James Levine plans to return to the podium at the Metropolitan Opera in May following a two-year absence, conducting from a wheelchair following a fall last year that left him partially paralyzed.
The Met announced Thursday that its music director intends to conduct a concert at Carnegie Hall on May 19 and will lead three productions in the 2013-14 season: a new staging of Verdi’s Falstaff and revivals of Mozart’s Così fan tutte and Berg’s Wozzeck. He also is scheduled for all three of the Met orchestra’s Carnegie Hall concerts that season.
Levine, 69, has not conducted since a televised performance of Wagner’s Die Walkuere on May 14, 2011. He canceled his entire schedule for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons following surgery to address spinal stenosis on May 31 and July 20, 2011, and another operation that Sept. 1 after he fell and damaged his dorsal spine No. 4 vertebrae, an injury Dr Patrick O’Leary said caused “major paralysis.”
O’Leary said Levine currently is free of back pain.
Levine made his Met debut in June 1971 and has led the most performances of any conductor in the company’s history (2,442). He has been the leading force at the Met for four decades as chief conductor (1973-76), music director (1976-86 and 2004-present) and artistic director (1986-2004).
In Levine’s absence, the Met promoted Fabio Luisi to principal conductor in September 2011, and Luisi took over from Levine to complete a new production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle.
“I’m feeling better with each passing day,” Levine said in a statement. “It has been a long healing process, but with a team of excellent doctors and the unwavering support of my friends and colleagues, I’m looking forward more than I can say to getting back to work.”
O’Leary, a neurosurgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery who operated on Levine, said in a statement that “he is no longer in need of additional surgery, his upper body strength is remarkable, and his prognosis is good.”
Levine used a cane before last year’s injury; he currently is unable to walk. The Met said he will conduct from the motorized wheelchair he uses. The Met is designing podiums that elevate, which will be used at the opera house and at Carnegie Hall.
The Met said Levine’s back injuries, which include broken and herniated disks, aggravated Parkinsonism — a relatively benign form of Parkinson’s disease — that had afflicted him since 1994.
The Met said the medication L-dopa had contributed to the shaking in his legs and left hand that was noticeable from the audience.