He Made the Met Opera’s Chorus the Best in the World

During the second intermission of the Metropolitan Opera’s gilded, gargantuan production of “Turandot” one Friday last month, Donald Palumbo raced up to a tiny broadcast studio on the top floor for an interview.

Then he raced downstairs again. There was something he needed to do backstage before the curtain rose.

Palumbo, 75, who is retiring this spring after 17 years as the company’s chorus master, wanted to run through the start of Act III with the quartet of heralds, drawn from the chorus, who hauntingly call out a warning from Princess Turandot.

It was 13 performances into the season’s “Turandot” run, at 10 o’clock at night. But Palumbo, one of opera’s most mild-mannered yet most unrelenting perfectionists, was still making sure that the singers’ intonation was flawless, still fine-tuning the placement of the first note in a certain phrase.

Palumbo conducting from the wings during a performance of “Turandot” at the Metropolitan Opera in April. Credit…Elliott Jerome Brown Jr. for The New York Times

“You have to be very specific,” he had said earlier about the way he coaches his choristers, “but you can’t micromanage.”

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