manager of the Met, Peter Gelb emphasized that James Levine was welcome to remain as long as he wanted to direct music there.  How gracious of him.

Return to MetLevine’s curtain call from last night’s Cosi Fan Tutte

Certainly, some things have changed at the Met, but last night brought the Levine we remembered (if not better) and the orchestra was at its finest.  Personally, I wish it had been Puccini that he chose to conduct or a Verdi or Strauss because I’ve never been a huge fan of Cosi Fan Tutte, but hey…whatever we can get.  I hope that Maestro Levine continues to live in good health because we definitely need him and those singers that have been either excluded or given one short run at the Met who are living examples of the machine that opera once was.  The other night, during opening night, Margaret Juntwait interviewed Rosalinde Elias and suddenly just through the splendour of that speaking voice, I was transported to a time I didn’t even live in, to a time not even that long ago when singing, conducting, and certainly directing, was of a different ilk.  Call me a lover of the golden age….I just am.  No apologies.  Levine still retains aspects of those singers who influenced him, and his presence can only continue to influence the ones of today.  Bravo Maestro Levine.  Continued health and much much more music to come.

full-levine

New York Times Review of Maestro Levine’s Return to the Met

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