The Major Metropolitan Opera Moments of Maestro James Levine

By David Salazar

James Levine is one of the most influential people in the history of 20th-century opera. The Metropolitan Opera’s maestro has led the company for four decades, essentially making himself the face of the opera house during that time period.

The conductor, born on June 23, 1943, is now entering the twilight of his career but remains strong in his endeavors. Here is a look at some of the most important moments of his Met Opera career to date.


His first ever appearance with the company came on June 5, 1971, when he directed Grace Bumbry, Franco Corelli and Peter Glossop in “Tosca.” Of his auspicious debut, Dallas Texas Times Herald writer Speight Jenkins noted, “The most exciting dividends came from Levine, who conducted the Dallas Symphony this season. His baton technique is clear; his rhythms radiate flexibility; and he brought to “Tosca” a dramatic tautness frequently missing in the Met’s pit. Brass often came to the fore to emphasize Scarpia’s cruelty; many of the score’s instrumental details received a new focus. Levine should have a great career ahead of him; the Cincinnati-born maestro at only 28 had obviously won the respect of the choosy and temperamental Met orchestra.”

The Eight Hour Gala

Levine led a number of high-profile galas throughout his career at the Met including the 25th Anniversary at the Lincoln Center and recent 50th Anniversary Gala as well. He was among the maestros to feature on the double centennial galas. But the one that will tower about the others is his very own 25th-anniversary gala that saw him conduct for a whopping eight hours. It all started with the overture to “Rienzi” and ended with with the finale of “Die Meistersinger,” right before 2 AM.

Two World Premieres

Levine was the main reason why a lot of neglected operas made their way into the repertoire. But he was also the force behind numerous new commissions, including the two that he conducted, “The Ghosts of Versailles” and “The Great Gatsby.” The former came on Dec. 19, 1991, and the latter on Dec. 20, 1999.

The Big Return

Levine’s career at the Met went uninterrupted for quite some time, but health eventually started to limit his engagements, at one point threatening to end his career altogether. He would buck the trend on Sept. 25, 2013, in a performance of “Cosi fan tutte,” his first since 2011.

What are some other major Met moments for James Levine? Tell us in the comments below?


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