Grand Opera

Grand Opera: The Story of the Met

Charles Affron
Mirella Jona Affron
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 461
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt7zw02p
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  • Book Info
    Grand Opera
    Book Description:

    The Metropolitan has stood among the grandest of opera companies since its birth in 1883. Tracing the offstage/onstage workings of this famed New York institution, Charles Affron and Mirella Jona Affron tell how the Met became and remains a powerful actor on the global cultural scene. In this first new history of the company in thirty years, each of the chronologically sequenced chapters surveys a composer or a slice of the repertoire and brings to life dominant personalities and memorable performances of the time. From the opening nightFaustto the recent controversial production of Wagner's "Ring,"Grand Operais a remarkable account of management and audience response to the push and pull of tradition and reinvention. Spanning the decades between the Gilded Age and the age of new media, this story of the Met concludes by tipping its hat to the hugely successful "Live in HD" simulcasts and other twenty-first-century innovations.Grand Opera's appeal extends far beyond the large circle of opera enthusiasts. Drawing on unpublished documents from the Metropolitan Opera Archives, reviews, recordings, and much more, this richly detailed book looks at the Met in the broad context of national and international issues and events.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95897-5
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. ONE A Matter of Boxes, 1883–1884: BEL CANTO
    (pp. 1-23)

    The confusion outside the new opera house on opening night October 22, 1883, and the commotion within, delayed the prelude to Charles Gounod’sFaust. As one wag put it, no one seemed to mind except “a few ultra musical people in the gallery.” On the sidewalk out front, scalpers hawked parquet seats at $12 and $15 each and places in the balcony at $8. Overeager takers apparently failed to notice that as late as 7:30, $5 balcony tickets were still on sale at the box office. “It comes high but we must have it,” read the caption underPuck’s lampoon...

  7. TWO Cultural Capital, 1884–1903: THE GERMAN SEASONS AND FRENCH OPERA
    (pp. 24-52)

    As the 1883–84 season came to an end, there was no clear decision as to which impresario, Mapleson or Abbey, or which house, the veteran Academy or the rookie Metropolitan, would emerge the victor in what was in retrospect the city’s first opera war. The outcome would have little to do with the tiff between the Nobs and the Swells that had set it off. Nor would the endgame be other than marginally affected by the much publicized face-off between sparring divas. It would, instead, have everything to do with the economics of producing opera on an internationally competitive...

  8. THREE Opera Wars, 1903–1908: PARSIFAL, SALOME, AND THE MANHATTAN OPERA COMPANY
    (pp. 53-75)

    The years 1880 and 1910 bracket a dazzling chapter in the cultural history of New York City. At one end, the three-decade span is anchored by the opening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the eastern edge of Central Park and, at the other, by the completion of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue. The period saw the founding and, in cases such as that of the Museum, the expansion into grand permanent quarters of many of the arts and science institutions that catapulted New York into the orbit of world cultural capitals: the Metropolitan Opera (1883),...

  9. FOUR Modernity, 1908–1929: PUCCINI
    (pp. 76-111)

    Here is the story as Giulio Gatti-Casazza tells it in his memoirs: The first intimation that he was being spoken of as a successor to Heinrich Conried came in a letter of June 1907 from an unnamed woman writing on behalf of an unidentified “very important person” not known to him. Was he disposed to enter into negotiations with the Metropolitan, she asked? That evening, Gatti, general director of La Scala for almost a decade, happened to be at dinner with Arturo Toscanini, La Scala’s music director. Gatti showed his host the letter. He was, of course, well aware that...

  10. FIVE Hard Times, 1929–1940: WAGNER
    (pp. 112-155)

    The last six years of Gatti’s regime saw difficulty depreciate into misery. In 1929–30, the company coasted on the momentum of the cushy 1920s and on fortuitous new revenue streams. For the next two seasons, it survived on the $1 million the tightfisted administration had squirreled away. The final three years were, in the words of the famously unflappable general manager, his “Calvary.”¹

    The season opened with Puccini’sManon Lescaut,Lucrezia Bori as the flighty Manon and Beniamino Gigli as the besotted Chevalier Des Grieux. Bori and Gigli, on-stage lovers in so many of the 129 performances they sang...

  11. SIX Strains of War, 1940–1950: THE CONDUCTOR’S OPERA
    (pp. 156-181)

    The 1940–41 season opened withUn Ballo in maschera,absent from the Metropolitan for a quarter of a century. Curiosity was directed at both the stage and the Diamond Horseshoe, occupied for the first time not by owners but by subscribers. In fact, the “hereditary holders,” now more democratically holders of season tickets, were largely one and the same. And for the most part, they were settled in the same seats they or their kin had filled since 1883. Family circle standees who had waited from dawn to dusk to buy their tickets looked down on a ring essentially...

  12. SEVEN Stage Business, 1950–1966: VERDI
    (pp. 182-226)

    Rudolf bing tells the story of his appointment as the new general manager in the first of two autobiographies,5000 Nights at the Opera. In spring 1949, then head at Glyndebourne, he was in New York to pitch a season for his company at Princeton University’s McCarter Theatre. He asked Fritz Stiedry, a Met conductor he had known in Germany in the early 1930s, to introduce him to Edward Johnson, whose retirement at the end of the 1949–50 season had been announced. The conversation with Johnson turned to the running of an opera house in difficult times. As Bing...

  13. EIGHT In Transit, 1966–1975: AMERICAN OPERA
    (pp. 227-268)

    On september 29, 1962, more than four years before the farewell to the old house, the Met made its Lincoln Center debut at the newly completed Philharmonic Hall, renamed Avery Fisher Hall in 1973. The Manuel De Falla program opened withEl Amor Brujo,followed by a badly truncated version of his unfinished dramatic cantataAtlantida. TheTimescongratulated the Metropolitan on daring to be represented by the Western hemisphere premiere of Falla’s composition, all the while deploring the deep cuts inflicted on his magnum opus: twenty-two soloists were reduced to just three, Eileen Farrell (Leontyne Price had first been...

  14. NINE Maestro Assoluto, 1975–1990: TWENTIETH-CENTURY EUROPEAN OPERA AND THE BAROQUE
    (pp. 269-308)

    The new met powerhouse was born in Cincinnati on June 23, 1943, to a musical and theatrical family, the eldest of three children. His parents recognized his vocation while he was still a toddler. The ten-year-old prodigy made his professional debut with Mendelssohn’s Second Piano Concerto in a neighborhood concert of the Cincinnati Symphony. At about the same time, Walter Levin, principal violinist of the LaSalle Quartet, was called to guide the boy’s musical training. Levin was said to have designed “a Europeanstyle education for Jimmy, an interdisciplinary approach to music that placed it in a cultural, historical and philosophical...

  15. TEN Patronage and Perestroika, 1990–2006: AMERICAN OPERA (REDUX) AND SLAVIC OPERA
    (pp. 309-348)

    The search firm of heidrick and struggles had spent a year rifling through more than four hundred entries. In the end, the board committee “coughed up” (Joseph Volpe’s words) Hugh Southern. Volpe himself was passed over; he was presumably undone by a surfeit of minuses in Louise Humphrey’s triage. High in the negative column, according to Volpe, was what he later called “the James Levine factor”: “Although Jimmy and I had developed a good working relationship, there were times when, as the keeper of the purse and the schedules, I had to tell him that something he wanted, such as...

  16. ELEVEN In the Age of New Media, 2006–2013
    (pp. 349-392)

    Eight months of speculation on the succession followed Joe Volpe’s announcement of his retirement. Among the ten or so names floated were those of six general managers of opera houses in the United States and Europe, two symphony orchestra and ballet company directors, and the head of a national performing arts center: David Gockley, Houston Grand Opera; William Mason, Lyric Opera of Chicago; Plácido Domingo, Washington Opera; Sir Peter Jonas, Bavarian State Opera; Pierre Audi, Netherlands Opera; Gérard Mortier, formerly of Salzburg, later to take over in Paris; Deborah Borda, Los Angeles Philharmonic; Lesley Koenig, San Francisco Ballet; and Michael...

  17. NOTES
    (pp. 393-426)
  18. INDEX OF NAMES, TITLES, AND FOREIGN-LANGUAGE MUSICAL TERMS
    (pp. 427-450)