Kaplan Welcome back to “Mad About Music” where today we explore the remarkable story of the man who runs the Metropolitan Opera, Joseph Volpe.
Kaplan And can there be a more remarkable story in the world of opera? He arrived at the Met as an apprentice carpenter in 1964 and over the next 26 years held every job open to him as, against all odds, he battled his way to the top. And in 1990, he became the boss, the general manager, a position he has held for 16 years, overseeing an institution that today has a budget of more than $200 million and presents 240 performances of some 30 operas. During his “reign” – the word he chooses to describe his tenure in his just-published, and I should add, fascinating memoir, The Toughest Show on Earth – some extraordinary things have happened. I'll explain just two:
The Met Orchestra with Music Director James Levine, always viewed as competent, came to be regarded as one of the finest orchestras in the world. The endowment, always a measure of both management and financial savvy, tripled and today stands at $300 million. Along the way, he burnished his reputation as a tough – some have said too tough – no-nonsense manager. And now, after 42 years, as he plans to step down, he himself wonders whether in his unrelenting focus on the bottom line, the Met has not been sufficiently adventurous. Today we explore his story along with the music he has come to learn and to love. Joseph Volpe, welcome to “Mad About Music.”
Volpe Gil, I'm delighted to be here today. One of the reasons is, I've never really had the opportunity to be on this show, and now that I'm making my exit from the Metropolitan Opera, this seems like something that would also cap my retirement from the Met.
Kaplan Well, we've never had such flattery about the show before, but thank you very much. But it must be a very heady time for you. I just extolled your considerable accomplishments in my introduction, and later this month there'll be a huge gala farewell in your honor with other people saying, I suppose, some wonderful things. So, in the midst of all this, I suppose I would not be exaggerating to say you must have been somewhat surprised, maybe even disappointed, to hear your successor, Peter Gelb, say that during your tenure the Met had sort of missed the boat – I think his words were, “became artistically isolated.”
Volpe I think there were two things that were said. One was, “artistically isolated,” and the other was, the Metropolitan Opera was “coasting.” I spoke to Peter about that as soon as I read it, not to get in a big debate about it, but I said to Peter that I think in selling the Met – and Peter is a great salesman – I think it's important to stay focused on what he will be doing, and not critiquing what has been done in the past, because a conversation such as that would end up only in – would become a debate, and quite frankly, “artistically isolated” when you consider what's been done at the Met during my tenure, or “coasting” are not the words that I would agree with. But I didn't wish to have a big debate. I only said, “Just don't do it again.”
Kaplan In your calm and encouraging way.
Volpe Very calm.
Kaplan We'll return to the future of the Met a bit later in the show. But let's now focus on music. And of course, opera has been at the center of your life every day, practically every night in the hall. When did you first encounter opera?
Volpe My Sicilian grandmother, who spoke no English, would baby sit for me and my sister when my parents went out, and she had one recording. The recording was Cavalleria Rusticana. Now, for some reason, my grandmother would station me in the living room and not my sister. My sister would be doing other things. I was the one grandchild that she focused on with opera, which I find today quite interesting. So, we would have these 78 records, and she would be sitting in a straight-back chair – you can imagine an old Sicilian grandmother never slouching – and so, we would start playing the record, and my job, of course, was to turn over the 78. And so, for the longest time, I sat there really resenting the fact that I had to be there, because I could be doing other things. I was always a youngster who was on the move. But then, after a while, I myself found that I became attached to this particular piece. So, it was the beginning and the first opportunity I had to listen to a great opera.
Kaplan An excerpt from Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, sung by Renata Tebaldi with the Florence Maggio Musicale Orchestra and Chorus, led by Alberto Erede. The first selection of my guest on “Mad About Music” today, the General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, Joseph Volpe, soon to conclude a remarkable 42-year career. His first selection, perhaps his first childhood memory of opera, when he was assigned the task of putting on a recording of this opera for his grandmother. Now, from your book, which we discussed earlier in my introduction, it would appear that opera, the music and the performance, didn't really reappear in your life until you went to the Met as a carpenter and set builder, and noticed one day as you wandered into the hall there was actually music going on there.
Volpe W e had the Cavalleria experience with my grandmother. But from that point on, although my mother loved opera, my father would not be found in an opera house, and he was at Madison Square Garden watching the fights on 49th Street – it was not until I went to the Met that day to repair scenery on stage when Birgit Nilsson and Corelli were rehearsing Turandot, Act II, and quite frankly, the experience for me was one that immediately caused me to love the art form, because first, I did not understand how it was possible to sing and project in the old Met without amplification. As a matter of fact, I raised a question with the foreman of the shop, and he was with me, and I said, “Where are the microphones?” And he said, “No, no, no, this is the Metropolitan Opera.” I mean, if you recall, Nilsson and Corelli in Turandot, I mean that was a contest. When Nilsson, when she was singing “In Questa reggia,” I recall saying to him, “She was singing ‘In Quest of Something,' Charlie, I don't know what.” But I just couldn't get over it. So I said, “Let's go into the front and listen.” And there was a security guard on the door, and he said, “Where are you going?” And I said, “We're going to go out. We're from the shop, we're going to fix a door.” So we sat and watched the rest of Act II. Walking back to the shop, I said to Charlie Perin, the foreman, I said, “You know, there's a lot more to opera than just building scenery.” And that was the time that I really started to become involved and love opera.
Kaplan A charming and wonderful story, but curiously this is the only story in your book where you talk about music. There is no mention at all of music you must have discovered during your career at the Met and no mention of your emotional response to it.
Volpe I recall Franco Zeffirelli once saying, and I remember this was a dress rehearsal of his new production of Bohème, I looked at him and he had tears coming down his cheeks, and I was crying also, and he made some comment, “this very tough man, and to see tears coming down” – showed a different side of me – a side, by the way, that not many have seen, only because of my background, and my father was one who said men did not cry. So, at funerals – and he was the head of the family – typical Italian family – so there were certain emotions that would be very difficult for me to share. So maybe that's why I don't go into my emotions with music, or have not over the past years.
Kaplan Well then, let's relive your first encounter with the legendary Birgit Nilsson and Franco Corelli in Turandot .
Kaplan An excerpt from “In questa reggia” from Puccini's Turandot , sung by soprano Birgit Nilsson and tenor Franco Corelli with the Rome Opera Orchestra and Chorus under the baton of Francesco Molinari-Pradelli. A work always in the memory of my guest today on “Mad About Music,” the General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, Joseph Volpe. As he just told it, and describes in colorful detail in his newly-published memoir, The Toughest Show on Earth , shortly after joining the Met as an apprentice carpenter, he one day wandered out into the hall during a rehearsal and encountered the glorious strands of Turandot . Understandably, most of Joseph Volpe's selections today are from opera, but when we return, we'll be discussing Beethoven and a man often regarded as perhaps the greatest conductor ever.
Kaplan This is Gilbert Kaplan with my guest on today's edition of “Mad About Music,” the General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, Joseph Volpe. So, hearing Turandot then, for you, was like experiencing a new production, even a new commission today. And here we come back to Peter Gelb's future plans for the Met, which include increasing new productions from four a year to seven a year, and commissioning many more new operas. Now, from a consumer's point of view, this might be exciting. But is this sound financially?
Volpe Yes, I think doing more new productions will help increase the box office, because there's always excitement about new productions. Doing world commissions, I do not believe, has the same effect, because the Met audience today really – they're quite conservative. So, I think it's questionable. I think, yes, if one is going to try to attract a new audience, it's surely worth the experiment if you can finance it. But I think that Peter does have this challenge ahead of him, and he's trying with all of his creativity and energy to find ways to make it work, so I congratulate him for that, and my hope is he will be successful.
Kaplan Well, before the break, I mentioned we would be discussing perhaps the most famous conductor of our time, but before, let's talk about guest conductors at the Met. I mean, you're familiar with this, I'm sure, that for years there's been a continual comment that, “Why aren't the bigger names conducting there?” And it was thought they weren't invited. Now, I know this is perhaps Jimmy Levine's department more than yours, but here again, Peter Gelb has announced Riccardo Muti, Daniel Barenboim, Esa-Pekka Salonen – all of a sudden have agreed to show up. Do you feel there was enough attention paid in the past to try to attract such people?
Volpe First off, it is my department, in addition with Jimmy. Daniel Barenboim is coming to the Metropolitan Opera because I was the one that worked out an agreement with him to come to the Met and do Tristan, so that was before Peter's time. I think we have paid attention. You'll recall that Valery Gergiev became the principal guest conductor for the very reason we wanted to have top-level conductors at the Met. And it's interesting that Daniel is going to do a revival. He's doing a revival because of his schedule, and the amount of time that he would have to give for a new production just wouldn't work. It's always been a challenge to get top-level guest conductors, but it's always been one of our high priorities.
Kaplan But then let's talk about a very high-profile outstanding conductor who lives in the neighborhood, Lorin Maazel, Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, but also regarded as one of the foremost opera conductors in the world. Four years ago, when he was appointed to the New York Philharmonic, he appeared on “Mad About Music,” and I took the opportunity of asking him whether he at least would have an interest in conducting at the Met. Well, I'd like you to listen to our little bit of conversation about this.
Maazel Well, I last conducted there in 1961…
Kaplan That seems a long time …
Maazel Which is some years ago. For one reason or another, my opera experience has been in other houses and I've certainly had a lot of it, in fact at one point I was conducting almost nothing but opera, as you know.
Kaplan But you would welcome an invitation?
Maazel I love to conduct opera and if the opera is right and it seems – I'm even writing an opera, so you can imagine how much I love it – I certainly wouldn't say no. But you can't invite yourself, can you?
Kaplan So, Lorin Maazel at least certainly indicated he was open to the idea, but it never happened.
Volpe So I believe I heard Lorin say that, “I certainly wouldn't say no, but you can't invite yourself, can you?”
Kaplan That's what he said.
Volpe I invited Lorin Maazel to come to the Metropolitan Opera. Jimmy was going to conduct a revival of our new production of Salome with Karita [Mattila], and in working on Jimmy's schedule, we decided that this is a piece with Karita that possibly we could attract a high-level conductor, and I spoke to Lorin Maazel about it, and I also sent him a letter, and he responded by saying, “Oh well, Mr. Volpe, thank you so very much for inviting me to the Metropolitan Opera. You make me feel young, young again, because I haven't done a revival of an opera in many, many years.
Kaplan He expected a new production.
Volpe He expected a new production. And of course, his schedule was relatively tight also. This went back and forth a few times, and I think it ended up by my saying, “Well, I'm so happy that I could make you feel young again, and maybe when you're a little older you'll wish to come back and conduct at the Met – conduct a revival at the Met.” Something of that nature. So, it was all very pleasant, but obviously, he wanted to be involved. He wanted to choose the directors, the designers, the piece. And that's something that we haven't done – not during my term.
Kaplan All right. Well then, let's talk about this mysterious conductor I keep talking about as perhaps the foremost conductor of our time. It's Carlos Kleiber, a name opera lovers will all know, but I suspect the public doesn't know too much. But I would say that if I were to pick one of the highlights of your tenure at the Met, great achievements, and whatever role you played in it, it was getting him to agree to come and conduct.
Volpe Carlos Kleiber has an extremely limited opera repertoire, and that's the way he wished to run his life. The first opera that he conducted, I believe was the Rosenkavalier , which Jimmy was scheduled to conduct. Jimmy, of course, is criticized for hogging all of the good works. And Jimmy willingly said, “Joe, if Carlos Kleiber will conduct, I will gladly step down.” Which he did. So, a wonderful conductor, and by far, in my mind, one of the best opera conductors in the world. There was a situation where we were doing a new production of Traviata , and our cellist said to the maestro, he said, “Oh, Maestro, that's not the way Verdi wanted it to be played.” And Carlos didn't say a word. He finished the rehearsal, exited the pit, and said, “It's very simple, if you want your cellist to conduct, he can, because I will leave. If you want me to conduct, he will leave.” And so, I took care of that.
Kaplan If I could just add a personal footnote to that, because I was in the audience when he did his first rehearsals at the Met. And one of the things that I found remarkable – and it shows the leaps and bounds that Jimmy Levine wanted to go through to make sure he was comfortable – it was Jimmy Levine who was running around the floor listening to balances for another conductor. That doesn't happen too often. In picking Kleiber, though, I noticed you have not picked him conducting an opera.
Volpe Correct. The piece that he conducts, which I think is the best ever conducted, is the Beethoven Symphony No. 5 and I always have a picture of Kleiber, can be a dancer, if you watch the way he's on the podium. Kleiber can do anything. But then, listening to the Beethoven, I mean, that's something that you would just put your feet up, lean back, and just float off listening to Kleiber conducting that piece.
Kaplan The First Movement from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony . The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra led by Carlos Kleiber, a work chosen by my guest today on “Mad About Music,” the General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, Joseph Volpe. Let's talk about your famous operating style as a general manager. You recount in your book very colorful language. You print it yourself, so I think I can read it describing you as a very tough cookie. “Met Man You Don't Mess With,” said one headline. Another – “A Boss as Tough as the Nails He Pounded.” Another – I think this is the Financial Times – “Theater Manager from Hell.” But then you go on to say in the book, this is simply an exaggeration.
Volpe In the press, of course, they want to sell newspapers. And anytime over my 16 years of general manager, when the press interviewed singers and the singers would say glowing things about me, of course they would never make the press, because they don't really want to hear about glowing things. They want to hear about conflicts. But I pride myself on the relationship that I've had with the artists in the Metropolitan Opera, whether it be a major artist, a chorister, a ballet dancer, or the children's chorus, quite frankly. My role is to create an atmosphere and support them so they can perform at their best. Yes, there are those rare occasions when one has to put a little pressure on people to do things and do things in a way that you want them, and do them quickly. It's not the corporate world. The curtain has to go up at 8 o'clock . So, I have developed this reputation. Part of the reputation is one that I made myself; but no, I think in most cases, I am really quite well-rounded, but that's what I'm being remembered for, which is not a problem for me at all.
Kaplan But I wonder if you haven't encouraged this a little bit even with the cover of your book. That is one mean “don't mess with me” photograph, I think.
Volpe Gilbert, you know why I look that way? I have a picture of Gatti-Casazza, and he has his lower lip sticking out. I've only found in my entire search one photo of Gatti-Casazza smiling. So, I thought, wouldn't it be fun just to do that on the book cover?
Kaplan Well, you succeeded.
Volpe Well, thank you. By the way, you didn't mention the name of my book.
Kaplan Well, I was going to come to that. I was going to repeat it for the audience, because the title of the book, The Toughest Show on Earth , I wondered if that was a clever way of having a double meaning. Is it the Met, or are you the “toughest show on earth”?
Volpe Well, I think I'll leave that for the reader, and then when they finish the book they can decide.
Kaplan Well, for those few of our listeners who might not read your book, I should point out that the man you say was the inspiration for your photo on the book's jacket was Giulio Gatti-Casazza, one of the Met's most remarkable general managers who arrived in 1908 from Italy's La Scala and brought with him Arturo Toscanini. Well, in your discussions about relationships with singers, one sort of off-the-track question I wanted to ask you about is Karita Mattila. You mentioned her a few times. She, of course, was big news at the Met for her performance in Salome, but also because of her willingness to appear nude, which some singers have done before her, but it was very dramatic, only a few seconds. And then in the book, you recount a story that the photographer from The New York Times had taken a picture of her nude, and you quickly insisted – it was a digital camera, I think – that she erase it. And so, you were determined this wouldn't happen. And then, all of a sudden, on page 137 of your own book, there is the photograph.
Volpe And you want me to explain that.
Kaplan I want to know if that's being even-handed.
Volpe Very even-handed. When the production was in rehearsal, there was never a discussion between the director, Karita, or myself, about her stripping down to be completely nude, ever. That was entirely Karita's decision. The reason that I stopped The New York Times' photographer is because I did not want that photo to appear in the newspaper. Now, it is in my book because Karita Mattila agreed.
Volpe I called her, and I said, “Karita, I'm writing my book, and I would very much like to use the picture of you when you are completely nude.” And she said to me, “Joe, first, I trust your judgment. You have good taste. It's entirely up to you.” I was very concerned about the televising her in the nude because when the new production opened and the press all over the world had photographs of her in her stripped-down position, she was quite upset because her relatives from home were just talking about her breasts, she told me, so she was very upset about that. So when it came to the television, I said, “Karita, you know, we can edit that out. We don't have to do that.” And she said, “Don't you dare.” And I said, “Well, what about your relatives?” She said, “The hell with the relatives.”
Kaplan All right. Well, let's come down to another relationship of yours, which I think has been a very personal one and a long-standing one, as I discovered in reading your book, and that's Luciano Pavarotti.
Volpe Well, Luciano, of course – our relationship is very special. He made his debut in 1968 when I was the master carpenter, and over the years we've known each other all of these years, and we always spent a lot of time, and he always spent a lot of time talking to the stagehands and the crew. But the moment that I remember is, Luciano was rehearsing and I was in my office, and Luciano called and said, “What are you doing?” I said, “What do you mean, what am I doing? I'm in my office. I'm doing some work.” He said, “Well, I have some time. Could you come down to the dressing room?” I said, “Of course.” So, I went down to the dressing room, and he was sitting there, and I sat down. I said, “What's going on?” He said, “You know, Joe, I don't have a lot of man friends.” He said, “I don't really have anybody to talk to.” This was the time that he was going through his divorce. His daughters were really somewhat cold to him. And he wanted to talk about his personal life and his personal relationship. And he did that. And we had a long conversation about it. And I walked away thinking, “Here is one of the greatest superstars in the world – a person that steps off an airplane and everybody worships, or runs after, and yet he's in a position where he doesn't have anyone to talk to.” And I thought that was very sad. So, I've gone out of my way in recent years to try to be supportive and closer, even now, when he's not singing at the Metropolitan Opera. And the music that I selected today, the aria from Act I of Bohème, will really show and really shows Luciano at his best.
Kaplan An excerpt from Puccini's La Bohème , sung by Luciano Pavarotti with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Herbert von Karajan. A work selected by my guest on “Mad About Music” today, the General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, Joseph Volpe, to highlight his rich and vivid memories of collaborating with this remarkable tenor. When we return, we'll hear and talk about one of the most famous love duets in opera.
Kaplan This is Gilbert Kaplan with my guest on “Mad About Music,” the General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, Joseph Volpe, on glide path to retiring after 42 remarkable years on the staff and then running the Met. You can read the full inside story in Joseph Volpe's just-published memoir, The Toughest Show on Earth . Now, talking about relationships, let's discuss your relationship with James Levine, the Music Director of the Met. In your book you mentioned that your first official act after becoming general manager was to cancel a production, a production that Maestro Levine really had his heart set on doing. I suppose that wasn't a great way to start.
Volpe Well, it was my first challenge as general manager. Jimmy very much wanted to do this new production of Magic Flute with Werner Herzog. It was a production that I felt would not work, and so, the question is, how could I deal with that without upsetting Jimmy? The decision came within the first week of my position as general manager. What was interesting was, in the conversation with Jim, as much as he wanted to do it, as much as he felt that Werner Herzog would deliver a great production, he understood. But that was the challenge because I didn't want to upset Jimmy in any way, particularly so early on in our relationship.
Kaplan Well, you know, in musical areas, there are some areas he has the final authority, and therefore you have to really discuss with him. Many people who have observed your collaboration have mentioned the challenge of your very different communicating styles, you being “Mr. Decisive” and James Levine being “Mr. Reflective.” Now, one of your colleagues told me that you became frustrated once when you couldn't get a decision from Maestro Levine, so you sent him a memo with multiple choice options, which he returned having checked all the options. Is that true?
Volpe I don't recall. I know I sent Jimmy a memo saying, regarding a casting question when he was away, that, “Jim I think this is what we should be doing, and if I don't hear from you within a few days, I will assume you have agreed.” That's the memo that I recall. But Jimmy and I, over these years, have had an incredible relationship, and we have agreed on all matters 99% of the time. So, we've had a great relationship. Yes, sometimes it is difficult because Jim wants to keep his options open, and I imagine if I was a musician, why wouldn't you?” But in the case of being the general manager, where you have to get the show on the road, you have to make these decisions.
Kaplan Well, then let's break from opera for a moment, because we've come to that part of the show we call the “Wildcard,” where you have a chance to select music from outside the classical or opera genre, and we can have examples of almost every style of music that different guests have picked. So, surprise us and tell us what your “Wildcard” is today.
Volpe My “Wildcard” is a song by Johnny Ace, and the name of the song is “Pledging My Love.” Johnny Ace was a rock and roll singer who died in Houston in 1954 just before a concert started. About five minutes before the curtain went up, they heard a gunshot go off, and it seemed he was playing Russian Roulette in his dressing room. But the one song that was popular, “Pledging My Love,” then became one of the biggest hits in the rock and roll world back in those days. And, by the way, I want you to know that on New Year's Eve – we had a New Year's Eve party at the Met for the entire company on the Grand Tier – and I made my singing debut singing “Pledging My Love.”
Kaplan Johnny Ace singing his signature song, “Pledging My Love,” the “Wildcard” selection of my guest on “Mad About Music” today, the General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, Joseph Volpe, who made his own Met debut singing this work, not on the stage, of course, but still before the entire company on the Grand Tier on one New Year's Eve. Now, as I concentrated on your considerable achievements in my introduction, I would be remiss if I didn't ask you about regrets, things you would like to have done.
Volpe I think that there are regrets. I don't think there's one specific one that I could put my finger on. I think, when you consider what the Met could have presented – new productions we could have presented – the idea of the concerts in Carnegie Hall that could have been going on for so many more years. But I always would keep my eye on the bottom line, and I don't say that I regret that, but I think there are so many other things we could do. I mean, capturing wonderful performances on television, which we never did. Taking a little bit more of a gamble. But I didn't do that.
Kaplan Let's come back to your music, and your next selection is the love duet from Verdi's Otello. Sung by Plácido Domingo and Renée Fleming.
Volpe Renée Fleming is so very special to me. She made her debut when – in my first year, and then of course we did the Ghosts of Versailles and we became very close. Renée, watching her grow and watching her career – in some respects I love to take credit for some of that. But I recall, we were doing the new production of Marriage of Figaro , Renée was going through a very difficult time, and at the end of the rehearsal she left the Met and was driving home and had a car accident on 79th Street, and she was really shook up and called, and said, “Joe, I don't know what I'm going to do.” So immediately I got a car service to take her home, and I said, “Renée, I don't want you to drive. You have too much on your mind. There's too much pressure.” So I made sure that we would pick her up every day in Connecticut and bring her to the Met and take her home. And she just couldn't get over that, that I had the care and consideration for her. That's my job. My job is to support the singers and have an environment where they can perform at their best. Renée and I today are very close, and I know that the one thing that I cherish with Renee is her friendship.
Kaplan Well, let's then return to your final musical choice which I see does feature Renée Fleming. I don't know, ending your appearance today with a love duet, well, you might just actually wind up convincing a few people you really are a sappy sentimentalist after all. So, tell us about your next selection.
Volpe The next selection is the duet in Act I of Otello, and one of the reasons I chose that is because I have this very vivid picture of Plácido Domingo and Renée Fleming performing it on the Met stage, and when one talks about emotion, or one talks about “what I feel,” I found that to be so enchanting and lovely. I mean, to me, it was heartbreaking. The way they performed it, the way they looked onstage, and it's something that I could listen to forever and ever.
Kaplan An excerpt from a love duet from Act I of Verdi's Otello sung by Plácido Domingo and Renée Fleming, with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra led by its music director, James Levine, a partner for many decades with my guest on today's edition of “Mad About Music,” the General Manager of the Met, Joseph Volpe. As we conclude our show today, all that's left is for you to provide full confession and reveal maybe a hidden fantasy I suspect you must have – to be on the stage itself. And if I'm right, what role would you most like to play?
Volpe My immediate reaction is, there are two roles. The first, of course, is Wotan. How could it not be Wotan? The second, for fun, would be Scarpia. Of course, I wouldn't want to end up dying in that particular position, but I think those are the two roles not only would I like to perform, but given my vocal category, it could be that I could perform them.
Kaplan How about Mephistopheles from Faust ?
Volpe Oh, no!
Kaplan And what about the ultimate power job? How about replacing Maestro Levine? Become a conductor?
Volpe No. Quite frankly, I can only do things that I am very comfortable with, and I know that's something that I would not do well.
Kaplan Okay, but one final question – before you talked about regrets, things you might have done, but didn't. What about a mistake you've made. Looking back now, is there something you wish you hadn't done?
Volpe As I look back now, where my reputation of being a bully – we had the Guild luncheon yesterday. I was honored at the Metropolitan Opera Guild luncheon, and Renée paid tribute to me, and she used the word “bully.” But she explained why she said that. We were sitting in my office – Renée, her agent, and my artistic people – discussing her future, and I had agreed we would produce new productions for Renée. One was Il Pirata, Rodelinda, and she was very excited about that. But her agent was not willing to commit for a longer period of time to do revivals. So, I slammed my hand on the desk and stood up, and I said, “If Renée cannot give us time for revivals in addition to the new productions, then there will be no new productions.” And she said yesterday that she kind of sat back in her chair and was somewhat startled and frightened, but then realized that what I was doing was the best for the Met and in many ways the best for her, because just to spend a short time in New York and do new productions would not really promote her career and help her career.
Kaplan That's a good story, but it's not a mistake, I don't think.
Volpe No, but the mistake was, coming out of the meeting, the reputation of being somewhat of a bully, because I guess I could have been somewhat ...
Volpe Softer, but quite frankly, who has time for that?
Kaplan Well, you have certainly lived up to your reputation for candor today. Joseph Volpe, you've been a wonderful guest and have given us fresh insight into your unique career and into the drama behind the curtain at the Met. This is Gilbert Kaplan for “Mad About Music.”