James Levine

Who

One of the best known conductors in the world, the curly-haired, thick-waisted maestro is the longtime artistic director of the Metropolitan Opera.

Backstory

Levine's grandfather was a cantor and his father was a violinist, so it's not altogether surprising that young Jimmy's musical career started early. Trained to play the piano as a small child, the musical prodigy was just 10 when he performed as a soloist with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Levine went on to train with piano legend Rudolf Serkin and attend Juilliard, where he took courses in conducting with Jean Morel; upon graduation, he worked as an apprentice conductor with the Cleveland Orchestra. After playing with a number of prestigious orchestras, Levine joined the Met as principal conductor and music director in 1973. In 1986, he added the title of artistic director to his resume. (The Met created the position especially for him.) He's held both posts ever since, working with the likes of Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Jessye Norman, Renée Fleming, and Frederica von Stade, among countless other opera superstars. Since 2004, he's performed double duty as the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

On the job

It's hard to imagine the Met over the past three decades without Levine's wild-haired presence on the scene. He's defined the Met for a generation, conducting a staggering 2,000 performances of 80 different operas during his tenure, mentoring scores of young performers, and helping to make the Met one of the finest opera houses in the world. Sadly, the Levine era appears to be coming to an end. Medical issues have plagued him of late; now in his mid-60s, he's taken to conducting while seated. And with new (and less nostalgic) management at the Met these days—Peter Gelb took over in 2006—it's not clear how much longer Levine will continue as the venue's creative maestro.

Medical file

After performing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in March of '06, Levine suffered a fall onstage that resulted in a torn rotator cuff—a potentially devastating injury for someone who wields a baton for a living. Surgery successfully repaired the injury, and Levine reassumed leadership of the orchestra a few months later. Rumors about his ill health continue—including speculation he has Parkinson's—although Levine dismisses them by saying he has nothing more than sciatica and "intermittent tremors."

True story

Levine has a reputation for being a tough taskmaster—so much so, in fact, that musicians at the Boston Symphony negotiated pay raises in 2005 to compensate them for working through Levine's annual 12-week tenure.

Personal

Levine lives on Central Park West with his girlfriend, Sue Thompson, a former oboist whom he met in 1967.