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

Johanna Fielder

Phases and Stages

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

by Johanna Fiedler

Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 400 pp., $30 The text on the jacket flap of Molto Agitato boasts that the book is "a wonderfully entertaining and thoroughly engaging account not only of one of the world's most respected and richest music institutions, but also of power, politics, ambition, and egos." Translation: Step right up for some first-rate gossip. "Breezy" aptly describes this behind-the-scenes tell-all, but Fiedler has clearly put in the work to make Molto Agitato legitimate. The author of Arthur Fiedler: Papa, the Pops, and Me, Johanna Fiedler was the Met's general press rep for 15 years, a stint that serves her history well. Fiedler makes old scandal as intriguing as topical news about its current Artistic Director James Levine and general manager Joseph Volpe, the first person to work his way up from stagehand to that coveted, powerful height. Fiedler quickly addresses the personalities she covers, but not in a slash-and-burn fashion. For example, in Fiedler's telling, Placido Domingo may be an inveterate philanderer, but he's also a shrewd businessman and an unceasingly hard worker. Of course, he's as temperamental a diva as some of the women we typically accord such status, but since when have the people who create high art been immune to low behavior? By the end of Molto Agitato, you'll understand why onetime general manager Anthony Bliss had the following words printed on a pillow in his office: "Theater is a lunatic asylum, and the opera is a refuge for incurables."

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