Joseph Volpe’s tenure as General Manager at the Metropolitan is one of the most impactful in the company’s history.
Volpe, born on, July 2, 1940, stepped into the role in 1990, but he came up the ranks, working for a whopping 42 years with the company.
Here is a look at some of his biggest moments as the main man at the company.
Under Volpe’s guidance, the company added a whopping 22 works to the repertoire, more than any other manager since Giulio Gatt-Casazza, who ran the company between 1908 and 1935. Under his watch, the company featured four world premieres. He also commissioned Tan Dun’s “The First Emperor,” which premiered during the 2006-07 season. He also brought in Valery Gergiev as the Principal Guest Conductor, which allowed for the influx of new Russian repertoire.
Dealing with Difficult Artists
Perhaps no episode during his tenure showed that Volpe wanted to establish a particular culture of respect at the Metropolitan than his clash with Kathleen Battle. For years, the soprano had been an abrasive presence, mainly due to her own sense of superiority to all others. But then she came up against Volpe who eventually had enough with her. He ultimately terminated her contract with the company, essentially ending her career.
He also showed similar rigidity with Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu when he retired their contract for a new production of Verdi’s “La Traviata” in 1998. He revoked the contract after the singers refused to sign a contract, demanding to see the plans for the new production. He did not kick them out of the Met as he did with Battle, but he did show firm hand in emphasizing that the company, not the singers, came first. This was the second such incident with Gheorghiu, who had also created difficulties during a tour over wearing a wig in a production of “Carmen.”
Under Volpe’s watch, the Met created an educational project for young children of New York City schools to go to the Met, attend dress rehearsals and have direct contact with singers. He also teamed with the University of Connecticut to allow for behind-the-scenes access to the workings of the company.
One of the technological innovations of the Volpe era was the addition of “Met Titles” on opening night of the 1995-96 season. The Met was the first of the major opera houses to include an innovation with such level of sophistication, setting the standard for further developments in supertitles thereafter.
The Met’s history is littered with major labor disputes, some of which delayed the start of the scene and others which threatened to damage momentous occasions, such as the opening of the new house in Lincoln Center during the 1966-67 season.
But under Volpe’s leadership, the company did not suffer any such setbacks or drama. In fact, a labor dispute arose after Volpe left the company and he was rehired by current general manager Peter Gelb to help in the negotiations.