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Rotator cuff surgery to end Levine's Met Opera season

NEW YORK -- Conductor James Levine will miss the rest of the Metropolitan Opera's season because of a shoulder injury that requires surgery.

Levine, music director of the Met and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was injured March 1 when he tripped and fell on the stage of Boston's Symphony Hall during ovations that followed a performance.

While tests showed there were no broken bones, an MRI exam and X-rays revealed a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, an injury more common to baseball pitchers than conductors.

Met general manager Joseph Volpe, who met with Levine on Friday, said in a telephone interview yesterday that the conductor likely would need a three-month recovery time after the shoulder operation.

''The doctors are not going to let him start early," Volpe said. ''The problem is raising your arm."

Meanwhile, the managing director of the Boston Symphony, Mark Volpe, said Levine's doctor's expect the maestro to fully recovered in time for his next scheduled appearance with the BSO -- the July 7 opening of the Tanglewood season in Lenox.

''He expects to have the surgery a week from Monday, and has the full intention, God willing, of being able to begin our season on July 7," Volpe said.

He said Levine is especially determined to meet his commitment to spend five weeks at Tanglewood working with the young musicians who come to the BSO summer facility for master classes and performance. That work is hugely important to Levine, he said.

Volpe said the procedure will be done at New York's Lenox Hill Hospital by a shoulder surgeon who has worked with other leading musicians, among them the pianist Claudio Arrau.

Levine, in a statement, voiced regret at having to bow out of so much of the season ahead.

''Nobody regrets this more than I do, and I can only express the enormous disappointment and frustration I feel," Levine said. The 62-year-old conductor made his Met debut in 1971 and has become the company's central figure.

Levine, who has led more than 2,000 performances at the Met, will be absent from the podium for his longest stretch in more than three decades.

He will cancel appearances in Beethoven's ''Fidelio" that were to start March 20, a new production of Donizetti's ''Don Pasquale" that opens March 31, plus revivals of Wagner's ''Lohengrin" and ''Parsifal."

He also will miss the season-closing gala on May 20 honoring Volpe, who is retiring Aug. 1, and the Met's June tour in Japan, where he was to conduct Wagner's ''Die Walkuere" and Mozart's ''Don Giovanni."

On Sept. 25, he is to return to the Met for Puccini's ''Madama Butterfly," the opening-night performance after Peter Gelb succeeds Volpe as general manager.

Levine was appointed principal conductor in 1973, music director in 1976, and artistic director in 1986. His title was downgraded back to music director for the 2004-05 when he assumed his job with the BSO.

Gelb said last month that he made Levine a lifetime offer to remain as music director. Levine said he would stay at least through the 2012-13 season.

Levine is overweight, has had a tremor in his left arm for about a decade and in recent years has been bothered by sciatica. Several years ago, he began to conduct from a chair.

The Met's Volpe hopes Levine will address his health during his time away from conducting.

''I think it's an opportunity for him to really take the time now, that he has the time, to look at all of his medical needs," Volpe said.

Maurizio Benini will take over as conductor of ''Don Pasquale," according to Volpe, and a decision on a ''Fidelio" conductor could be made as soon as tomorrow, when Levine was to have started rehearsals. The ''Parsifal" performances mark Ben Heppner's debut in the title role.

''Maybe with 'Parsifal,' because it's only three performances and a limited rehearsal time, we'll be able to get someone really good," Volpe said.

Valery Gergiev, the Met's principal guest conductor, and James Conlon were scheduled to conduct with Levine at the Volpe gala. Volpe hopes to add conductors to replace Levine at that event.

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