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The Toughest Show on Earth: My Rise and Reign at the Metropolitan Opera Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 2, 2006

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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (May 2, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307262855
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307262851
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,085,133 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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 Hirsch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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See all 20 customer reviews
Quite a story, and quite a person!
Marie Lamb
Hence, this book is delightful and I strongly recommend it to all and especially, if not exclusively, to opera lovers.
M. Kirouack
Volpe came to love opera while working at the Met.
Craig Matteson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Opera is dramatic and bigger than life on stage and back stage. Now we learn about all the drama that also goes on in managing the Metropolitan Opera, the largest opera company in the world and an arts organization that puts on more opera performances each year than any other company on earth. Its budget is more than $200 million for something like 240 performances per year. I was quite surprised to read how the monies to fund this huge budget are raised. No, it isn't the government, corporate, or even the richest donors that provide the bulk of the money as I had suspected.

The 2005-2006 budget was $221 million. The Box Office receipts were $101 million, the endowment of $300 million provided another $18 million, parking and commons revenues provided $10 million, and the support from the Federal, State, and City governments was only $375,000! Where does the other $92 million come from each year? 125,000 private donors, 2/3 of whom live outside New York City, provide donations ranging from $60 to more than $500,000 and total $80 million. The 300 members of the Metropolitan Opera Club provide another half-million, and the board members each provide substantial contributions to the met each year. I found this fascinating and quite a different mix than I had expected.

The author, Joseph Volpe, has run the Met for the past 16 seasons, but has worked at the met for more than four decades. He joined as a carpenter and worked his way up from the back of the house to operations. While he showed great skill in getting the shows on stage, he was passed over more than once for the job of Managing Director because of his blue collar background. But after floundering through some poor appointments, Volpe got the job.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By C. M Mills on May 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Joe Volpe is an American success story! Volpe was Brooklyn born; street tough and eager to learn! In over 40 years at the

Met he has arisen from carpenter to the general manager position.

After 16 years at the company GM this talented on hands leader will officially "retire" at the end of 2005-2006 season.

Volpe's book charts his rise to the top of the Metropolitan opera as this tough, sometimes abrasive but always honest impressario opens the doors of the Met at Lincoln Center to give

us a seat at the world's greatest opera house!

I devoured this book in two days as I learned of the way the Met functions; union negotiations and the quirks and perks of the operatic figures whom Volpe has worked with over the years.

The chapter on Pavarotti and Domingo was outstanding. Volpe's

firing of Kathleen Battle is discussed and the reasons for her

dismissal were warranted!

I turned to this book after listening to Volpe's review of his career on the Met broadcast during this past year. Even if

someone was unfamiliar with the arcane and forbidding world of

opera for the neophyte this book is a winner!

Bravo Senor Volpe! Thank you from an opera fan in Knoxville for your years of outstanding service to our beloved Met!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jon Hunt on July 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Joseph Volpe's "The Toughest Show on Earth" is a remarkably comprehensive look at the recent history of the Metropolitan Opera as told through the eyes of the retiring general manager, himself. Volpe has the best "view" in the house and no wonder...he's been there for over forty years.

From the start it's clear that Joe Volpe is not a man to be crossed lightly. Tough as nails (and nails were part of his business) he rises from an entry level position to the top job...and reveals much along the way. There's just enough "dirt" in this book to tickle the senses of the reader and anyone who has ever been in opera knows exactly what Volpe order to be associated with opera personalities it is sometimes required to act like one.

The longest chapter in "The Toughest Show" is devoted to Volpe's firing of Kathleen Battle and one can just see the steam building in the author's ears as he amasses stories of misbehavior on the part of the "embattled" diva over a period of years. Finally, he acts, much to the delight of the cast and crew. It's a juicy chapter and one of the best in the book. While Volpe offers reflections on just about anyone with whom he has come in contact, he reserves the nicest comments for conductor James Levine and (whom he calls the "Siamese Twins") tenors Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo. Without these three would there be a present-day Metropolitan Opera?

There are occasional bouts of self-serving given over to by the author and often he feels a need to defend himself based on some past controversial decisions, (which I found rather astounding given the fact that he is departing the scene) but what makes "The Toughest Show" such a wonderful book is the comprehensiveness of the Met story.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Stephanie Pierson on May 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
You don't have to be an opera love to love this book. Mr. Volpe is a great story-teller and what stories and backstage drama there is. This is a book that combines brilliant business insight with an amazing personal success story. It offers an insider's look at the stage of the world's best opera house and a backstage tour of divas and dramas. It's got something for everyone and Mr. Volpe's story is both candid and compelling. You feel like you have the best seat in the house after you finish reading this book. And I am waiting for an encore!
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