Rudolf Bing was General Manager of
the Metropolitan Opera from 1950 to 1972. A strong leader, he took
complete responsibility for running the company. Much of his work can be
documented with official correspondence that reveals him as a firm and
witty letter writer.
One of Bing's first acts on
arriving in New York in 1949 was to arrange for the return to the
company of Kirsten Flagstad.
February 6, 1950. Bing to an angry Met subscriber.
"Please don't think that I am attempting
to persuade you to renew your subscription. I merely wish to say that I
have sincere respect for your feelings and the only thing I ask in
return is for you and others to respect the sincerity of my
April 20, 1950. Bing
to a writer who had protested the announcement that Bing would hire
artists regardless of race.
"I have left Nazi Germany during the first days
after Hitler's advent to power. I have lost friends and of course all my
possessions through leaving Austria and Germany. I have spent the war
years in London in the Fire Services - but I am here to run the greatest
operatic organization in the world, and I am determined to run it
without prejudice of race or politics, on the basis of quality and
Quality only. I cannot in this letter go into the details of the
Flagstad case. The Norwegian government has cleared her; the American
government has given her a visa, and permits her to appear here as she
appears in France, England and other European countries. Is there to be
no end to the hatred?
"As I said, I respect your views, but I want you to
know that mine are based on Miss Flagstad's vocal and Artistic qualities
and on nothing else."
"Thank you for your letter of April 19th
and for the kind interest you are displaying in the Metropolitan Opera's
August 1951. Draft of
letter to Italian tenor Mario Del Monaco who had made his Met debut as
Des Grieux in Manon Lescaut on November 27, 1950.
I don't think that I will have any Negro singers in next
season's roster as there are no suitable parts and the roster is
complete, but I am afraid I cannot agree with you that as a matter of
principle, Negro singers should be excluded. This is not what America
and her allies have been fighting for.
Thank you for having written to me." [Ballerina
Janet Collins, who made her debut in the Aida production which
opened Bing's second season on November 13, 1951, was the first black
solo artist at the Metropolitan. Marian Anderson sang Ulrica in Un
Ballo in Maschera on January 7, 1955 to become the first black solo
singer at the Met.]
"I am upset to hear from Mr. Hurok 'that
you did not fully understand that you would be required to rehearse for
three weeks before the season opens.' I can only assume that it is once
again an agent who tries to interfere and that you have not authorized
Mr. Hurok to make that statement. You cannot have forgotten that from
the first moment of our meetings, and repeatedly thereafter, I have
given you the date from which we would require you to rehearse and I
don't think it could have been made clearer to you than it was that we
could not and would not agree to less rehearsals. With our production of
Verdi's Don Carlo by Margaret Webster - the same director who is
to stage Aida - a new standard for operatic productions in
America was set and I will under no circumstances permit this standard
to be lowered. You are much too good an artist to need explanation that
artist standards can only be achieved by rehearsals and not by miracles.
I do not merely want good singers who step out in front of the prompt
box and deliver an aria. We want a uniform style of contemporary
production and this cannot be achieved by merely arranging for artists
to appear left and leave on the right.
November 3, 1953. Bing
to Roberto Bauer, the Met's agent in Italy.
"You have shown me proof that you were available
from the 22nd of October and you were able to produce a written
statement from the San Francisco Opera releasing you from your option. I
would not have engaged you otherwise. You have signed an agreement with
us promising you the opening performance of Aida and this
agreement was based on the unmistakable, clear understanding that you
would be available from October 22nd and not later. I cannot change that
and I hope that you will not ask me to change it as this would only
cause unnecessary difficulties between us which I am sure we both wish
"Tebaldi: as before, I am very
interested and would hope that at last we can come to an agreement. You
might tactfully remind Madame Tebaldi that we have now, on and off,
tried to arrange an engagement since 1949. I know that Madame Tebaldi is
extremely young, but even Italian sopranos don't get younger with the
passing years! So how long does she want to wait? In the first place she
wanted a short engagement and when last season I offered an engagement
for only 3 - 4 weeks, then she said she wanted a longer engagement.
So what the hell does she want? I don't think I am interested in
anything less than a minimum of 8 weeks, most likely more. Then there is
the question of rehearsals; she would have to have at least one or two
weeks preceding the engagement for rehearsals. I don't think that she
can count on more than an average of one and a half performances a week,
that is to say, in 8 weeks we might offer her 12 performances or
something like that, I don't think, also, that in her first year I can
offer her more than approximately $750. per performance. She simply must
make up her mind whether she wants to invest that in a Metropolitan
- North American career or not. If she is an enormous success,
naturally she might get better terms in subsequent years. If she is not
interested in building up a North American career on the basis of the
Metropolitan then of course there is no point in her accepting such an
offer. So let me know what her ideas are."
January 20, 1954. Bing
to George A. Sloan, Chairman of the Board of the Metropolitan Opera
Association. Conductor George Szell left the Met after a fight with
Bing. His last performance was January 14, 1954.
"Mr. Szell's comments on my work at the
Metropolitan leave me cool. I am completely disinterested in his
artistic judgement on stagecraft. Mr. Szell before emigrating to this
country, worked at a medium class German theatre in Czechoslovakia and
since then has never seen or done opera outside the Metropolitan. His
knowledge on the subject is of no consequence."
July 22, 1954. Bing to
Italian baritone Ettore Bastianini who had made his Met debut as Germont
in La Traviata on December 5, 1953.
"I had hoped you would at last
understand that we make contracts to fulfill them; I don't collect
singers like Butterflies - I engage them because I need them.
September 20, 1955.
Bing to Giovanni Battista Meneghini, husband of Maria Callas. Callas
made her Met debut in the title role of Norma on October 29, 1956
with Fausto Cleva conducting.
"I told you that I could not change your contract.
Mr. Rudolf wrote to you that we cannot change your contract and Signor
Bauer advised you that we cannot change your contract.
"You can break your contract if you choose to do so
and face all the consequences.
"Forgive me for being short, but I [have] had enough
of this now. I hope you have a good summer and still hope you will come
to New York as arranged and honour your word and signature, just as you
would expect me to honour mine."
"As I have pointed out in my letter of
the 7th of August, It appears, therefore that our trouble centers around
the personality of Maestro Cleva. I cannot believe that you and Signora
Callas are not prepared to forget what no doubt must have been an
unpleasant incident a year or two ago. Surely Signora Callas is big
enough an artist and great enough a personality to let the past be
forgotten. Frankly, I don't know how I can get over this difficulty
unless Signora Callas is prepared to show sufficient greatness of mind
and ignore an incident of the past. We all have had occasionally
unpleasant experiences and I for one am getting much too old to waste my
time being angry with people because they have once perhaps behaved
badly towards me. Surely Signora Callas' appearances at the Metropolitan
are more important than that. There is no other conductor available and
with the deepest regret I must repeat what I said in my letter of August
7th: PLEASE do not ask me for a change of conductor because it is one
that, with the best will in the world, I cannot fulfill.
February 23, 1956.
Bing to soprano Hilde Gueden about her appearance in Don Pasquale
which would take place on March 12, 1956.
"Bauer informs me that Signora Callas might prefer
to open with Norma instead of Lucia. While I cannot at
this moment commit myself to this definitely, I would certainly consider
it very seriously and it may be possible for us to make that change if
she really wants it. I do hope she will accept the Queen of the Night. I
think it would add an enormously important point to her first appearance
in this city: it would show that she is not only the great virtuoso of
Italian Opera, it would show that she is also a musician who is not
afraid to tackle the most difficult part that Mozart has written."
"I am most terribly sorry but I am
afraid we cannot after all have your Norina costumes made by Madame
Karinska. We just had an estimate which proved that the cost of having
the costumes made there as against making them in our own workshop would
be about $1100 to $1200 more expensive.
April 12, 1965. Bing
to designer Cecil Beaton about the production of La Traviata
which would have its first Met performance on September 24, 1966 in the
new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center.
"You know that I would love to do almost anything to
please you, but there are limits and I am afraid $1100 is beyond these
"I am sure that our people will take the utmost care
in making these costumes and that your charming figure and good looks
will triumph over our workmanship!"
"I am very much upset and don't quite
know what to do. Mme. Karinska, after weeks of "simplifying",
has reduced her bid for the Traviata costumes from one hundred
and fifteen thousand dollars to one hundred and seven thousand
August 28, 1967. Bing
to a doctor in New Britain, Connecticut who had protested the conditions
at a Met performance of Otello at the Newport Festival.
"As you know, there are not more than approximately
a maximum of one hundred and fifty costumes involved (about one hundred
and twenty for the two chorus acts plus the soloists and odds and ends).
This means an average price of seven hundred dollars per costume. Quite
frankly, I am not only unable, but also unwilling, to pay that.
"I can get a first rate, individually designed,
evening gown at Lanvin in Paris for seven or eight hundred dollars, and
it seems to me totally unreasonable to have to pay that on average for
"Annina", for the "Gardener" and, indeed, for chorus
ladies, even though they are supposed to represent the courtesans of
"Needless to say, we all regret that you
were inconvenienced and it is equally regrettable that opera fans, and
it appears you are one, show so little understanding for emergency
situations and for the splendid way in which the staff, greatly helped
by the United States Navy, handled it. You might admit that I cannot be
held responsible for the weather - it is one of the few things for
which I cannot be held responsible.
Sir Rudolf Bing (he
had been knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1971) retired from the
Metropolitan Opera at the end of the 1971-72 season. He died on
September 2, 1997.
"When the weather threatened to make an outdoor
performance impossible and we were faced with disappointing four or five
thousand people, apart from the disastrous economic implications, the
Navy stepped in and offered the hall. I am not suggesting the acoustics
are as good as they are at the Metropolitan, nor were they at the field.
It is also not my fault that there is hardly a single acceptable opera
hall in the United States outside of New York.
"We had provided for a 'rainy day' which was Sunday
when it poured as you may know more that it did on Friday. While I am
quite sure and regret that some people were disappointed, had you stayed
you might have found that well over four thousand people enjoyed a
splendid performance by Renata Tebaldi, Jon Vickers, Peter Glossop and
others and gave them a standing ovation which was mirrored in the press
of the next day."
Rudolf Bing onstage with
baritone Leonard Warren
during a break in Otello.
Photograph by Harry Schumer, Music
Librarian at the Met between 1938 & 1968.