The Toughest Show on Earth: My Rise and Reign at the Metropolitan Opera

Joseph Volpe, Author, Charles Michener, With with Charles Michener. Knopf $25.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-307-26285-1

In this brash, captivating memoir, Volpe, the Metropolitan Opera's outgoing general manager, writes, "[T]o be a successful leader in an opera house, you sometimes have to behave operatically." The son of a men's clothing maker, Volpe rose from being a carpenter's apprentice making scenery in 1963 to preside over the Met a few decades later. He describes a learning curve powered by ambition, shaped by mentors such as Rudolph Bing and bent by infamous conflicts, most notably with diva Kathleen Battle, whom Volpe fired. Along the way, Volpe impresses readers with numbers (the main stage of the Met is 100 feet wide, for instance), and he portrays himself as a problem-solving David overcoming various Goliaths of snobbery, budgets and ego, aiming only to keep the Met successful—and solvent. It's a cagey, entertaining strategy that allows him to sound off on topics ranging from Lincoln Center politics and the particular difficulties of staging a production to the current state of the arts in America. Volpe focuses on his achievements and his relationships with artists like Pavarotti and gives short shrift to his home life, marriages (two failed) and family, while concluding that "making opera is a job for the human spirit." Photos. (May)

Reviewed on: 03/27/2006
Release date: 05/01/2006
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-1-4000-9675-6
Open Ebook - 230 pages - 978-0-307-49837-3
Show other formats
The Best Books, Emailed Every Week
Tip Sheet!