NEW YORK >> James Levine will retire as the Metropolitan Opera's music director at the end of the season because of Parkinson's disease, ending a 40-year run that lifted the company to a golden era but became increasingly problematic as his health declined.
Levine, who turns 73 in June, suffers from Parkinson's disease, and his baton has become harder to follow this season.
Met general manager Peter Gelb said that Levine will become music director emeritus and a successor as music director will be appointed "in the coming months." While Levine intends to conduct in future seasons and will remain head of the company's young artists development program, the Met said his health has made it difficult for him to retain a full schedule.
"There is no conductor in the history of opera who has accomplished what Jim has achieved in his epic career at the Met," Gelb said in a statement.
Levine made his Met debut in 1971, became chief conductor in 1973 and music director in 1976. His title was upgraded to artistic director in 1986, a position he held until it reverted to music director in 2004, when he also became music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
He has led 2,551 performances of more than 85 operas with the Met, by far the most by an individual in the company's history. His tenure with a single orchestra is a rarity in a business where frequent podium shifts are commonplace.
"Through 45 years of unwavering devotion, maestro Levine has shaped the Met Orchestra into the world-class ensemble it is today," clarinetist Jessica Phillips, chair of the orchestra committee, said in a statement. "He has a unique ability to inspire those around him to perform to the best of their abilities and beyond."
The Met said it has a plan to appoint a new music director "who will be announced in the coming months." The favorites appear to be Yannick Nezet-Seguin, a 41-year-old Canadian who is music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Giandrea Noseda, a 51-year Italian who is music director of the Teatro Regio in Turin.
While Levine upgraded the quality of the orchestra to the highest level since the company began in 1883, his health has been an issue for more than a decade,
Levine has conducted from a chair since late 2001, and when tremors in his left arm and leg became noticeable in 2004, he said they began a decade earlier. His health worsened in 2006, when he tripped and fell on the stage of Boston's Symphony Hall during ovations that followed a performance and he tore a rotator cuff, which required shoulder surgery.
He had an operation in 2008 to remove a kidney and another in 2009 to repair a herniated disk in his back. He then suffered spinal stenosis, leading to surgeries in May and July 2011, and he had another operation that September after falling and damaging a vertebra, an injury that sidelined him until May 2013. He relinquished his BSO position in 2011.
Gelb said the Met came close to announcing Levine's retirement earlier this winter but held off, waiting to see if a change in medication would improve Levine's health.
Levine is scheduled to conduct his remaining Met performances this season of Verdi's "Simon Boccanegra" and "Die Entfuehrung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio). He is withdrawing from next year's new staging of Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier" but remains slated for revivals of Rossini's "L'Italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers)," Verdi's "Nabucco" and Mozart's "Idomeneo."