Eddie Pensier writes:
The Toughest Show On Earth: My Rise And Reign At the Metropolitan Opera Joseph Volpe and Charles Michener
Volpe was the Met’s General Manager from 1990 to 2006. In retrospect his tenure may have been conservative, but he mostly avoided the labor disputes, censorship and fondness for trashy, trendy productions that have marred the administration of his successor, Peter Gelb. Volpe wasn’t without controversy, though: he presided over two of the most infamous flops in Met history; Graham Vick’s Il Trovatore (a shockingly inept effort from a director with a normally great theatrical imagination); and Robert Wilson’s Lohengrin (say the words “minimalist Wagner” to yourself and you’ll realize how this project may have been ill-advised from the get-go)*. Volpe describes his rise to management from his early days as a carpenter, talks about his infamous firings of Kathleen Battle and Angela Gheorghiu, and gives a well-rounded look at the challenges of running an institution as massive as the Met.
The King and I: The Uncensored Tale of Luciano Pavorotti’s Rise to Fame by his Manager, Friend and Sometime Adversary Herbert Breslin and Anne Midgette
It can’t be denied: Luciano Pavarotti was created by Herbert Breslin. A brusque, canny, perma-tanned fast talker who promoted himself every bit as well as his clients, Breslin was one of the first to meld the professions of classical music manager and publicist. His unerring instinct for talent led him to notice the bumpkinish young Modenese tenor, sign him up, and turn him into the most famous opera singer since Caruso and Callas. Breslin correctly deduced that what would make Pavarotti so beloved was not his voice (magnificent) or his technique (above reproach) or his theatrical skills (negligible): it was something altogether more important, which cannot be taught—the ability to connect and speak to an audience. The book is naturally self-serving but vastly entertaining.
Cinderella and Company: Backstage at the Opera with Cecilia Bartoli Manuela Hoelterhoff
Hoelterhoff, a former Wall Street Journal critic, doesn’t spare the snark in this Bartoli bio combined with general backstage gossip-tome. Worth it merely for her account of the colossal preparations for the Met’s 25th anniverary tribute to James Levine, an eight-hour megaconcert which your humble correspondent was privileged to attend.
Molto Agitato: The Mayhem Behind the Music at the Metropolitan Opera Johanna Fiedler.
A history of the Met, from late 19th century social-climbing nouveau riches to, well, late 20th century social-climbing nouveau riches. The style is only somewhat stilted, but the point of view reads like it was dictated by the Met’s press agent (which Fiedler, in fact was). Some good yarns though, including the grim backstage murder of a violinist in the 1980s, the stormy tenures of Sir Rudolf Bing and John Dexter, and the infamous La Gioconda fiasco of 1982.
Fortissimo: Backstage at the Opera with Sacred Monsters and Young Singers William Murray
Possibly the most fun of the lot, the late Murray weaves rollicking recollections of his own youth as an amateur opera singer with the stories of the twelve young artists entering the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s intensive training program. Auditions, coachings, costume fittings, and rehearsals form part of the narrative, and Murray gives due credit to Chicagoans for their loving support of the organization.