I learned a lot about conducting from this episode of the excellent PBS series.
Filmed to commemorate the 40th anniversary of James Levine's debut as orchestral director of the Metropolitan Opera, this segment introduces us to an extremely bright and articulate teacher-conductor.
The maestro seems most at ease when he injects candor into coaching the likes of Placido Domingo -- whom I'd have thought would've had everything down pat by now -- and young, promising singers in his developing-artist workshops.
Autographing CD sets for members of an adoring public -- people who say things like, "Thanks for just being" and "You're a treasure; please take good care of yourself" -- Levine seems far more perfunctory and ill at ease.
Levine appears to have an incredible talent for bringing out the best in singers and musicians alike. We watch as his orchestral members transform from playing in a subdued way to performing with punctuation and ardor. I gained a lot of insight into what exactly a conductor can accomplish beyond just waving a baton!
Here you'll learn about "Jimmy's" precocious upbringing as an apparent only child in Cinncinati -- he was the son of suave band leader "Larry Lee" -- and his preternatural interest in and sensitivity to opera from a very early age. But we learn nothing about Levine's personal life beyond the age of 13 or so.
The portly and fuzzy-haired Levine comes across as being work-obsessed, though we are told little about his efforts outside of New York or the health problems that have absented him in recent years.
What we do glean is highly impressive, though, and we are treated to some great operatic excerpts.
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