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— James Levine: America’s Maestro explores the life, process and impact of the Met’s legendary Music Director —

To celebrate Maestro James Levine’s 40 years at the Metropolitan Opera, American Masters presents James Levine: America’s Maestro, Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 10 p.m. on Eight, as part of its 25th anniversary season. Exploring the conductor’s life and current work, the one-hour documentary film captures the essence of one of classical music’s authentic giants.

Looking back at creative milestones since his 1971 Met debut with “Tosca” at the age of 28, the film reveals how Levine’s unparalleled musicianship and singular teaching and performance styles make his relationship with the company unique in today’s music world. American Masters provides an insider’s view into how Levine transformed The Metropolitan Opera’s Orchestra into one of the great ensembles, elicited legendary performances from leading singers and nurtured new generations of artists. 

Award-winning filmmaker Susan Froemke follows the Met Music Director during coaching sessions, rehearsals and performances at the world’s leading opera house over the course of the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons. James Levine: America’s Maestro features intimate scenes between the maestro and his longtime collaborator Plácido Domingo – from rehearsals in the 1970s to 2010 as they mount Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra.” Witness Levine leading intense rehearsals with the Met Orchestra as they prepare for their first performance of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony at Carnegie Hall, and poignant coaching sessions with aspiring young singers from the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program (LYADP), including segments from this year’s “The Bartered Bride,” LYADP’s first collaboration with The Juilliard School. Interviews include Domingo, principal musicians from the Met Orchestra, LYADP artists, former Met General Manager Bruce Crawford (1985-1989), Met Artistic Administrator Jonathan Friend, and the maestro himself. 

“It’s simply indisputable – in his 40 years at the Met, James Levine has created and sustained one of the greatest orchestras the world has ever known,” says Susan Lacy, series creator and executive producer of American Masters, a seven-time winner of the Emmy® Award for Outstanding Primetime Non-Fiction Series.

“Watching Maestro Levine work,” Susan Froemke says, “you see his rare ability to sense almost immediately what a musician or singer’s strengths are and where they might need coaching and improvement. He unerringly takes them beyond the technical details of the music to a new, more profound level of emotional understanding. It’s as though he liberates them to go deeper into the music and find — with more clarity and beauty — what the composer intended.”

Tracing Levine’s Cincinnati beginnings as a musical prodigy, the film shows how his gifts as a pianist informed his genius as music director. A self-described “teacher-conductor,” Levine believes that “dramatic intensity” and “lyricism” are two defining characteristics of the Met Orchestra. As players attest to his precision, passion and extraordinary level of artistic responsibility, James Levine: America’s Maestro examines the four decades during which Levine has introduced modern works to the Met repertoire, developed the strength of the company’s orchestra and chorus, and personally coached talent like Domingo in definitive roles like “Otello.” Archival performance segments include the latter in 1979, Puccini’s “La Bohème” starring Luciano Pavarotti in 1977, Kurt Weill’s “Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny” in 1979, and a 1988 rehearsal of “Ariadne auf Naxos.”

James Levine: America’s Maestro is a production of Susan Froemke in association with THIRTEEN’s American Masters for WNET. Susan Froemke is director and producer, Douglas Graves is producer and Kathleen Dougherty is editor. Peter Gelb is executive producer. Susan Lacy is the series creator and executive producer of American Masters. 


About Eight, Arizona PBS

Eight, Arizona PBS specializes in the education of children, in-depth news and public affairs, lifelong learning, and the celebration of arts and culture -- utilizing the power of noncommercial television, the Internet, educational outreach services, and community-based initiatives. The PBS station began broadcasting from the campus of Arizona State University on January 30, 1961. Now more than 80 percent of Arizonans receive the signal through a network of translators, cable and satellite systems. With more than 1 million viewers each week, Eight consistently ranks among the most-viewed public television stations per capita in the country. Arizonans provide more than 60 percent of the station's annual budget.

Eight is a member-supported service of Arizona State University.