Metropolitan Opera music director James Levine returned to conduct Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte on September 24 - his first performance on the New York company stage since he fell and damaged his spine more than two years ago. Changes to the orchestral pit and stage layout – including a rising mechanical podium, dubbed affectionately ‘the maestro lift’ - mean the conductor is now able to lead performances from his motorised wheelchair. This season Levine will conduct not only the revival of Così, but a new production of Falstaff, a revival of Wozzeck and all three concerts of the Met Orchestra’s annual subscription series at Carnegie Hall.
Prior to his fall, the 70-year-old had suffered from severe back pain, leading to a number of cancellations and the decision in 2011 to resign as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Although surgery to address the back pain was successful, Levine subsequently fell, damaging his spine and robbing him of all sensation in the lower half of his body. Gradually, with the help of intense therapy, sensation and movement has returned, and the conductor is continuing to work on his walking.
‘To say that I am happy to be back is putting it mildly,’ he said in an interview with the Met’s Margaret Juntwait. ‘I feel very lucky. I had the most marvellous care from the doctors and nurses. While I was away, I was able to listen to Met broadcasts without being personally involved in the struggle to achieve results. I got much more pleasure than I ever thought I would from what we have achieved. But now I’m glad to be able to get back to it in earnest and perhaps there may be a late period to my work after all!’
Levine returned to the stage to conduct the Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in May this year. In total he has conducted nearly 2,500 performances of 85 different operas at the Met since his company debut in 1971, leading Tosca.