In the rear of the gold curtains of the world-famous Metropolitan Opera in New York City, in the midst of the decorations all over the place, and labyrinth of managerial offices, the Met has been undertaking its activities in absolute privacy until Johanna Fiedler, who served as the Met’s general press representative for one and half decades, uncovered its secrets in Molto Agitato: The Mayhem Behind the Music at the Metropolitan Opera.
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Johanna, the daughter of Arthur Fiedler, the long time conductor of the Boston Pops, now dead, draws from her insider’s knowledge of the traditional secrecy of the Met and strikingly illustrates for the first time the intricate inner dealings that are responsible for the success of the company.
In this astonishingly amusing description of the tumultuous history of the Met, Fiedler reveals that politics, aspiration, and outsized egos have conventionally taken the center stage along with a number of the world’s richest music, which have always characterized the activities of the Met.
The author details the company’s early years as a home for various great performers such as Toscanini and Mahler, and provides captivating stories of the middle years in which arrogant blue-bloods confronted the obstinate management with the intention of taking over the running of the company, which would come out to be the world-famous Metropolitan Opera. Fiedler takes her readers behind the scenes in years that are more recent as well and illustrates what would emerge as America’s premiere opera.
In addition, the author depicts how various legends such as Luciano Pavarotti and Kathleen Battle have made amazing performances at the Met. Nonetheless, the main intriguing aspects are the author’s descriptions of James Levin and Joseph Volpe and their career developments to positions of management within the company. Levine joined the company as prodigy and rose to the position of artistic director.
And, Volpe progressed from being a stagehand to the highly-secretive company’s general manager. More so, the author also reveals the once strained relationship between the two influential people in the company that was compounded by Volpe’s much exposed dismissal of the soprano Kathleen Battle.
The book presents an inside look at the dirty business of operating the America’s premiere opera house, or that is, the happenings during the management of Rudolf Bing, Anthony Bliss and Joseph Volpe. As much as the author has been condemned for giving a rubbishy scandalous yellow journalism content in writing the book, it is factual and raw and it is written in an intuitive, clever, human and mannered fashion which makes it not be offensive or without meaning.
Actually, reading the book opens the eyes of the reader regarding the myths he or she can have about opera as well as the artists in the field as it uncovers truths behind the illusions one might have above Opera business by illustrating personal, economic, and artistic struggles that characterize the running of the tricky business.
Miss Fiedler is a humorous, intelligent writer who maintains the pace of the story through her vivid explanations on the happenings at the Metropolitan Opera (Fiedler, 1). And, even though she has some clear likes and dislikes amongst the superstars and the office and behind the scenes employees, she usually conveys her thoughts on the back burner and attempts, most of the time effectively, to portray the realities of the situation.
In the inside look at the operations of the Met, Fiedler uncovers some interesting happenings in the lives of everyone who participates in the world of opera. These participants are, but not limited to, singers, producers, and artistic directors. It is astonishing at the revelation that the gifted tenor Placido Domingo actually was envious of the singing of Luciano Povaratti.
This made them to quarrel at one time even before the participation of Jose Carreras was included. Worse still, Carreras, too, similar to Domingo and Pavoratti, was not faithful in his marriage at one time; therefore, this expose´ reveals the fallible nature of The Three Tenors. It is a bit sad to learn about the laziness, hypocrisy, and selfishness of the leading male voices in the renowned Opera.
On the other hand, as the book reveals, some of the sopranos also had their own issues. Kathleen Battle, different from the commendable behavior of the black singers, did not conduct herself in a professional manner. In most cases, she was not punctual during rehearsals and she never listened to the advice of the costumers and her fellow artists. Consequently, as pointed above, she was dismissed from the Opera in 1994.
Her dismissal was also prompted by two separate incidences in which she behaved unfairly to Rosalinda Elias and Carol Vanness. In addition, Renata Scotto behavior was also not commendable. She never had a good voice to sing in front of people. More over, she ruined herself by attempting to imitate the singing of Maria Callas.
In the book, the conflicts that always existed between the directors and the singers form a considerable portion of it. At one time, Rudolf Bing, threatened to dismiss Maria Callas because of some minor disagreements in opinion. Rudolf also prevented Beverly Sills from staging a performance at the Opera. However, he only permitted her to perform later in her career once he thought that her singing had reached the standards of the time. In 1980, the gifted musician Helen Hagnes was forcefully raped and later killed in cold blood by unknown people.
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Shockingly, inquiry into the incident indicated that a number of individuals were using the rear wings and concealed rooms of the Met for having sex and abusing drugs. It is interesting to note that the presentations of Verdi Macbeth are never staged at the Opera since they are “cursed,” and in two different occasions, misfortune and terror were witnessed.
Sadly, Fiedler reveals that at one time a man committed suicide because of the frustrations he was getting at the Met. All these incidences, and others, were happening behind the scenes of the successful world-famous Metropolitan Opera.
In conclusion, the fitting title of the book, molto agitato, is an Italian phrase that means “very troubled” while its subtitle says it all: The Mayhem Behind the Music at the Metropolitan Opera. The book does not talk about music or opera but it draws from the goldmine of the author’s vast experience to present to the readers the incompetence of the company’s management over several decades since it started doing business.
Detailing the personalities who have shaped the company from its initial stages in the late nineteenth century to currently, the book is a feast for the readers who are curious to know the dirt behind the golden curtain in the running of the New York City’s Metropolitan Opera.
Fiedler, Johanna. Molto Agitato: The Mayhem Behind the Music at the Metropolitan Opera. New York: Anchor, 2003. Print.