Kathleen Battle gets a call back to the Met

Kathleen Battle gets a call back to the Met


norman lebrecht

April 04, 2016

The soprano, fired in February 1994 by general manager Joe Volpe for impossible behaviour, is being invited back for a farewell recital. Battle, 68, is keen to mend bridges.

She is still represented by CAMI, James Levine’s agency, and is still supported by the ailing music director. Levine demonstratively accompanied her in recital at Carnegie Hall not long after she was fired from the Met.

She will sing a recital on Nov. 13 titled, ‘Underground Railroad-A Spiritual Journey.’

Pianist Joel Martin will accompany, together with a choir under the direction of James Davis Jr., director of music ministries and fine arts at New York’s Abyssinian Baptist Church.

kathleen battle


  • Marc-Antoine Hamet says:

    Glorious memory of her Frühlingstimmen, at the Vienna Philharmonic 1987 New Year’s concert with Herbert von Karajan!
    No idea how her voice is these days.

    • Olassus says:

      Yes, that was the apogee of her career, all nine minutes of it.

      She sang at President Obama’s second inaugural, in 2013, horribly.

    • Pedro says:

      Yes! I was at the concert. The best Neujahr concert ever ( and I was at the first one by Carlos Kleiber too … which was also very good ).

  • Hilary says:

    A name change earlier in her career may have averted the crisis. ‘Battle’ is too confrontational.

  • MacroV says:

    I suppose it’s good to mend fences, but I always thought Volpe firing her from that production was one of his finest moments, making the point that the MET isn’t going to cater to every performer’s petty whims. Volpe had his shortcomings, but he seemed to be pretty good about insisting that the MET had to operate seriously and efficiently. I recall a 60 Minutes piece on Gergiev a few years ago where Volpe told how he admonished Gergiev when he showed up late to a rehearsal; he can get away with that in his own house but not at the MET, where time is serious money.

    • Bruce says:

      He apparently had a run-in with La Gheorghiu about a blond wig she was supposed to wear (I believe as Micaela in Carmen). He told her the wig was going on, with or without her; she submitted.

    • MWnyc says:

      That wasn’t a rehearsal Gergiev was late for; it was a performance. More than one critic spotted Gergiev arriving at the house, with a garment bag slung over his shoulder, less than five minutes before curtain time.

    • Michael Brooks says:

      Here’s where you’re wrong…it was one of his worst moments and showed a side of his personality that he should have kept hidden. It was all about his ego and she did not worship at his altar. Joe will end-up just like the ‘powerful” Mr. Bing….. no one showed up at his funeral…except 1 sporano – Roberta Peters! For all the smiles….he was HATED.

  • Oscar says:

    Her 1987 Christmas Album with Leonard Slatkin is still my favorite.

  • Una says:

    Well, Kathleen Battle was respected over here in England whatever about the carry on at the Met. It always takes two to tango. We didn’t have any problem with her name or ever suggested she should change. No one should have to change their identity if they are happy with it. Lovely singer for sure, and by all accounts a lovely person too said by those who worked with her at the time. And at 68 being asked to do this recital. Just a pity James Levine isn’t well enough to play for her.

    • Tom Phillips says:

      NO ONE on earth has ever experienced Kathleen Battle as being a “lovely person”. She certainly deserved her firing (and subsequently destroyed career in the opera world); it is pitiful that the Met’s cluelessly incompetent General Manager has invited her back, probably as a backhanded insult to Joe Volpe, his far more accomplished predecessor, whom he has long detested.

      • MacroV says:

        I always marveled at the fact that once the MET fired her, that seemed to end her opera career, as though no house dared to drop her until the MET did.

        As far as difficult, my favorite anecdote – no idea if it’s true, though truth is stranger than fiction – has her riding in a car somewhere and, finding the A/C too cold, supposedly calling up her management to have them call the driver and tell him to raise the temperature, apparently because she wouldn’t deign to speak to him herself.

        Hopefully age and a few years in the wildnerness – she hasn’t really been on the A-list for a long time – have mellowed her out a bit.

    • Bruce says:

      “…by all accounts a lovely person too said by those who worked with her at the time. ”

      Two accounts from people who were there:

      – I knew someone who was an intern with the Boston Symphony administrative offices when she sang with them. Since the offices are housed in the same building, the staff would sometimes go and listen to part of a rehearsal, especially if someone famous was the guest artist. When she saw people sitting in the auditorium, she stopped and refused to continue until everyone was removed. This was approx. 1993.

      – I knew someone who was in the Met orchestra when she recorded her album of Mozart arias with them (about 1994 I think). It was in a church, and orchestra members who weren’t needed for a particular aria would sit in the pews and listen. She said she “didn’t want people looking at her” while she sang, so everyone had to go wait in a room in the basement if they weren’t playing. It slowed things down a bit, since they had to send someone to tell the clarinets (or whoever) to come upstairs instead of just saying “OK guys, you’re on.”

      I don’t think anybody’s feelings were hurt, but “lovely” doesn’t seem appropriate somehow.

  • HugoPreuss says:

    When she stopped singing at the big houses I naively assumed that there was a problem with her voice. My friends who are professional musicians fell over themselves with laughter at that assumption and told me, unanimously and on several non-related occasions that she was absolutely, totally, utterly impossible to work with.

  • Michael Brooks says:

    Most of the posts I’ve read here are opinions that are based on hearsay and not actual facts – and by mean-spirited, hateful, hurtful people, who clearly think they’re OK, and Ms. Battle is not. First of all, Battle did not invent “Diva Behavior” and nor did it ceased because she was no longer at the MET. No one speaks of the beloved Freni who walked out of a dress rehearsal because of “dust” or Horne who insisted on dressing room #1 and Acted-out, or Alexandria Marc who showed up late for a performance (with a bucket of KFC) – true! The real truth is – Battle is demanding of herself and her colleagues….just as Callas was. And shall we not forget that Ruth Ann Swenson has had colleagues fired because she didn’t like them – but karma caught-up with her, didn’t it?! Even Pavarotti shut-out Leona Mitchell from a production of Ernani because he wanted another soprano – so “Opera Behavior” exists – and has from the beginning. The problem is – many people felt Battle had no right to be a “diva” as she was considered a “seconda donna”. As far as Volpe is concerned – there’s a special place in Hell for him, and his Mafioso behavior. What do I mean by this? He set-up Battle, so he could fire her… Elias (well, well, past her prime) was brought in as a nuisance to play the piano….. Bea Arthur turned bel cano comedy into cheap, vulgar vaudeville – replete with stopping the show and flirting with the conductor (I was there!) Oddly, Volpe did NOT bring the beloved Elias back or Bea (or that concept) when the likes of June Anderson assumed the role….funny that! The opera was played as it has been since its MET debut. You think Battle has some stories… well, I can assure you her stories are no different than most. And why after 22 years would one still need to hate her? What’s that about? The facts are – she’s still beautiful and still has a clean, pure, beautiful voice. She has remained positive – and successfully so, in the face of venom. And success is always the best revenge!

    • MacroV says:

      I don’t think anyone is suggesting that other performers haven’t been difficult or their various eccentricities. But you have a case here of someone who was dismissed in a very public way and it seems that it didn’t come as a surprise to many who had experience with her. Plus the fact that it really seemed to be a turning point in her career. And there are enough people who witnessed these incidents that you can’t dismiss them as made up.

      But by all means, glad she’s coming back there to sing.

  • Jerry says:

    There have been many, many accounts of her antics published in very reputable publications over a period of years. I doubt sincerely that they would have done so on a whim. James Levine was her main benefactor and she, his protégé. He kept her on the stage far longer than many would have liked, but even he distanced himself from her in later years, as her behavior became more erratic and demanding. Methinks, where there’s smoke, there’s fire–and this was a bonfire from Hell!

    • Michael Brooks says:

      It’s the “Bonfire from Hell” – really Jerry? It’s a good thing you’re the Patron Saint of Superiority and Righteousness – having yourself never done anything wrong or reprehensible! I’m guessing you think you like opera – good! May I recommend PARSIFAL….. a little story about redemption……..something so many of us actually need. You and those like you may even find there’s something in there for you too. So as I said before: why after 22 years would one still need to hate and condemn her – why live in the past? What’s that about? The facts are – she’s still beautiful and still has a clean, pure, beautiful voice. She has remained positive and moved forward: and successfully so, in the face of continued hatred. And success is ALWAYS the best revenge! Let’s call it the “bonfire” from Heaven!