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During his 40 years at the met Levine has conducted 2,500 performances of more than 80 operas. This lavish celebration mainly consists of tributes from the dozens of great singers who have worked with him, interspersed with Levine’s own reciprocal praise. such sustained mutual admiration is too much of a good thing. it is also a little repetitive, as many singers make the same sorts of points – Levine is instinctive, diplomatic, lovable, kind, ‘on the same wavelength’, terrifically supportive, understanding of what each singer can do, always ready to smile or laugh during a performance, encouraging rather than bullying, etc etc.

However, there are also a few insights into the craft of conducting. For instance, on page 120 Levine explains how he gets the orchestra to play the way he wants. He admits to talking a lot in rehearsal, but prefers this to a reliance on gesture – ‘You are automatically limited by what the group collectively can understand from the gesture.’ However, his talking, as baritone Mariusz Kwiecien writes, can be colourful and evocative: ‘He always uses poetic words to move my imagination’ – not just ‘do it faster’ or ‘do it slower’, but (for example), ‘You have to use the energy like strong wind in between leaves on a tree.’

There are some slightly longer tributes from non-musicians – Richard Dyer (33 years with the Boston Globe), Harvey Sachs (biographer of Toscanini and Arthur Rubinstein) and Jay David Saks (recording producer). Five members of the Met Orchestra have their say, as do composers Gunther Schuller, John Corigliano, Elliott Carter and William Bolcom.

Space is also given to Levine’s comments on various new productions, features on the Met Orchestra – at Carnegie Hall and first tours of USA and Europe – the Met Chamber Ensemble, and Levine as pianist. The appendix includes the number of performances for every opera, as well as premieres, telecasts, discography, plus orchestral and chamber repertoires. Stunning photographs occupy roughly half of a book which is generally recommended, though the excess of adulation may pall.

PHILIP BORG-WHEELER Read the full review on Agora Classica


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