MET Opera and “Fantasia 2000” Conductor James Levine Passed Away at Age 77

After a long and storied career, Metropolitan Opera Conductor James Levine has passed away at the age of 77.

What’s Happening:

  • Conductor James Levine, who ruled over the Metropolitan Opera for more than four decades before being eased aside when his health declined and then was fired for sexual improprieties, has died. He was 77.
  • Levine died March 9 in Palm Springs, California, of natural causes, his physician of 17 years, Dr. Len Horovitz, said Wednesday.
  • Levine made his Met debut in 1971 and became one of the signature artists in the company’s century-plus history, conducting 2,552 performances and ruling over its repertoire, orchestra and singers as music or artistic director from 1976 until forced out by general manager Peter Gelb in 2016 due to Parkinson’s disease.
  • Despite a long and illustrious career, Disney fans will remember him as the conductor of the orchestra in Fantasia 2000. Six of the eight segments of the film were performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Levine’s direction. He even introduces Pomp and Circumstance in the film, after The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, where he interacts with Mickey Mouse in a spin on the original Fantasia, where Mickey interacts with conductor Leopold Stokowski.
  • It was Roy Disney and Then-Walt Disney Feature Animation president Thomas Schumacher who invited Levine and manager Peter Gelb to a meeting in September of 1991. Roy Disney said in the book Fantasia 2000: Visions of Hope, "I asked James what his thought was on a three minute version of Beethoven's fifth symphony. He paused and went 'I think the right three minutes would be beautiful'". In November 1992, Disney, Schumacher, Levine, and Gelb met in Vienna to discuss a collection of story reels developed, one of them being Pines of Rome, which Levine took an immediate liking to. Levine's enthusiasm toward the film as "like a kid in a candy store.”
  • Levine was also involved in development meetings that were held in secret, Because studio-head Jeffrey Katzenberg continued to express some hostility towards the film, with the crew reporting directly to then CEO Michael Eisner instead.
  • The soundtrack, with Levine conducting all tracks, was nominated for a Grammy.
  • Levine is survived by wife Suzanne Thomson, his longtime companion whom he married last year, according to Andrea Anson of his agency; sister Janet Levine and her husband Kenneth Irwin.

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