The Toughest Show on Earth
My Rise and Reign at the Metropolitan Opera
By Joseph Volpe
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307262851, 320pp.)
Publication Date: May 2, 2006
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A fascinating, anecdote-filled behind-the-scenes look at more than forty years of the highlights, successes, and day-to-day inner workings—all about productions, the divas, and backstage dramas—of New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, by Joseph Volpe, the only general manager to have risen through the ranks.
This book is the story of Volpe’s years leading up to those at the Met, from his first job as a stagehand at the Morosco Theater to the odd jobs he picked up moonlighting: setting up a searchlight or laying down a red carpet for a movie premiere, changing titles on the marquees at the Astor, Victor, and Paramount theaters. It is his Met years—from apprentice carpenter to general manager—that give us a story about New York and the business of culture. Volpe looks at the Met today, an institution full of vast egos and complicated politics, as well as its glittering past—the old Met at Thirty-ninth and Broadway, and the political and artistic intrigues that exploded around its move to Lincoln Center. With stunning candor, he writes about the general managers he worked under, including Rudolf Bing and Anthony Bliss; his own embattled rise to the top; the maneuverings of the blue-chip board; his bad-cop, good-cop collaboration with the conductor James Levine; and his masterful approach to making a family of such highly charged artist-stars as Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Teresa Stratas, and Renée Fleming, and such visionary directors as Franco Zeffirelli, Robert Wilson, and Julie Taymor.
Joseph Volpe was born in Brooklyn. He joined the Metropolitan Opera in 1964 and has been its general manager for sixteen years. He lives in New York City with his wife, the former ballet dancer Jean Anderson Volpe, and their daughter.
Charles Michener was senior editor for cultural affairs at Newsweek and senior editor at The New Yorker and has written widely on music for many publications. He collaborated with Robert Evans on The Kid Stays in the Picture and was coauthor with Peter Duchin of Ghost of a Chance.
“Engaging . . . delightful . . . A classic American success story.”
—The New York Times
“This engaging volume will delight readers for whom opera is not only an art but also an endless fount of good gossip. . . . A rarity–one of those much-ballyhooed ‘insider books’ that actually delivers the goods.” —The Washington Post Book World
“Fascinating. . . . [Volpe’s story] has the golden glow of the American dream.”
—The New York Sun
“A gripping journey of personal and professional discovery.”