It was performed there as a memorial for Karl Böhm who died 12 days earlier.
My live Levine experiences were perfectly bookended by a Requiem—not Mozart’s but Verdi’s. In 1980 the conductor returned to Cincinnati, his hometown, to conduct the Messa da Requiem at the May Festival, whose Music Director he had been from 1974 to 1978. From my student ticket in the second row of the orchestra, my first Levine encounter was overwhelming. As always, the huge May Festival Chorus made a mighty noise and soloists Teresa Zylis-Gara, Marilyn Horne, Neil Shicoff and John Cheek responded soulfully to his dynamic leadership. The ovations were loud and long.
He would never again conduct in Cincinnati: illness derailed his participation in a 2010 Meistersinger production at the Opera, and his return to the 2018 May Festival for another Verdi Requiem was cancelled.
How startling to encounter Levine 37 years after that May Festival, now a frail wizened figure in his motorized wheelchair, during his final Met engagement leading a lackluster Requiem just before the scandal that would end his career broke.
All told, I’m pleased to program Mozart’s mass for the dead rather than Verdi’s as I had more consistently satisfying experiences with Levine’s Mozart than with his Verdi which could be maddeningly inconsistent.
Of course, my first opera at the Met was conducted by Levine: La bohème with Teresa Stratas and José Carreras just over 39 years ago. Between an indelible Puccini and an unfortunate Verdi Requiem, I heard him at the Met many many times, inevitably as he always grabbed up the juiciest projects. More often than not over the years I was pleased to have him on the podium but was rarely excited or moved by his interpretations.
The Carnegie Hall concerts with Met forces though regularly showed him at his best. I remember in particular a thrilling, if overloud Gurrelieder. His final Carnegie Hall appearance appropriately consisted of “bleeding chunks” of Wagner’s Ring.
26 August 1981
Chorus of the Vienna Staatsoper
Requiem can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player above and the resulting mp3 files will appear in your download directory.
Earlier during the 1981 Salzburg Festival, Levine led a marvelous Die Jahreszeiten by Haydn with Ileana Cotrubas, Francisco Araiza and José van Dam; it can be enjoyed on a previous Trove Thursday.
A Levine-Boston Gurre-Lieder, even better than the one heard at Carnegie Hall, featured Karita Mattila, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Johan Botha, Paul Groves, Albert Dohmen and Waldemar Kmentt. This podcast remains available as well.
The archive which lists all Trove Thursday offerings in alphabetical order by composer was up-to-dated in late December.