22 Dec 2005
OPERA HOT — The Met’s fall season
by ALEX ROSS [New Yorker, 26 December 2005]
Joseph Volpe, whose sixteen-year tenure as the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera ends this season, may be remembered as a man who stayed true to his title: he managed. Performances went off with maximum efficiency, seven each week. World-class singers showed up in mostly suitable roles, and if they misbehaved they were shown the door, or at least treated brusquely. James Levine was kept happy. Electronic subtitles appeared on the backs of the seats. Modest efforts were made in the direction of fresh production styles, novel repertory, and premières—Tobias Picker’s “An American Tragedy” bowed this month—but not enough to ruffle anyone’s feather boa. Through various crises—a singer dying onstage, a bloated superstar cancelling, attendance figures falling in the wake of September 11th, a Cuban billionaire patron turning out to be neither a billionaire nor a Cuban—Volpe kept the great old house trundling along. Was he a visionary? No. Did rival American companies—particularly the San Francisco Opera, with its history-making productions of Messiaen’s “Saint Francis” and John Adams’s “Doctor Atomic”—challenge the Met’s preëminence? Yes. But the chaos that has surrounded many big houses elsewhere has been absent from the Met, and in this business the absence of chaos is a considerable achievement.