Molto Agitato

The Mayhem Behind the Music at the Metropolitan Opera


By Johanna Fiedler

Book Review

Review by Bruce Menzies


After attending The Phantom of the Opera last May with my mother, my curiosity about opera oddly piqued. While browsing the voluminous shelves at my favorite used book store, ABC Books in Springfield, I found what turned out to be a fascinating book about, perhaps the most famous opera house in America, the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.


I’m sure the Metropolitan Opera, casually referred to as “the Met,” has been a fascinating institution for many reasons, not including the music that is made there. It was a place to see and be seen by the wealthy New York socialites. Consider it a backdrop for the bejeweled elite of the gilded age and beyond. Turns out the Met was actually formed when some of New York’s wealthiest were unable to obtain box seats at the old Academy of Music. Many of those denied a private seat—the ultimate symbol of social triumph—the Vanderbilt’s, Astor’s, and J. P. Morgan’s, with vast fortunes, decided to build their own world-class opera house. And that’s how the Metropolitan Opera began.


This book describes not only the making of opera but also the petty feuding and infights, the pettiness of the unions, the out-sized egos of artists, and those who time and time again, almost killed the goose that laid the golden eggs. Also included are tales of murder, suicide, and the last words of one tenor Richard Versalle: “You can only live so long,” sung immediately before a heart attack killed him and plummeted to the stage from atop a towering ladder. (There’s been four deaths at the Met.)


For some New Yorkers, the tidbits will not suffice, but for the majority of us in the Ozarks who live thousands of miles away from New York City, there is more than enough.


At 393 pages, it’s dense reading but a classic page turner. The sadness of this book ending so unexpectedly was only matched by learning of the author’s passing in 2011. Johanna Fiedler was the press representative for the Met for fifteen years and uniquely qualified to write this great book. Johanna was also the author of a biography of her father, Arthur Fiedler: Papa, the Pops and Me.


Publisher’s Note:

Read how Johanna was called “the last clear voice at the Met.”

Read a review by Publisher's Weekly Read Johanna's Obituary

Johanna Fiedler.


To learn more of Johanna’s passing click on the above image.

Image credit:

NAN A. TALESE/ DOUBLEDAY


Read a review by Publisher's Weekly

Another book by this author.

To read a review of this book by Publisher’s Weekly, click on the above image.

To read a review of this book by Publisher’s Weekly, click on the above image.