From Publishers Weekly
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)
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From December 1963, when Volpe joined the Metropolitan Opera as a 23-year-old carpenter, until he became general manager in 1990, he learned on the job what is needed to make an opera company run like clockwork: teamwork. But an opera company's operation resembles a battlefield, for it is fraught with constant skirmishes among the staff. Volpe was in the middle of most such skirmishes as a hands-on leader, yet success depended on each person doing his job well and everyone working together harmoniously. Still, he took definite charge to maintain harmony, as when he dismissed Kathleen Battle for disrupting rehearsals. An affable man, he notes many of his friends among singers, instrumentalists, scenic designers, benefactors, and stage staff in a memoir filled with stories, mostly uplifting, but that also attests to his paramount concern for the smoothly operating team of board, performers, production designers, stage personnel, and administrators. A penetrating and honest behind-the-scenes look at the world's most successful opera company and the battles fought to keep it on top. Alan HirschCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved