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Met Upgrades Genoese Baton Meister Luisi to Backstop Levine

Fabio Luisi
Fabio Luisi conducting the Metropolitan Opera orchestra in New York. Luisi is in rehearsals for the Met's production of "Lulu" by Alban Berg. Source: Metropolitan Opera via Bloomberg

The Metropolitan Opera, faced with the medical problems of its music director, James Levine, has promoted Fabio Luisi to principal guest conductor.

Luisi, who hails from Genoa, Italy, is currently rehearsing Alban Berg’s “Lulu,” a Levine favorite, while the American maestro, who is 66, heals from back surgery.

Since presiding over the opening night of the new and much disliked “Tosca” in September, Levine has conducted just 15 performances.

The versatile Luisi, who made his Met debut in 2005, has conducted “Tosca,” “Elektra,” “Le Nozze di Figaro” and “Hansel and Gretel” this season.

I spoke with Luisi, 51, in the conductor’s dressing room.

Lundborg: I hope you like New York!

Luisi: Sometimes it can get a bit hectic, but you can always find places of peace.

Lundborg: How’s it going with “Lulu”?

Luisi: We had three hours of rehearsal this morning, and Berg is quite hard stuff. Normally, when I rehearse Schoenberg or Berg or Webern with an orchestra, after one hour the concentration goes down. Not with the Met players. They remain focused until the last minute and this is amazing.


Lundborg: The new “Tosca” is widely unloved. What do you think?

Luisi: In Europe, we are used to much worse productions. If I’m just taking over, I don’t have anything to say. If it’s a new production, before I accept, I want to know who the director is. I have already refused on some occasions.

Lundborg: Aren’t you also becoming general music director of the Zurich Opera in 2012.

Luisi: I will take over Zurich as planned. I’ll spend two or three months a year in New York, but my time at the Met was already scheduled.

Lundborg: So what has changed with your new role?

Luisi: I’m not just going to conduct, I’m going to advise Peter Gelb on musical issues and be a partner on everything that concerns the theater. If I go to a performance, and if something bothers me, I will tell Peter that we should do it better.

Lundborg: You might be very busy! When did you know you wanted to conduct?

Luisi: I was 17 or 18, and I went to Austria to learn how to do it. I studied with Milan Horvat, who was my only teacher. He’s over 90 but he still conducts.

Lundborg: How is your health? Do you have any back problems?

Luisi: I do yoga every day. I do my exercises and work out. I’m very careful of my body.

Lundborg: How do you relax?

Luisi: I go for walks in Central Park and along the Hudson River to enjoy nature.

Lundborg: What do you do after the opera?

Luisi: I am usually hungry, so I go home and cook. Last night I made some pasta with asparagus and a bit of garlic and shallots.

It takes a little time before I can calm down after a performance.

For more information:

(Zinta Lundborg is a writer for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)

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