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The Toughest Show on Earth    by Joseph Volpe & Charles Michener order for
Toughest Show on Earth
by Joseph Volpe
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2007 (2006)

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* *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

Joseph Volpe lived the classic American Dream, having worked his way up from a lowly apprentice carpenter to become the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera. The Toughest Show on Earth is the story of his years spent at the renowned opera house.

Joseph Volpe's grandmother, an Italian from the Old Country, was the one who got him hooked on opera. When he was young, she would have him play opera records to entertain her. Perhaps this was a foreshadowing of his eventually doing something similar on a much grander scale for a living. An entrepreneur while he was still in high school, Volpe always had a head for business. After his gas station suffered major insurance losses, he started working backstage at a theatre. Through networking, he eventually found himself building sets for the operas at the old Met. He stayed with the company through their move to their new home in Lincoln Center, then rose through the ranks, becoming master carpenter, head of operations, general director, and finally general manager. In August 2005, he retired, although the Met will always be a part of him.

The Toughest Show on Earth is divided into two parts. The first focuses on Volpe's rise within the Met. The second details various people and situations he has encountered as general manager. The first half of the second part is the best, containing loads of juicy gossip that opera fans will thrive upon. In it, Volpe talks about many of the stars he has worked with, including Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo, as well as the infamous firing of the notorious soprano, Kathleen Battle. But Volpe's memoirs are not just filled with gossip. Throughout it all, he demonstrates ingenious business acumen. His methods may be a bit brisk, but his straightforwardness gets the job done in ways that other methods cannot. Just through reading The Toughest Show on Earth, many tips are gleamed for how to deal with people in difficult business situations.

For opera fans, The Toughest Show on Earth is a must read. As a director of a non-profit theatre company, I myself found it very useful, and I am sure that others with jobs similar to mine will also get good ideas through Joseph Volpe's reign at the Met.

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