Molto Agitato: The Mayhem Behind the Music at the Metropolitan Opera

by Johanna Fiedler

In the early days, the Metropolitan Opera was likened to Edith
Wharton's "Lost New York," as the boxholders were the affluent
superrich. Everything was aimed toward their taste: the schedules,
the operas, and the seating. I am reminded of the comedy "The
Producers" and the line, "Something for everyone, a comedy

Operas give us characters, personalities, drama, and comedy,
productions, pageantry, tragedy, and incredible music. The Met has
given New York and the world an open window to partake of these
riches. Johanna Fiedler, daughter of Arthur Fiedler, has written a
comprehensive and detailed account of each aspect of the Met from
the financial, production, management, labor, and artistic

Stories abound in this detailed book. We learn of Mahler,
Toscanini, Battle, Bing, Leinsdorf, Callas, Marion Anderson,
Domingo, Pavarotti, and Levine. From the opening of the Met in
1883, when Enrico Caruso made his debut in Rigoletto, until
the final performance of the last millennium, Tristan and
, the dramas unfold. Some aspects of the performers'
outrageous behavior almost seem like soap opera. One of my favorite
tales involves the soprano Kathleen Battle, who would only
communicate through her manager. While riding in a limo in New
York, she telephoned her manager in London to ask him to call her
limo driver and tell him to adjust the temperature! Her
condescending attitude toward her staff and fellow performers is
legendary. When the master electrician could no longer brook her
obnoxious behavior toward his wife, the wardrobe mistress, he got
even by failing to shine the spotlight on her for an entire aria.
"Everyone backstage was doubled up with laughter."

The Sturm und Drang, the Wagner, Puccini, Verdi, and Barber,
the tragedies, comedies, gossip, murder, and suicide, the
boxholders, financiers, labor movement, orchestras, and guest
conductors; all are important to the rich tapestry that is the
Metropolitan Opera Company. The Met continues to evolve through the
Three Tenors introduction of opera to "the masses." Ticket sales
are high, but there are younger, less affluent opera-lovers
attending. Times are changing, and the Met will prevail.

Reviewed by Marge Fletcher on January 22, 2011

Molto Agitato: The Mayhem Behind the Music at the Metropolitan Opera
by Johanna Fiedler

  • Publication Date: October 30, 2001
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese
  • ISBN-10: 038548187X
  • ISBN-13: 9780385481878