NEW YORK (AP) — Kathleen Battle is returning to the Metropolitan Opera, 22 years after the company fired her and publicly accused her of “unprofessional actions.”
Battle, who will be 68 in August, is scheduled to sing a recital on Nov. 13 titled, “Underground Railroad-A Spiritual Journey,” the company said Monday. The soprano will be accompanied by pianist Joel Martin and by a choir under the direction of James Davis Jr., director of music ministries and fine arts at New York’s Abyssinian Baptist Church.
Battle made her Met debut in 1977 and was a favorite of music director James Levine. She walked off the stage during rehearsals in 1993 after battling with conductor Christian Thielemann over tempo and canceled five scheduled performances as Sophie in Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier.”
Joseph Volpe, then the Met’s general manager, publicly announced in February 1994 that the company had terminated her contract for Donizetti’s “La Fille du Regiment (The Daughter of the Regiment),” saying her actions “were profoundly detrimental to the artistic collaboration among all the cast members.”
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“I don’t believe there’s any ill will towards her at all, but I wasn’t here 20 years ago,” Peter Gelb, who took over from Volpe in 2006, said in a telephone interview. “I think everyone at the Met likes to hear great artists.”
Gelb said he spoke with Battle about 10 years ago and was unsuccessful in an attempt to have her return to the Met for a revival of Mozart’s “Die Zauberfloete (The Magic Flute).” He said they started discussing the spiritual concert several years ago, and Battle tested her voice on the Met stage in December.
Tim Fox, Battle’s agent, didn’t respond to an email seeking comment. In the past, she has deflected questions about her Met departure.
“Spirituals have the power to uplift and to heal, and we certainly need that in today’s world,” Battle said in a statement released by the Met. “This is a program which brings together my musical background and my cultural heritage, in the acoustical splendor of the Met.”
Battle has sung 224 performances of 14 roles with the Met, last appearing with the company in 1993.
During a November 1985 performance of Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro)” at the Met, she was said to have thrown the clothes of soprano Carol Vaness into a hallway because she wanted Vaness’ larger Met dressing room. Also during the 1993-94 season, reports said workers at the San Francisco Opera had T-shirts created that read: “I Survived the Battle.”
The Met has had famous feuds in the past. Soprano Maria Callas was fired by general manager Rudolf Bing in 1956 after she tried to back out of two performances of Verdi’s “La Traviata,” then returned in 1965 for two performances of Puccini’s “Tosca.”
Volpe didn’t want to get into a rehash of the past.
“I’m happy that’s she still able to sing,” he said, “and I wish her the best.”