Joseph Volpe, the Metropolitan Opera‘s
general manager, is retiring in 2006. John Rockwell reflects on the implications of his departure in the New York Times:
Ever the hard-nosed administrator, he can crack the whip at recalcitrant singers and settle with the unions and placate his board and terrorize his underlings and prevent the centrifugal force of a thousand egos from spinning the Met out of control. His pleasure in his position is always evident and endearing. But can he plan repertory and oversee casting and productions with the requisite, insightful sophistication and taste?
For a long time such questions lurked half-whispered backstage. The Met was selling tickets, its huge endowment was swelled by the bubble of the late 1990’s, and [James] Levine was more of a presence than he is now. But in recent years, like so many American opera companies, the Met has fallen on relatively hard times. Relative, because the endowment, currently at $285 million, provides a comfy cushion. Deficits have run $10 million each of the last two fiscal years (although Mr. Volpe is hoping to balance the budget this year). Attendance has been down sharply, as have annual donations (with the implosion of Alberto Vilar’s pledges, to the Met and others, only part of the problem)….
Mr. Volpe is a tough guy, even (say many) a bully. So logic might dictate a smoother, tonier, more soft-spoken manager, more in line with patrician Met tradition. And maybe one with greater sophistication about the musical and dramatic side of opera.
What needs to be done? To figure out a way to fill the Met’s vast, 3,900-seat theater with artistically respectable fare; even the most conservative audiences eventually grow tired of routinely cast Franco Zeffirelli productions of “La Boh