He still presides for more evenings than anyone else, of course, and deserves credit even when not for building the remarkable orchestra. But by my count, three of the five annual local operatic highlights were such because of -- not merely with -- his conducting: Clemenza, Falstaff, and -- and I'm with Maury in reckoning this the event of the past year -- as great a performance of Cosi as I may ever see. (Sans Levine came Don Carlo and An American Tragedy.) Nor did any visiting conductor show off the Met Orchestra in some novel and remarkable glory, as Christian Thielemann so memorably did in 2001's Die Frau Ohne Schatten. (The much-praised Fabio Luisi I found too unsympathetic to the singers and unwilling to let the orchestra phrase; perhaps he'll show better after the long rehearsal of a new production.)
Levine has of course been conducting these three operas for decades. Has he changed?
Without a vertical comparison of broadcasts and in-house tapes, I don't think I can give anything like a complete answer. But it seems to me that while Levine has remained, in essence, who he is -- a conductor first interested in regularity and quality of sound, and therefore endlessly frustrating to listeners mostly listening for something else (dramatic effect, the ebb and flow of time, romantic refinement of gesture, and/or whatever) -- his maturity has, as it's done for many, allowed him to incorporate some amount of other, antithetical qualities into his work as well. The top-down architectural view he likes to take has come to embrace more and more life-giving detail and phrasing, making him, among other things, a great Mozartean. -- I now wish I hadn't skipped last February's unexcitingly-cast Figaros.
The recent New York Magazine profile of Levine doesn't, I think, shed much new light on him or his development, but it touches on both the recent Clemenza and Falstaff as well as more general matters. It's worth a read.
I'm sure it reflects on my taste and manner of experiencing opera that the most memorable singers' performances of the year came on nights that I wouldn't count among an overall top five. Nevertheless I shouldn't let this sort of post go by without mentioning Marcelo Alvarez in Manon, Sondra Radvanovsky in Cyrano (which returns this month), and Giuseppe Filianoti in Lucia. They themselves were easily worth the price of a ticket.