NEW YORK—James Levine has canceled conducting the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Wagner's "Goetterdaemmerung" and is in danger of missing an entire season at the company for the first time since he made his debut in 1971.
The Met said Friday that new principal conductor Fabio Luisi will replace Levine in the final installment of Robert Lepage's staging of the Ring Cycle, which opens Jan. 27. Luisi also will replace Levine in an orchestra concert at Carnegie Hall on Jan. 15.
The 67-year-old Levine, who made his Met debut in June 1971, has led the most performances of any conductor in the company's history (2,442) but has not appeared since May 14, the final day of last season. He canceled his participation in a tour of Japan that had been scheduled to mark his 40th anniversary with the Met, and he had operations to address spinal stenosis on May 31 and July 20. He had another surgery on Sept. 1 after falling and damaging a vertebrae.
"He's feeling good. He's in rehab and he continues to make improvements. He agrees and feels strongly that he wouldn't want to return until he's fully recovered," Met general manager Peter Gelb said during an interview with The Associated Press. "I know that his doctors are optimistic that he will be able to eventually return, but there is no specific timetable."
Levine remains scheduled to conduct the first three cycles of Lepage's Ring, scheduled for April 7 to May 12, but it's possible Luisi will take those over, too. Luisi was appointed the Met's principal guest conductor in April 2010, then was promoted to principal conductor two months ago.
"I've discussed it with Jim and we've agreed that within the next month or two we're going to have to make a decision about the rest of the season," Gelb said.
In addition to the Ring, Levine is scheduled to conduct the Met orchestra at Carnegie on May 20. Gelb also must decide on whether Levine can be included in plans for the 2012-13 season, which likely will be announced in February.
"We're not prepared to talk about that right now," Gelb said. "It's obviously something that is very much on my mind and his mind as well. He and I have been in discussions about it."
Levine has been the leading force at the Met for four decades as chief conductor (1973-76), music director (1976-86 and 2004-present) and artistic director (1986-2004). He also was music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 2004 through last season.
Gelb wouldn't say whether poor health would cause Levine to give up his music director title.
"We talk about everything. Those are conversations between him and me," Gelb said.
Luisi replaced Levine in fall productions of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" and Wagner's "Siegfried" and is scheduled to conduct the high-definition telecast of the third Ring opera this Saturday. Gelb said that because of Levine's illness, the DVDs of the Lepage Ring, which probably will be released in the fall, will have Levine conducting "Das Rheingold" and "Die Walkuere," with Luisi leading the other two operas.
Gelb said even if Levine does return in time for the Ring, the Met won't make a second video of "Siegfried" and Goetterdaemmerung."
"We have put enormous resources into producing these, and from a schedule point of view, from a financial resource point of view, for all those reasons, it's absolutely impossible," Gelb said.