TWILIGHT OF THE GOD?

New Yorker, October 3, 1994

NIGHTS AT THE OPERA James Levine has ruled the Met for over a decade. The general manager, Joseph Volpe, who rose from the carpentry shop, may have ambitions of his own.
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BY FREDRIC DANNEN

IT had been a bad week for James Levine. First, Levine, the artistic director of the Metropolitan Opera, came down with the flu during a vacation in Florida, which forced him to cancel a conducting engagement in Dresden, and meanwhile he got word that his father, in Cincinnati, was gravely ill. And now, on Saturday, February 5, 1994, he was being told over the phone that Kathleen Battle, a soprano from his home state of Ohio, whom he had nurtured and helped turn into one of opera’s greatest stars, was about to be fired from the Met. The man at the other end of the line was Joseph Volpe, the Met’s general manager, and he told Levine that he had decided to fire Battle, who is notoriously difficult, largely because of complaints of her abusiveness toward other cast members during rehearsals of Donizetti’s “La Fille du Regiment,” in which she had the title role. Levine had seen Battle’s bad side, but he had always been able to work with her, and he now wondered whether Volpe wasn’t going too far. Couldn’t she be got through her five performances and then, if need be, simply not rehired? “Joe,” he said, at last, “you’re the one sitting in that chair. My job is to tell you what I think. I’m telling you.”
     Volpe not only fired Battle that Monday, despite a phone call in which she essentially pleaded for one last chance, and despite a visit from her manager, Ronald Wilford, who manages Levine as well; he also put out a press release so caustic that music critics found it hard to believe that it had come from the Metropolitan Opera. In it he said, “Kathleen Battle’s unprofessional actions… were profoundly detrimental…. I could not allow the quality of the performance to be jeopardized.” (On learning that she had been fired, the cast of “La Fille” broke into spontaneous applause.)
     The Battle incident underscored the contrast in personality between Joe Volpe, who is fifty-four, and Jim Levine, who is fifty-one. Volpe is a Brooklyn-born ex-carpenter, tough and decisive, who was once summoned before a union tribunal to explain why he had fired a stagehand on Christmas Eve (because, Volpe said, the man was insubordinate), and who, when someone recently called him a “charmer,” objected, saying, “Don’t ruin my reputation.” Levine, a former child prodigy on the piano, and now an internationally famous conductor, is known to millions of television viewers worldwide through broadcasts of “The Metropolitan Opera Presents”—a chubby, good-natured man with a corona of frizzy hair and a round, angelic face. Levine (rhymes with “wine”) is a favorite of many singers; opera’s two biggest stars, the tenors Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo, perform more opera with him than perhaps with any other conductor.
     While Volpe enjoys the aura of power, Levine acts uncomfortable when anyone refers to the power he possesses. “I’m not an administrator or a politician,” he says. “I am an artist. But, you see, Ronald”—Wilford, his manager—”said something interesting to me a few years ago. He said, `Do you have any idea how many people think of you as the sun coming up every day? And if you are irritated, or you are disturbed, they go into a real tizz.’ Well, I’ve seen that. I see that if I tap the table some people react as if I’d used a baseball bat.”
     In fact, Levine’s power at the Metropolitan Opera has long been enormous. He is approaching a quarter century there, having made his debut in 1971, conducting Puccini’s “Tosca” at the invitation of the general manager, Sir Rudolf Bing, who retired from the Met a year later. Levine was appointed principal conductor in 1973, music director in 1975, and artistic director in 1986, but those titles do not begin to convey the extent to which he filled the power vacuum created by Bing’s departure—and, indeed, has made the house a reflection of his personal taste. Like Bing, Levine has been able to dictate the repertoire, the casting, and the hiring of conductors, stage directors, and designers; and, in addition, he has shaped the Met from the podium, conducting around a quarter of each season’s more than two hundred performances. Since its founding, in 1883, the Met has witnessed nothing like James Levine; probably the nearest equivalent was his idol, Arturo Toscanini, but Toscanini’s reign at the opera house lasted a mere seven seasons—from 1908 to 1915. Levine has seen four general managers come and go since Bing retired (not counting one who died in a car crash just after taking office). The job has been difficult to fill, because Levine’s artistic control has made it seem too limited.
     Volpe is not easily confined, however. He has been at the Met even longer than Levine—a full thirty years. Big and stocky, with a rich baritone voice and a trim beard, Volpe joined the opera company as an apprentice in the carpentry shop at the old Met—the one-square-block house, near the theatre district, that was razed after the company’s move, in 1966, to Lincoln Center. He advanced steadily, to technical director and labor negotiator, but he was passed over once for general manager—because, he believes, some members of the Met board found him too headstrong. When the top post became open again, in August, 1990, Volpe was appointed to it but was initially given less authority than his predecessor—an indication that the board remained wary of him. He has been hugely effective, and his probation is over. “Every member of the board today gives me a pat on the back, saying, `I knew you could do it, Joe,’“ he says, amused. Though Volpe plays down the significance of his very public firing of Kathleen Battle, it has been interpreted as a demonstration of strength. The odd pairing of Volpe and Levine has been likened by one Met executive to “a streetwise tabby trying to work with a highly bred Persian,” and no one is quite sure just yet how well the combination will work.

 

THE Met begins its new season this week, with Levine conducting Puccini’s “Il Tabarro” and Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” at the opening-night gala. For most of the year, and especially during the Met season, Levine maintains such a backbreaking rehearsal and performance schedule that access to him is all but impossible. Early this summer, however, as he prepared to conduct the four-opera “Ring” cycle at the Wagner festival in Bayreuth, he agreed to a series of interviews, to be held at his hotel in nearby Pegnitz. Each afternoon, he came downstairs in his standard attire—a polo shirt, dark polyester pants, and scuffed brown desert boots—with a terry-cloth bath towel draped over his left shoulder, to mop up perspiration. (Levine, who is five feet ten and weighs more than two hundred pounds, gets so drenched during a performance that he changes all his clothes between acts, from his black tie down to his underwear.)
     Levine is remarkably articulate but is possessed of such a busy mind that he almost never answers a question directly; a conversation with him is more like a symposium on Music and Art and Literature. Yet, unlike Leonard Bernstein, whom Tom Wolfe dubbed “the Village Explainer,” there is nothing pedantic about Levine. Sprawled comfortably in a chair, with his feet up, he drinks Evian, talks rapidly, and laughs easily, coming across as very likable.
     Levine had checked into the hotel with his younger brother, Tom, and later they shared a rented house nearer the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth. Tom is the person closest to Levine, apart from Suzanne Thomson, an oboist, who has lived with the conductor since 1971, and performs the chores of a housewife, a secretary, and a music researcher, and is paid a salary; and Jonathan Friend, a thirty-nine-year-old Englishman who is the Met’s artistic administrator. Tom is employed by Levine as well, and his job is a demanding one—it ranges from overseeing Levine’s finances and helping to coordinate his tour dates to looking after his performance clothes—but it leaves Tom time to pursue his art. (He is a talented painter and printmaker whose work has been exhibited mostly in Germany.) Tom’s praise for his brother is rapturous: “He’s always optimistic and enthusiastic, and he has the most incredible energy of any person I’ve ever known,” he says.
     Levine’s energy is undeniable. He can get by on as little as four hours’ sleep, he says, because the music stimulates him endlessly. (Last season, he conducted Berlioz’s five-hour “Les Troyens” on a Thursday night and, two days later, a matinee of Verdi’s “I Lombardi” and an evening performance of Strauss’s “Elektra”—a hat trick that few would dare to imitate.) There is no denying his constant cheerfulness, either; and, unlike one of his mentors, the conductor George Szell, he is unfailingly pleasant with his musicians. “There’s a big psychological component to conducting,” he says. “Let’s face it. It isn’t simply a question of telling people what you want them to do. Some of them respond to you because they respect you. And others respond because they love you.”
     To hear Levine tell it, however, he was not by nature cut out to direct a huge orchestra and chorus, let alone provide the artistic leadership for an institution the size of the Met. “I’m shy, and very, very happy by myself,” he says. “But I fell in love with the music of ensemble—operas, oratorios, symphonic music—and, realizing I had a talent for absorbing and communicating that music, I went with it. I didn’t fight it. But if my talents had made me a poet, a painter, or a composer, which are careers that I could have pursued more or less alone—well, that would have been very close to my nature.”
     Levine may be shy, but he is also a man of supreme self-confidence. In May, Levine and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus were invited to Frankfurt, as the star attraction in the city’s twelve-hundredth-anniversary celebration. There was considerable argument in Frankfurt over whether a German city ought to be spending so much money on American musicians, and Levine knew it. Unperturbed, he put on four concerts of which three consisted only of difficult German repertoire—Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde,” Wagner’s “Der Fliegende Hollander,” and excerpts from the “Ring.” He was a sensation.
     Among singers—at least, those singers who are Met perennials—there may be no more popular conductor than Levine. He works regularly with a large group of audience favorites, who, in addition to Pavarotti and Domingo, include Hildegard Behrens, Renee Fleming, Aprile Millo, Jessye Norman, Dawn Upshaw, Vladimir Chernov, Thomas Hampson, James Morris, and Sherrill Milnes. He is said to be a superb vocal coach; perhaps one reason the Met is among the very few opera houses at which Pavarotti still sings is that he is a notoriously slow study, and Levine patiently coaches him through his parts (as he will need to do before Pavarotti sings his first live performance of Giordano’s “Andrea Chenier,” at the Met next season).
     Levine devotes an extraordinary amount of time to the Met and does relatively little guest conducting. As a consequence, he has been able to develop the Met orchestra from a mediocre pit band into a world-class ensemble. (For two decades, he led the Chicago Symphony every summer at the Ravinia Festival, but he gave that up this year, in part to spend more time touring and recording with the Met orchestra.) Levine is such a fixture in New York that some people think the critics take him for granted. His conducting generally gets good, though seldom exuberant, reviews, and critics occasionally complain about his tempos. Yet many critics, when they are pressed to name the best all-around conductor of opera now living, concede that it is probably Levine.
     He sometimes gets bad, and even nasty, reviews for his artistic stewardship of the Metropolitan Opera, however. As far back as 1980, the music critic and Met historian Irving Kolodin wrote a cover story for the now defunct Saturday Review entitled “Is James Levine Wrecking the Met?” Kolodin complained that Levine, then only thirty-seven, had “neglected, alienated, or misused” some of the best singers of the day, and that he had a habit of filling leading roles with singers well past their prime—such as the soprano Renata Scotto, whom, when she was in her mid-forties, Levine had cast as the teen-age virgin Manon Lescaut. Kolodin also noted that other big-name conductors rarely appeared at the Met, as they frequently had done in pre-Levine days, and accused him of hogging the podium. These charges have since been echoed by others, to support the thesis that the Met has declined in quality since Levine took over.
     Levine is impatient with the criticism; it is one of the few subjects that can puncture his equanimity. “I don’t want to sound petty—it’s not my personality,” he says. “But there is an element that doesn’t understand what the Met’s achievements are. I think we’ve improved the Met a great deal, and continue to do so. I don’t mean I’m breaking my arm patting myself on the back. But I believe we have a consistently higher-quality result than you will find elsewhere. There is a tendency nowadays—don’t ask me why—for a lot of criticism to be sardonic, cynical, reductive, arrogant, beside the point, sort of strange. And I think it is symptomatic of the current state of our culture—this mania in America these days for pissing on everything, which is something I just don’t understand. I think life is too short and too good.”
     One of Levine’s great accomplishments, his supporters say, is the high level of musicianship at the opera house. The Met has a longer season (up to thirty-two weeks), during which it performs more different operas (as many as twenty-six), than any comparable company in the world. Alec Treuhaft, the former artistic administrator of the Netherlands Opera, who is now an executive at BMG Classics, says, “The musicians play like clockwork. For my money, the Met has the best opera orchestra in the world. The chorus is the best. The preparation of singers in small roles is the best. That kind of consistency is remarkable, and it can be laid at Jim’s feet.”
     It can also be argued that the Met’s most profound artistic problem is beyond Levine’s control: the sheer size of the theatre. The house at Lincoln Center has thirty-eight hundred seats and one of the largest stages in the United States. It is virtually too big to accommodate operas such as Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte” and “La Clemenza di Tito,” and even Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia.” Ironically, these are operas that can be better cast today than in Bing’s time, while the opposite is true of the larger-scale Wagner, Verdi, and Puccini works, around which the new house was designed. During Bing’s last season at the old Met, in 1965-66, he presented four different Toscas—Renata Tebaldi, Birgit Nilsson, Dorothy Kirsten, and Regine Crespin. Now Tosca is a difficult role to cast at all.
     Even within the field of obvious choices for certain roles, the Met, for all its glory, cannot always get the singer it wants. “People assume that you only have to ask,” Levine says. The fact is that most top singers can make more money in Europe, where the theatres are closer together and the fees run higher. The Met’s top fee is thirteen thousand dollars a performance, with no exceptions, while the fees at La Scala, for example, are said to climb as high as thirty thousand dollars.
     Despite all this, the discontent over Levine’s casting is not limited to a few critics. Bruce Crawford, who used to be the Met’s general manager and is now president of the board, has maintained a running debate with Levine over whether the active roster is in fact too old. “Jimmy knows I’m always pushing for the younger side,” Crawford says. He admits that Levine has usually been right in rejecting the younger singers he occasionally recommended (“They would crash and burn somewhere,” Levine says), but he still thinks that Levine has favored too many singers who have “overstayed their time,” and says he has “spent some anguished nights at the Met” as a result. Until a few years ago, Levine continued to use Fiorenza Cossotto, the last of a generation of great Italian mezzo-sopranos, though her voice had largely given out. Levine is unrepentant, saying, “There comes a moment in a casting decision when you have a singer who is aging but who brings an aging version of all the right qualities, and your alternative is a fresh person but a person of no particular artistic individuality.”
     It is also probably true that the Met’s resources are heavily skewed toward Levine’s projects, and the least charitable view is that he hoards for himself the choice casts and productions. A decade ago, Erich Leinsdorf refused to conduct Strauss’s “Arabella,” because he was unable to get a telecast. (Levine has conducted about eighty per cent of the Met’s television broadcasts.) Apart from Carlos Kleiber, Seiji Ozawa, Leonard Slatkin, and a few others, big-name guest conductors have largely avoided Levine’s Met. Crawford says, however, that the shortage is not Levine’s fault. The real problem, he says, is that frequently the top conductors want to do new productions, and not revivals, but they are unwilling to commit the amount of time that new productions require.
     Another thing that Levine has been criticized for is not making the repertoire more diverse and adventurous. Levine responds that while he is “a banquet person,” who likes variety, he is also a believer in depth over breadth. (Between the Met and Bayreuth, he has conducted Wagner’s “Parsifal” about a hundred times.) It is also an economic reality that familiar repertoire plays better at the box office. Favorites like Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly,” which is being given twenty times this season, in a new production, regularly sell out the house, and would probably be done even more often were it not for the fear of boring subscribers. As it happens, the Met is also presenting three contemporary works this season, one more than usual: the Met premiere of Shostakovich’s “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk,” and revivals of Britten’s “Peter Grimes” and John Corigliano’s “The Ghosts of Versailles,” an opera commissioned by the Met and given its world premiere there in 1991. Levine will conduct Berg’s “Wozzeck” next season and, he hopes, again in 1997.
     The Met under Levine has similarly been accused of being too traditional in stage design and direction. Otto Schenk’s production of the “Ring,” for example, struck some reviewers as surprisingly literal-minded. Levine acknowledges that “there is a worldwide crisis in how opera should look,” but he has concluded that the increasingly popular “analogy” approach, taken perhaps to its extreme by the director Peter Sellars, “has largely been a flop” and is not well suited to the Met. Levine says that he saw Sellars’ production of Wagner’s “Tannhauser” at Chicago’s Lyric Opera—in which the title character was presented as a TV evangelist and Venus as a hooker—and “had a terrible time.” He says, “If I’d happened to be the director of a small avant-garde festival, I’d have been very happy. But the Met is the Met. It is a kind of temple. And if you turn it into a place where people cannot worship the art form, they won’t thank you.”

 

LEVINE could have easily avoided the responsibility of shaping a giant opera company if he had not strayed from his first musical discipline, the piano. At the age of ten, he performed Mendelssohn’s Second Piano Concerto with the Cincinnati Symphony. As a present, the conductor gave Levine the score to Verdi’s “Aida,” and Levine’s father took him to the old Met. The boy was hooked. “The day we landed in New York, I had the funny metaphysical sensation that I lived here,” Levine says.
     He was born in Cincinnati on June 23, 1943, to parents who had both abandoned the entertainment field after early successes. In the thirties, Lawrence Levine was a pop singer and bandleader, whose Larry Lee & His Orchestra was broadcast on the radio nightly from the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. He returned to Cincinnati in 1940 to join the family dressmaking business as a salesman, and married a former actress, Helen Goldstein, who, as Helen Golden, had once taken over the lead in the Broadway play “Having Wonderful Time.”
     “My father told me I could sing before I could talk,” Levine says. As a child, he had a terrible stammer, and his parents gave him piano lessons, on the advice of a pediatrician who believed that playing the piano would cure his impediment. The stammer soon disappeared. His progress on the piano was so rapid that by the time he was in third grade the school officials in the Cincinnati suburb of North Avondale, where Levine grew up, gave him permission to go home early every day so that he could practice. Tom Levine says that he and their younger sister, Janet (who is a psychotherapist in Massachusetts), saw Jimmy mostly at dinner. Music had become his life. Levine recalls that the first time he heard Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” he “walked around like a zombie for a week.”
     When Levine was ten, his parents hired Walter Levin, the first violinist of the LaSalle Quartet, to supervise his musical education. Levin found the boy to be gifted but also rather cocky and undisciplined, and once threw him out of his house for coming to a lesson unprepared. After three years of study, Levin recommended his pupil to the pianist Rudolf Serkin, and in 1956 Serkin invited Levine to study at the Marlboro Music Festival, in Vermont. Levine says that Serkin and Levin taught him “that talent and fluency are dangerous—that if your personality is as positive as mine was, and you’re very talented, you may be short with yourself on the disciplines.” After Marlboro, he became a regular at the summer Aspen Festival for thirteen years. By the time Levine, at eighteen, enrolled at Juilliard, where he was to carry a double major in piano and conducting, he had attained postgraduate level. He dropped out in his third year and moved to Cleveland when George Szell, the conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, offered him the job of apprentice conductor. He remained with the Cleveland for six years, until Szell’s death, in 1970.
     By then, Levine had firmly chosen conducting over the piano, but he has kept up his facility at the keyboard, and he frequently accompanies singers in concert—a practice he began as a teen-ager. Back in 1962, he had played a recital tour with the baritone Cornell MacNeil, and while they were on the road Levine asked MacNeil questions about how to develop his career. MacNeil told him, “You ought to ask Ronald.” MacNeil’s manager, Ronald Wilford, was then an associate at Columbia Artists Management, Inc.—CAMI—and was to become its president, a position he still holds. Wilford, whom Levine calls “one of the most phenomenal human beings I know,” has played a key role in Levine’s career and, as a consequence, in the modern history of the Met. At sixty-six, Wilford is acknowledged to be the most powerful man in classical music. CAMI manages more than ninety conductors in addition to Levine, among them Claudio Abbado, Sir Colin Davis, Kurt Masur, Riccardo Muti, Seiji Ozawa, Andre Previn, and Klaus Tennstedt. CAMI’s list of vocalists takes up two pages of small type in Musical America; its list of instrumentalists is also extensive. Wilford’s family holds more than fifty per cent of CAMI’s stock, and he is married to the former Sara Delano Roosevelt.
     Wilford, who never studied music, grew up in Salt Lake City, the second of seven children of a Greek immigrant who owned a maintenance company. After getting a start by booking a high-school tour for the Utah pianist Grant Johannesen, Wilford moved to New York to form what turned out to be an ill-fated partnership with Johannesen’s manager, and then opened his own company, Ronald A. Wilford Associates, though he had no associates and no clients. “I lived in a cold-water flat,” he recalls. “I would cash a check for five dollars on Friday, and it would bounce on Tuesday.” By 1958, the year he joined CAMI, Wilford had brought to America the French mime Marcel Marceau and was managing a number of classical-music performers. In the mid-sixties, he took over CAMI’s conducting division. He revamped its European roster—he helped make Herbert von Karajan one of the most revered and best-remunerated conductors in the world—and turned the division into a powerhouse.
     Levine was nineteen when, at the end of his tour with MacNeil, he made an appointment to see Ron Wilford. “I remember he asked me one of the most intelligent questions I have ever been asked,” Wilford says. “He said, `Assuming I have a certain amount of talent and discipline, is there anything that I don’t know about that could prevent me from having a life in music?’ And I remember my answer: `Absolutely nothing.’“ Levine wanted Wilford to manage him, but Wilford said it was too early. “He kept coming in,” Wilford recalls. “ `Now?’ `No, no, keep going—get as much repertoire under your belt as you can. Wait until you’re around twenty-seven. Given your talent, when you do start your career it will go like a rocket, and the ride will be very fast.’”
     Wilford was almost exactly on target: Levine was just shy of twenty-eight when Rudolf Bing needed a conductor for two performances of “Tosca” during the Met’s 1971 post-season festival. When Wilford proposed Levine, Bing was a bit dubious—he had never heard of the young man—but he was willing to gamble, since Levine had conducted “Tosca” the previous year at the San Francisco Opera. Yet, when Wilford called to relay Bing’s offer, Levine says, “my impulse was to turn it down.” Levine did not have any special fondness for “Tosca”—”I had fantasized a Met debut with `Don Giovanni’ or `Otello,’“ he says—and he would have only two orchestra rehearsals. “Well, Ronald was very candid, as he always is,” Levine recalled. “I had done a whole number with him about `What’s wrong with the Met?’ And he said, `If you can demonstrate to the Met management the quality of your commitment and musicality, that’ll be your best chance to get in there and change the system.’ I have to confess, that sounded slightly preposterous to me, and I agreed to conduct `Tosca’ almost on a dare. And a fascinating thing happened—I was immediately asked to become principal conductor.”

 

LEVINE’s appointment did not become official until 1973. In the meantime, the board had replaced Bing with Goeran Gentele, of the Royal Opera of Stockholm, a former theatre director and filmmaker, and had appointed Rafael Kubelik, the Czech-born conductor, the first music director in the Met’s history. In July, 1972, after only a few weeks in office, Gentele was killed in a car accident in Sardinia, and in February, 1974, Kubelik quit, having found the job not to his liking. Gentele’s assistant, Schuyler Chapin, who was a music-business veteran and had worked closely with Leonard Bernstein, remained as acting and then actual general manager; he was the last ever to have both administrative and artistic responsibilities.
     Chapin, who today is commissioner of cultural affairs for New York City, was destined not to last long. “About a week after I was appointed acting general manager, the comptroller came to see me with some charts,” he recalls. “There was a black horizontal line showing an accumulated deficit approaching the two-million mark, and a big red `X’ at March of 1973. He said, `This is when we go broke.’“ Chapin never had the confidence of the board, and its president, George Moore, was reported to have bad-mouthed him in public. When the board brought in Anthony Bliss, a Wall Street lawyer and former Met president, as executive director, to help cope with the fiscal crisis, Chapin knew that his days were numbered. He blames Ronald Wilford for hastening his downfall. “Wilford told George Moore, `If you want to save the Met, get rid of Schuyler Chapin,’“ he says. “Mr. Wilford and I didn’t speak for ten years.” (Wilford acknowledges that a board member—not Moore—asked his opinion of Chapin but says, “I can’t take credit for Schuyler leaving the Met—though I might like to.”)
     By July, 1975, Chapin was out and Bliss had taken his place. Bliss made no pretense of having musical expertise or a creative vision for the Met; instead, he devoted most of his attention to the Met’s financial crisis, which continued to worsen. Meanwhile, Wilford had negotiated a new contract for Levine, making him music director. The Met was now being run by a troika, consisting of Bliss, Levine, and John Dexter, an English stage director, who had just won a Tony for the Broadway production of “Equus.” Dexter was particularly inspired by twentieth-century operatic repertoire, and his productions of Poulenc’s “Dialogues des Carmelites,” Berg’s “Lulu,” and Britten’s “Billy Budd” in the seventies are still ranked among the Met’s triumphs of the past quarter century. But by the eighties his health had begun to deteriorate, and so had his relationship with the Met. In 1981, he was demoted to production adviser, and three years later he was forced out. Dexter, who died in 1990, was a testy and difficult man; even Levine, who rarely speaks ill of anyone, remembers him with mixed emotions. “His best work was really brilliant, but in many respects he stood in the way of progress more than he helped us,” Levine says. “And when he became ill I don’t think he could tell his friends from his enemies anymore.”
     In 1983, with Dexter on his way out and Bliss nearing retirement, Levine demanded, and got, a contract naming him artistic director, to take effect in 1986. The title was a mere formality; Levine had been making all the key creative decisions for several years. Bliss stepped down in 1985, at the age of seventy-two. (He died in 1991.) A year earlier, the board had turned to its newly elected president, Bruce Crawford, for help in locating someone to replace Bliss. Crawford, an impressive man, with a full head of white hair and a slight Brahmin accent—he is from Massachusetts—had made his mark in advertising, and was at that time the president and chief executive officer of B.B.D.O. International, but his layman’s knowledge of opera was excellent. Offered the post of general manager himself, he had turned it down, but he was finding it difficult to fill, because of what he calls Levine’s “towering artistic presence.” As the search dragged on, Crawford changed his mind, and decided he would take the job after all. He did so on January 1, 1986.
     His relationship with Levine was a complicated one. “I like Jim, and we’ve had an awful lot of laughs together,” Crawford says. “But he’s an unusual cat. He’s very intelligent and articulate, but not what I would call direct. He doesn’t like confrontation—you don’t get into heated arguments with Jim—although you can see the displeasure he’s experiencing when you say something with which he is in complete disagreement. We made a great effort to accommodate one another, and it worked reasonably well. Sometimes, though, I wished it had been a bit simpler.”
     One thing that Levine could not disagree with Crawford about, however, was that the more innovative and less lavish productions of the previous administration had largely failed at the box office. By 1984, the Met’s deficit had climbed to a record eight million dollars. (Bliss had unwisely put his emphasis on government subsidies, which today cover less than one per cent of the Met’s operating expenses.) While Crawford oversaw improvements in the Met’s fund-raising, Levine restored a lot of the conservative grandeur of earlier years, and by the late eighties the deficit had been transformed into a small surplus. Crawford resigned as the Met’s general manager to return to advertising in early 1989, and, after a hiatus, the board replaced him with Hugh Southern, an Englishman, who had been a deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Southern had little prior experience in opera, and after eight months he was forced out. His departure paved the way for Joseph Volpe, the successor that Crawford had wanted all along.

 

CAN you imagine what it means being general manager of this institution?” Joe Volpe said one recent afternoon. He took a moment to look around his office and luxuriate. It is the only office at the Met with a fifteen-foot ceiling and any trace of Old World elegance. When Bruce Crawford occupied it, he moved the general manager’s large walnut desk to a spot nearer the door, so that he could look down the hall; Volpe moved it back—”for sentimental reasons,” he says. “Rudolf Bing sat right here when he made me an offer to take over the stage as master carpenter.” Volpe speaks reverently of Bing, though he was reputed to be cold, and one says “the autocratic Rudolf Bing” the same way one says “the reclusive Thomas Pynchon.” (Bing is now ninety-two and is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease; he lives in an old-age home in the Bronx.) Volpe remembers him differently—accessible, practical, and witty. “But all-powerful,” he says. “All-powerful.”
     As he spoke, Volpe was drawing little diagrams on a pad—perhaps a habit left over from his days as a carpenter. He had his suit jacket off, and was wearing a crisp white shirt, suspenders, a floral tie, and gold jewelry. His beard makes him look faintly Mephistophelian—a devil, one supposes, to Levine’s cherub. Volpe’s life has revolved around the Met for thirty years. “Pavarotti calls me grande capo,” he said. “When I started in this house, I can remember the stagehands saying, `See that kid Volpe over there? Look at him. He walks around like he thinks he’s gonna run this place someday.’ My role has changed over the years, and I want you to know that some people have had difficulty with that.”
     Certain members of the Met board, several of whom are in the Forbes Four Hundred, were among those people. Today, Volpe refers to the brief appointment of Hugh Southern as “a minor hiccup,” though it could not have seemed minor at the time. “Now, why did the board make such a decision?” Volpe says. “I can’t answer that. Was it because Volpe was coming from the inside? Was it because he is strong-willed?” (Volpe often talks about himself in the third person.) Crawford was able to build a consensus for Volpe only after Southern had been pushed out, by which time Crawford was serving as chairman of the board’s executive committee. Even then, Volpe got the top job with diminished responsibility and with a different title—general director. Crawford told him to sit tight. In May, 1991, Crawford replaced the philanthropist Louise Humphrey as board president. Within two years, Volpe was the general manager. “Crawford had that title, and Bliss had it, and so did Rudolf Bing,” he says. “And I wanted it.”
     Volpe was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Glen Cove, Long Island. His father was the principal partner in a successful men’s-clothing business, and he wanted Volpe to go to college and take up a profession. “So, stubborn son that I was, I did the opposite,” Volpe says. Upon graduating from high school, in 1958, he opened an automobile-repair shop in Glen Cove, but he soon sold it. In 1964, he scored first on a test to join Local 1 of the stagehands’ union, and went to the Met as an apprentice carpenter, to learn how to build scenery. Live opera held no interest for him, he says, until one day after repairing a loose bolt plate he stepped into the auditorium and heard Birgit Nilsson rehearsing the title role of Puccini’s “Turandot.” As he recalls it, he turned to Charles Perin, the carpenter-shop foreman, and said, “You know, Charlie, maybe there’s more to opera than building scenery.”
     The Met moved to Lincoln Center two years later, and the first season at the new house, Bing recalls in his memoir, “5000 Nights at the Opera,” brought “one disaster after another.” He had overambitiously planned nine new productions, four of them for the first week, and the musicians and dancers and stagehands were being worked to exhaustion. Volpe, now a journeyman, was called in to help sort out problems with Samuel Barber’s “Antony and Cleopatra,” which had been spectacularly overproduced by Franco Zeffirelli. Not knowing who Zeffirelli was, Volpe ordered him off the stage; the next day, Bing formally introduced the two men, telling Volpe, “This is the designer you accused of being a wacko.” A week later, the Met’s master carpenter resigned, and Bing interviewed Volpe for the job. “I had an answer for everything,” Volpe says. “Bing looked at me and said, `Either you’re very naive or you know what you’re doing, but I’ll take a chance.’“
     Volpe moved from labor to management in 1977, as the protege of John Dexter. Dexter told Anthony Bliss that the Met needed a technical director—someone who could look at a blueprint of a production and determine whether it would work and what it would cost—and Volpe was appointed on his recommendation. Three years later, the Met’s opening was delayed for eleven weeks by a labor dispute, led by the powerful Local 802, which represents the Met orchestra. (Today, the Met has twenty-eight contracts with eighteen unions.) Volpe was called in, and he helped reach an accord with the union to end the dispute. Bliss and three members of the board’s labor committee, including Bruce Crawford, subsequently asked Volpe to become the Met’s chief labor negotiator, but he refused at first, he says, because the committee also wanted to hire an outside attorney to speak directly to the board. “I can speak,” Volpe recalls pointing out. Bliss finally gave up on having outside counsel, and Volpe renegotiated the union contracts nine months ahead of schedule.
     Bliss was so impressed by this feat that he made Volpe the Met’s assistant manager, in charge of all backstage activities. “My relationship with John Dexter went down the tubes,” Volpe says. “I was responsible for the budget, so whenever there were problems with overtime it would be Volpe versus Dexter. We never made the peace, which bothers me, because I had a great deal of respect for him, as I know he did for me.” Dexter got posthumous revenge last year, when his diaries were published in book form as “The Honourable Beast.” He wrote, “(This Hurt.) My own discovery, someone I took from the floor and trained and promoted to an office position betrayed me. JV chose the money over loyalty.”
     When Crawford replaced Bliss, he kept Volpe on as assistant manager. “I was running the house on a day-to-day basis for Bruce,” Volpe says. His responsibilities grew to include supervising the Met’s tours and its television and radio broadcasts; he also maintained his role as chief labor negotiator, and handled the Met’s recording contracts. In the meantime, Volpe could see Crawford getting restless in the general manager’s job. “Bruce would say, `Let’s do XYZ,’ and people would ignore him,” Volpe says. “I’ve been here too long: when I say something around the Met, people jump.”
     The Met has run at break-even or at a small surplus for six of the last eight years, and one of Volpe’s biggest responsibilities is to keep it that way. Ticket sales account for most of the Met’s earned revenues, and for the past few seasons the house has sold at a healthy eighty-nine to ninety per cent of capacity. (A drop of one per cent at the box office represents lost annual income of nearly six hundred thousand dollars.) Last year, the Met had a budget of a hundred and twenty-seven million dollars, of which eighty million came from operating income and the remaining forty-seven million came from donations. More than eighty-five per cent of the Met’s donations are made by individuals. Marilyn Shapiro, who runs the fund-raising department, is a powerful figure at the Met; she has a proved technique with wealthy donors which she calls her “firm ask.” (In her office she keeps two framed photographs of Sybil Harrington, who is the widow of an oil baron from Amarillo, Texas, and who underwrites entire new productions, at a cost of over one and a half million dollars per production.) Shapiro works closely with Crawford, who is a large contributor himself.
     Crawford and Volpe seem to work well together, although, Crawford says, “you will find that Joe has a very different approach from mine.” Volpe says he intends nothing less than to change the character of the institution. “The Metropolitan Opera has been criticized over the years for being arrogant, and that’s something I plan to turn around,” he says. “The Met will deal with artists, will deal with employees, will deal with the public the way I do. I’m personable—I don’t have to tell you this. I’m warm. I’m reasonable. And at times I’m considered completely wacko, because, when I make up my mind to do something, watch out.”

 

THOUGH Volpe denies it, there is reason to suspect that he had decided to fire Kathleen Battle a full year before he actually did so, and that he held off only because the Met needed her for a post-season tour of Japan. Volpe seems eager to talk about his showdown with Battle, but says he has to temper his remarks, because she has a pending arbitration against the Met alleging breach of contract. (A hearing is scheduled for November.) Levine calls the Met’s rupture with Battle “a terrible, terrible tragedy” and “so, so sad,” but he is also careful to point out that “this situation didn’t involve me, and there wasn’t any way I could affect this.” He has nothing to say about Battle, apart from expressing continued affection and respect for her, though he has made the general observation that “I don’t really understand people who ruin their own quality of life with making difficulties.”
     Although Battle declines to comment, her bad behavior has been widely reported. “I don’t know many people who aren’t scared of Kathy,” says Alec Treuhaft, who once worked at CAMI, her management company. Battle seems oblivious of the ill will she generates. “I stood behind Kathy in Japan in 1988 when a soprano told her she would never appear on the same stage with her again,” Bruce Crawford recalls. “Kathy was shocked, and ran to Jimmy. She couldn’t believe it.”
     Battle is a slender and attractive black woman of forty-six, who grew up in an all-black neighborhood in Portsmouth, Ohio, the youngest of seven children; her father, Grady Battle, was a steelworker who sang in a gospel quartet. As a child, she was constantly praised for her pretty voice, but at the conservatory of the University of Cincinnati she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education, rather than performance, and then got a job teaching music in an inner-city school. In 1972, at the urging of a friend, Battle auditioned for the late Thomas Schippers, the conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony, and he thereupon hired her to sing the soprano solo in Brahms’s “Ein Deutsches Requiem” at the Spoleto Festival in Italy. The following year, Schippers recommended her to James Levine, who was a guest conductor at the Cincinnati May Festival and was about to become the Met’s principal conductor. Levine has recalled being “blown away” by her first audition; Battle once described Levine to a Times reporter as “a real catalyst” in her career, and “a wonderful friend.” She made her Met debut in 1977, as the shepherd boy in “Tannhauser,” and moved on to leading roles, such as Rosina in “Il Barbiere di Siviglia,” that showed off her brilliant, lyric coloratura. She got sensational reviews. The critic Tim Page has written that “at her best, she sang with a delighted shiver.”
     People from her home town remember Kathy Battle as sweet and unspoiled, but something evidently happened to her en route to becoming one of the biggest female opera stars in the world. In 1985, she peremptorily took over the soprano Carol Vaness’s dressing room at the Met, which was identical in size to her own but was closer to the stage. Two years later, she withdrew from an appearance with the Vienna Philharmonic just three hours before curtain, forcing the orchestra to cancel an entire performance for the only time in its history. In 1988, when she was rehearsing Handel’s “Giulio Cesare” at the Met, she gave the conductor, Trevor Pinnock, a lesson in Baroque conducting style, which is his specialty, and drove the late mezzo-soprano Tatiana Troyanos to tears by repeatedly asking the stage director for changes that put Troyanos at a disadvantage. With each year, her behavior grew increasingly bizarre. During rehearsals, she would forbid people to look at her and accused them of staring at her mouth.
     Kathy Battle and Joe Volpe were clearly headed for conflict. She was haughty with the stage crew, from whose ranks Volpe had risen; and the man he so admired, Rudolf Bing, had, in 1958, with far less provocation fired the soprano Maria Callas. In late January, 1993, the conductor Christian Thielemann was rehearsing Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier” for a Met performance in early February. Battle, who had been cast as Sophie, complained that Thielemann was taking a passage too slowly, and that she was running out of breath. When he refused to pick up the tempo, she walked out and went to her dressing room, where she called Volpe on the phone and demanded that he come to see her immediately. When he did not arrive, she went home. Through her personal manager at CAMI, Michaela Kurz, she demanded of Volpe that the Met take her side. Volpe backed Thielemann, and Battle quit the production. Volpe says that he then spoke to Kurz, telling her, “I will let this go, I will not make a big thing of it, but this is the last time.” The Met had a contract with Battle for the tour in Japan, with Luciano Pavarotti, and it had already been sold out. Volpe says, “We went to Japan, and she was a perfect citizen. So I had hopes.”
     Battle was scheduled to sing the title role of Marie in five performances of “La Fille du Regiment” at the Met beginning on February 14, 1994, but there were indications of trouble, despite her good behavior in Japan. She had recently performed the same role at the San Francisco Opera with the same tenor, Frank Lopardo, as Tonio, and the experience had been such an ordeal for the company that afterward members of the stage crew and the chorus wore T-shirts that said “I SURVIVED THE BATTLE.” Sure enough, in the weeks before the first Met performance was to take place she repeatedly had the rehearsal schedule changed to suit her, and then arrived late, left early, or did not show up. Her treatment of the mezzo-soprano Rosalind Elias, who had been cast as the Marquise of Berkenfield, may have triggered Volpe’s decision to fire her. In the opera’s second act, the Marquise is seated at the piano, coaching Marie in a song, and Battle made an ugly scene over Elias’s piano playing, claiming that it was throwing her off. Elias, who is in her sixties, is a beloved veteran at the Met; she and Volpe go back to 1966 and the opening of the new house.
     Ronald Wilford got word on Saturday, February 5th, that Battle was in imminent danger of being fired, and he requested a meeting with Volpe, to take place at ten o’clock the following Monday morning. The two men don’t appear to be the best of friends; Volpe says that Wilford has referred to him privately as “that terrorist.” (Wilford denies having done this.) During the Monday meeting, which lasted about an hour, Wilford pleaded with Volpe not to fire Battle. Later that day, Volpe spoke with Battle on the phone. “She said, `What can I do to make you change your mind?’” he recalls, but by then he had issued the press release announcing her firing. In a press release of her own, she said she had not been told of any “unprofessional actions,” and called the dismissal “unexpected.” Wilford says, “It is my position that she was wrongfully terminated, and should be paid for the engagements. Kathy Battle is a perfectionist, and she always fights for that perfection. That’s nothing new.”
     Levine had the good fortune to be out of town during most of the debacle, but otherwise that period was not a lucky time for him. After catching the flu during his vacation in Florida, and having his initial discussion with Volpe about Battle, he flew to Cincinnati to be at the bedside of his father. (Lawrence Levine died, at eighty, of heart failure, on February 8, 1994, the day after Battle was fired.) Levine passed through New York on the day of the firing and met with Volpe to express, for the last time, his qualms about the decision, and then went on to London for a guest-conducting appearance.
     Despite these qualms, even Levine had finally lost patience with Battle—though he will not discuss it publicly—and he had done so in front of plenty of witnesses. In April of last year, Levine and the Met orchestra were recording with Battle an album of Mozart arias for Deutsche Grammophon. With less than fifteen minutes to go in the session, Levine handed out a new piece, to be rehearsed for the first time, and the clarinettists began packing up their instruments to leave, since the piece had no parts for them. Battle appeared to take this as a gesture of hostility, and created a scene, making it impossible for Levine to finish the session. Deutsche Grammophon had a history of problems with Battle—she had held up the release of a recording of Handel’s “Semele” for months because she was unhappy with the way her dress looked on the album cover—and after she was fired from the Met she felt compelled to withdraw from a Deutsche Grammophon recording of Mozart’s “Idomeneo” with Levine and the Met orchestra.
     In April, two months after the firing, Levine, as previously planned, accompanied Battle on the piano at Carnegie Hall. Though they put on a show of solidarity at the concert, and Battle, resplendent in a bright-yellow gown, sang eleven encores, the affair was said to be a less than joyful experience for Levine. Battle had made it impossible to rehearse the program adequately with him, and, without telling him, had given a trial recital of the same program out of town with another pianist. At the moment, Battle, as far as is known, has no contract with any opera company in the world, and Volpe says he will consider inviting her back to the Met only if she can demonstrate proper decorum somewhere else. “No one has ever taken a strong position with her before,” Volpe says. “Maybe this will help her.”

 

AS Levine approaches his twenty-fifth anniversary at the Met, to be celebrated next season, he does so in a climate of doubt concerning his own future at the opera house—though recent rumors of his imminent firing turned out to be false. The rumors apparently stemmed from persistent yet never proved accusations about his private life, involving, as Time once carefully phrased it, “liaisons with people of every age and hue.” To counteract the rumors, Bruce Crawford extended his contract, ahead of schedule, to July of 1999. But after years of steadily gaining in authority—of turning the Met into a place where the operating code was said to be “What Jimmy wants, Jimmy gets”—he is faced for the first time with a general manager who has ambitions of his own.
     “Is there a power struggle at the Met? That’s what everybody wants to know,” Volpe said not long ago. “Well, it’s a lot of nonsense. Volpe was never concerned with his power.” He began to draw a diagram on his notepad. “I start with the premise that James Levine is one of the finest opera conductors in the world. He gives the Metropolitan Opera more time than we’d ever get from any other conductor, music director, artistic director—whatever you wish to call that position. Jim knows he has in me a general manager who is, yes, a completely different personality—I have no problem making a decision, whereas sometimes Jim would like to consider all the options. But he sees in me someone with the strength to help him do what he has to do at the Met. His responsibility here is to make music. And my responsibility is to run the Metropolitan Opera.”
     Levine, in describing his own view of his business relationship with Volpe, sounds slightly defensive. “I don’t ever get the feeling that Joe wants my job,” he says. “He knows I don’t want his. Joe and I meet to collaborate about what we want to do and whom we want to do it with. That’s the essence of it. But, understand, Joe isn’t coming with the experience of knowing the artistic technicalities, the spectrum of the repertoire, the pros and cons of this piece and that piece. That’s the reason they’ve got me.”
     Yet, as Volpe is fond of pointing out, “every artistic decision is a financial decision,” and he has vetoed proposals by Levine that were not feasible from a business standpoint. For example, Volpe cancelled five performances of Britten’s “Death in Venice” that Levine had planned for this season, because the opera was expensive to mount and had been a huge dud at the box office last winter. (“Il Barbiere di Siviglia” will be done in its place.) “We simply could not afford to go ahead with `Death in Venice,’“ Volpe says. “Jimmy understood.”
     Volpe has made one move whose significance may be enormous. He has brought in Sarah Billinghurst, who joined the company on August 1st as assistant manager. She had been artistic administrator of the San Francisco Opera and had a strong say in many of the areas that Levine has controlled at the Met, among them casting, repertoire, and the commissioning of new works. Her role at the Met has not yet been fully defined, but Volpe describes it in terms that make it sound very much like her job in San Francisco, and thus suggest that Levine’s artistic hegemony is coming to an end. Bruce Crawford, on being asked whether Billinghurst’s appointment, which he authorized, represented a shift of artistic control away from Levine, said, “There’s no question that you can interpret it in that context.”
     Matthew Epstein, who was until recently the general director of the Welsh National Opera, says, “This feels like a time of change”—and although Epstein thinks highly of Levine, he believes the change is for the good. “Jimmy is one of the best opera conductors in the world. Maybe the best,” he says. “But how long can one artistic influence, no matter how good, be fresh? A great era in a major opera company takes about three years to develop, five or six to play out, and then it is done. I think ten years is a good length of time, and then the introduction of someone new can only be helpful, to make sure you maintain excellence.”
     Billinghurst, who is fifty-two, comes to the Met with such a good reputation that, she says, “it makes me nervous.” She is a native of New Zealand who moved to San Francisco in 1966 with her husband, a structural engineer whose specialty was construction in earthquake zones. (They are now divorced.) Billinghurst has some musical training—”I was a bad piano player, a bad clarinet player, and a not good conductor of my boarding-school choir,” she says—and in 1972 she was offered a job in the public-relations department of the San Francisco Opera. Soon, she caught the eye of the general director, Kurt Herbert Adler, an intendant very much in the Bing mold (and, like Bing, of Austrian descent), whom she describes as “an extraordinary man, and absolutely my mentor.” Adler retired from the San Francisco Opera in 1982, and the same year she was named artistic administrator.
     Billinghurst had already turned down a job offer in Europe when Joe Volpe, over lunch one day last year, asked her to come to the Met. The time was right—her son and daughter were both of college age—and she hit it off with Volpe. “I like that Joe started off at the bottom, just like me, and now he’s running the company,” she says. Volpe explained that he wanted an assistant manager who would be to him what he had been to Bruce Crawford.
     It was not that simple, however. Billinghurst’s skills directly overlap those of Jonathan Friend, the Met’s artistic administrator and Levine’s most important ally at the Met. Though Friend remains at the Met with his job title unchanged, Billinghurst’s arrival obviously means a diminished role for him. Friend was only twenty-seven, and an employee in the Met’s rehearsal department, when, in 1983, Levine offered him the job of artistic administrator, a powerful position that involved collaborating with Levine on casting decisions, and then seeing that those decisions were implemented. Friend brought a number of useful skills to the job, including a prodigious memory—he can rattle off with ease the cast list of an opera performed at the Met ten years ago. What he did not bring was independence; Bruce Crawford has described the casting process at the Met as one in which “Jonathan proposes and Jimmy disposes.” Levine, who does not altogether dispute that description, says, “Very few people appreciate what a success Jonathan has made of that, to bring to negotiated reality whatever vision I might have had.”
     Billinghurst already has ideas of how she will affect the Met. In January of this year, she was a judge at the Rimsky-Korsakov vocal competition in St. Petersburg, and has a broad acquaintance with singers in the former Soviet Union who might be appropriate for Met productions. She hopes to develop a creative alliance between the Kirov Opera and the Met, as she did previously between the Kirov and the San Francisco Opera. She has travelled extensively to theatres all over the world, and wants to recruit new stage directors; her view of what is an appropriate mise-en-scene for Met productions may prove to be somewhat broader than Levine’s. “Over the next few years, I think you’ll see several more interesting, and less conventional, new productions at the Met,” she says. “They will be controversial. Some of the Met audiences will like them, and some will hate them.”
     Billinghurst is also a firm proponent of English titles at the Met, which, at the insistence of Bruce Crawford, are to make their debut next season. The San Francisco Opera has had titles for years—and so have other major opera companies, including Chicago’s Lyric Opera, the Paris Opera, and Covent Garden. In 1985, Levine told the Times critic Will Crutchfield that titles would be used at the Met only over “my dead body,” and he says the comment is still applicable if one is talking about titles projected over the proscenium—the system that is generally in use. But the Met’s proposed system, if it works—to display the titles on two-inch-by-eight-inch screens mounted above seat backs—is less objectionable, he says, because the titles will not be imposed on anyone who doesn’t want them. The screens can be switched off, and special filters will make the text almost invisible to one’s neighbor.
     Billinghurst is careful to point out that, while she may have been recruited by Volpe, “I report just as much to Jimmy as I do to Joe, and I will be equally loyal to both of them.” In fact, she says, people who expect her to drive a wedge between Volpe and Levine will find her doing precisely the opposite. She is well known as a conciliator—it was she who saw to it that Kathleen Battle made it through her tension-filled engagement in “La Fille du Regiment” in San Francisco. “I am very good at bringing people closer together,” she says. “And I am perfectly capable of saying to Jimmy and Joe, `Listen, you two—you have to agree on this.’“
     In any case, the future of the Met and its fifteen hundred employees will depend on how well those two remarkably dissimilar men can develop a modus operandi. Levine, who calls himself a “glass-is-half-full person,” is typically optimistic. Ronald Wilford, a more saturnine personality, says, “I don’t want Jim Levine to be the sole arbiter of everything at the Met. I’m all for Joe taking responsibility. I also think Joe should take some heat when it comes.” Because the Met plans its seasons so far in advance—repertoire and casts have already been chosen through the spring of 1997—it may be a while before a change is apparent. Still, it is safe to predict that the Met is going to be a different place.♦