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Conductor James Levine to resume full schedule at Metropolitan Opera next season

FILE - This May 19, 2013 file photo shows Metropolitan Opera Music Director James Levine leading the MET Orchestra in a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York. Levine will resume a full schedule of six stagings at the Metropolitan Opera next season, conducting on opening night for the first time since 2010 following his recovery from a back injury that caused a two-year layoff. (AP Photo/Metropolitan Opera, Marty Sohl, file)

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FILE - This May 19, 2013 file photo shows Metropolitan Opera Music Director James Levine leading the MET Orchestra in a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York. Levine will resume a full schedule of six stagings at the Metropolitan Opera next season, conducting on opening night for the first time since 2010 following his recovery from a back injury that caused a two-year layoff. (AP Photo/Metropolitan Opera, Marty Sohl, file)

NEW YORK, N.Y. - James Levine will resume a full schedule of six productions at the Metropolitan Opera next season, conducting on opening night for the first time since 2010 following his recovery from a back injury that caused a two-year layoff.

The 70-year-old, who has been the chief musical force at the Met since 1973, was sidelined for more than two years after a fall that left him partially paralyzed. He came back last May to conduct the Met orchestra in concert at Carnegie Hall and returned to the opera house podium in September to start an abbreviated schedule of 24 performances of three operas this season.

He will lead 38 performances in the 2014-15 season announced Wednesday, starting with a new staging of Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro)" on Sept. 22 in his 32nd opening-night performance. His assignments include revivals of Offenbach's "Les Contes d'Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann)," Stravinsky's "The Rake's Progress," Verdi's "Ernani" and "Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball)," and Wagner's "Die Meistersinger von Nuernberg (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg)."

"It's much closer to what I used to do," Levine said Monday during a telephone interview. "I think what amazes me still is I don't have pain, and that the bounce back increases. I feel very well."

The season includes six new productions, including the Met debut of John Adams' "The Death of Klinghoffer," a work criticized by some as anti-Semitic since its world premiere in 1991.

Following several operations on his spine, Levine has been conducting from a motorized wheelchair. "I walk slowly and with a walker, and so I need certain kinds of circumstances," he said.

Levine is to conduct a new staging of Berg's "Lulu" in 2015-16. The Met, which schedules as far as five years in advance, had made contingency plans for some productions during Levine's absence.

"We're changing things around going forward so that Jim ... will be as present as much as he possibly can in every season going forward," Met General Manager Peter Gelb said.

Levine's current schedule extends into 2018-19. His 25th-anniversary tribute in 1996 was an eight-hour show, and it won't be long before the Met starts thinking about plans for 2021.

"Nothing would make me happier than to be having a 50th-anniversary gala with Jimmy," Gelb said.

The opening-night "Figaro" is set in the 1920s, directed by Richard Eyre rather than Michael Grandage. Gelb said Grandage withdrew because of a scheduling conflict.

Susan Stroman makes her Met debut directing an English-language version of Lehar's operetta "The Merry Widow," opening New Year's Eve with Renee Fleming and Nathan Gunn.

A David McVicar staging of Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana" and Leoncavallo "Pagliacci" opens April 14 next year with Marcelo Alvarez in both tenor roles, replacing a Franco Zeffirelli staging that debuted in 1970 with Leonard Bernstein on the podium. The "Cav" is set in 1900 and the "Pag" in 1950 with a travelling vaudeville troupe.

While Zeffirelli's productions of Puccini's "Tosca" and Verdi's "La Traviata" and "Falstaff" also have been retired, Gelb said there are no plans to jettison Zeffirelli's "La Boheme" or "Turandot," two of the Met's more lavish stagings that are loved by many and loathed by others.

"Even though it's hard to imagine any production ever lasting forever, we have no intention of my making any changes in either of those in the foreseeable future," Gelb said.

"Klinghoffer" opens Oct. 20 in a staging that first appeared at the English National Opera in February 2012. Rossini's "La Donna Del Lago" has its Met premiere on Feb. 16 next year, starring Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Florez in a production first seen at the Santa Fe Opera last July.

Tchaikovsky's "Iolanta" will be a third Met premiere on Jan. 26, starring Anna Netrebko and paired in a double bill with Bartok's "Bluebeard's Castle," a staging that appeared in December at the Teatr Wielki-Polish National Opera.

The "Meistersinger" marks the return of Wagner to the Met after the first season at the company without the composer since anti-German sentiment following World War I.

After cutting prices by an average of about 10 per cent this season, the Met plans an increase of approximately 2 per cent for 2014-15. A Met financial filing said 79 per cent of seats were sold in 2012-13 for 69 per cent of potential box-office revenue.

"It's necessary to try to increase revenue," Gelb said. "We're doing it as gently as possible because we don't want to upset the audience, obviously. We have experienced some increase in attendance this season over last season, so we know that we need to keep the prices in a zone that people will respond to."

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