Magazine article The Spectator

Met's Maestro

Magazine article The Spectator

Met's Maestro

Article excerpt

New York music

Met's maestro

As the Metropolitan Opera season wound down with a series of performances of the Wagner Ring cycle in its celebrated 'traditional' setting - which will definitely be seen again in a later season, gratifying lovers of authenticity - the New York Times went public with what most of musical New York had been aware of and been discussing for over a year: the health of its artistic director, pit maestro for the Ring and much else: James Levine. Levine, 60, has been conducting while seated for some time, and increasingly one has noticed that, as the long evenings of opera wore on, his hand gestures were becoming smaller and sparer, with his left hand hardly moving by the evening's end. Although Levine has taken the most arduous and lengthy operatic assignments (Tristan, Moses und Aron, Les Troyens), at times during performances there was a perception of a lack of energy and drive. Although he has always (with one exception, for illness) completed his conducting assignments, he has been noticed on occasion being helped into his limousine.

A wall of silence from everyone at the Met has surrounded all of this, leading to a plethora of rumours about Levine's health. But now, for the first time, musicians from the orchestra have spoken, though mostly not for attribution, detailing problems of communication during performances. For his part, Levine, for the first time, spoke to the Times about the tremors in his left arm and leg that have affected him in the past few years. He insisted that the condition had not worsened over that time, and was being treated, though maintaining that his doctor had not diagnosed it as Parkinson's disease, which had been widely surmised.

What is undoubtedly true is that the Met orchestra is fully Levine's - he built it over a 30-year period of conducting it and that it responds to him, as it has during this Ring cycle, almost instinctively, not needing that specificity of gesture and cueing sense that might be necessary from other maestros. It is also true that Levine is adored by the New York audience, and to them, no matter what he conducts - or how - he can do no wrong: the ovations that regularly greet him I contrast with early (and often excellent) performances of his, when he was regularly booed. …

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