By Frederick H. Lowe
World-renown soprano Kathleen Battle will return to the Metropolitan Opera later this year after the company fired her in 1994 for being too difficult to work with.
Battle will perform the recital “Kathleen Battle: Underground Railroad—A Spiritual Journey” at 4:00 p.m. November 13. She will sing a recital of spirituals inspired by the journey to freedom along the Underground Railroad, which was a 19th century network of safe houses that allowed black men and black women to escape slavery into Canada, where slave hunters didn’t go.
She will be accompanied by pianist Joel Martin and a choir under the direction of James Davis Jr., director of Music and Ministries and Fine Arts at Abyssinian Baptist Church, one of Harlem’s oldest churches. Adam Clayton Powell Sr. and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. served as Abyssinian’s pastors.
“I am thrilled to bring the ‘Underground Railroad—A Spiritual Journey’ to New York for the first time,” the 67-year-old Battle said in a statement. “Spirituals have the power to uplift and to heal, and we certainly need that in today’s world. This is a program which brings together my musical background and cultural heritage in the acoustical splendor at the Met.”
Tickets range from $25 to $200. Single tickets go on sale Sunday, June 26.
Battle’s return to the Metropolitan Opera is quite a homecoming for Battle who was shown the door of the world’s premier opera house for her high-maintenance behavior.
The New York Times reported on February 6, 1994, that Battle, who was known for fiery temperament, was fired by the Metropolitan Opera during its production of Donizetti’s “Fille du Regiment,” citing unprofessional behavior. She was under contract for other operas, but the Met cancelled all future offers for other operas. Since she and the Met parted, Battle has been performing recitals.
But Peter Gelb, Met General Manager, said since Battle was fired he has been trying to get her to return.
“She is in great voice and this will be an important event for the Met and the public,” Gelb said.
Battle will return to the Met, which has been struggling with declining attendance, The New York Times reported.
Battle made her Met debut in 1977 as the Shepherd in Wagner’s “Tannhauser.”
She has sung 224 performances of 14 roles with the Met. Battle gave acclaimed performances in a varied repertory that included numerous roles by Mozart—Susanna in “Le Nozze di Figaro,” Zerlina in “Don Giovanni,” Despina in “Cosi fan tutte” and other operas.