Fabio Luisi appointed principal guest conductor at Metropolitan Opera

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Luisi appointed Met’s principal guest conductor

NEW YORK — Fabio Luisi has been appointed principal guest conductor of the Metropolitan Opera starting next season, a move that some will see as making him a candidate to eventually succeed James Levine as music director.

Met general manager Peter Gelb said that Levine, preparing for his 40th anniversary season at the Met, will continue to conduct five to six productions per season and that Luisi will conduct an average of one new production and one revival each season.

“Jimmy will be the music director at the Met for as long as he wants and for as long as he is able,” Gelb said Tuesday. “Jimmy himself is pleased by Luisi’s appointment. It is something he wanted, as well. The appointment is for principal guest conductor and not more than that. But what’s very important about the appointment I think is that it cements the bond between us and him, which is good for the institution.”

The 66-year-old Levine has been the primary musical force at the Met as chief conductor (1973-76), music director (1976-86 and 2004-present) and artistic director (1986-2004). He also has been music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra since 2004.

Levine conducted just 11 opera performances at the Met this season. He had surgery last fall to repair a herniated disk in his back and returned to the podium Dec. 3. He is recovering from another back operation this month.

Luisi succeeding Levine was not part of this appointment.

“It’s really another cup of tea,” he said.

A 51-year-old Italian, Luisi already has conducted four operas at the Met this season. He was scheduled for revivals of Strauss’ “Elektra,” Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” and Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel,” replaced Levine in “Tosca” this month and will take over from Levine in Berg’s “Lulu” next month.

Luisi made his Met debut in 2005 in Verdi’s “Don Carlo” and conducted a new production of Strauss’ “Die Aegyptische Helena” in 2007. He said the Met approached him about the new position in February. The Met has talked to him about the possibility of conducting future new productions of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” and Massenet’s “Manon.”

“It’s the best opera house in the world, I think,” he said. “I can find here a way to work that I don’t find anymore in the houses I know in Europe. It’s a very, very hard work. A broad repertory but not so broad that you can’t focus on quality — this is very important. Musical quality has still a role here in New York at the Metropolitan. It’s not a factory.”

Luisi is chief conductor of the Vienna Symphony and artistic director of Japan’s Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo. He was general music director of Dresden State Opera and Dresden Staatskapelle Orchestra from 2007 to 2010.

He will become only the Met’s second principal guest conductor; Valery Gergiev filled the position from 1998-08, conducting primarily Russian works.

Luisi was born in Genoa but an Inter Milan supporter who rides his bicycle to work in Vienna, where he lives with his wife and a 12-year-old son.

He plans to spend two-to-three months annually at the Met. He speaks English, Italian, Germany and French and is learning Czech, and is to conduct at Munich’s Bavarian Staatsoper, Milan’s Teatro alla Scala and the Zurich Opera in the next five years.

Luisi was attracted to the Met by “the rehearsal time, which is much more than I’m used to having for repertory performances, and also the competence of the musical staff, and the taking of responsibility, from the conductor to the pianist to the prompter.”

Gelb also said the Met was in discussions with Riccardo Muti about a possible return. Muti, who made his Met debut this season in Verdi’s “Attila,” becomes music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra next season.

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