© 2020 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
NPR Arts & Life

22 Years After Famous Firing, Kathleen Battle Returns To Metropolitan Opera

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Opera is famous for its big temperamental personality, so it makes sense that's where we get words like prima donna and diva. One of the biggest of those personalities? Kathleen Battle.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A 22-year-old fight between Battle and New York's Metropolitan Opera is getting a new act. Battle is a soprano, and her fame grew throughout the '80s and '90s along with her reputation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MARTIN GOLDSMITH, BYLINE: As one prominent critic said, every opera company across the world has a Kathy Battle story.

CORNISH: That was Martin Goldsmith on NPR in 1994. At the time, he was host of Performance Today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

GOLDSMITH: There is the time when Kathleen Battle was given a dressing room, decided that in fact she wanted the dressing room next door because it was bigger.

She walked in, took the clothes of the occupant of that dressing room and just threw them out into the hall and took over. She's had arguments with conductors, she has shown up late, she's left rehearsals early - that sort of thing.

CORNISH: Then in February 1994, the Metropolitan Opera got fed up with Battle. During the final week of rehearsals for Donizetti's "The Daughter Of The Regiment," Kathleen Battle was fired.

SHAPIRO: Here's Joseph Volpe, then the general manager of the Met, talking to NPR in 2006.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOSEPH VOLPE: It got to a point where the rehearsals were chaos. So I was left in the position that I had to make this decision. I don't suggest it was easy, but it had to be done.

CORNISH: It was a very public split. At the time, Kathleen Battle said no one at the Met had told her about any unprofessional actions. She hasn't played the Met since.

SHAPIRO: Then yesterday, 22 years later, the Met announced that Kathleen Battle is returning to the company stage. In November, she'll perform a recital of spirituals. In a statement, she said spirituals have the power to uplift and to heal, and we certainly need that in today's world.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "O SWEET CHARIOT")

KATHLEEN BATTLE: (Singing) Coming forth to carry me home. Oh, swing low, sweet chariot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.