From The Metropolitan Opera Archives:

Rudolf Bing

1902 - 1997


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 convictions.

"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."
April 20, 1950. Bing to a writer who had protested the announcement that Bing would hire artists regardless of race.
"Thank you for your letter of April 19th and for the kind interest you are displaying in the Metropolitan Opera's affairs.

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.]
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 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.

"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 to avoid."
November 3, 1953. Bing to Roberto Bauer, the Met's agent in Italy.
"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.

"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."
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.
"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.

"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."
February 23, 1956. Bing to soprano Hilde Gueden about her appearance in Don Pasquale which would take place on March 12, 1956.
"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.

"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 limits.

"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!"
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.
"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 dollars!

"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 Paris."
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.
"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.

"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."
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.

RT



Rudolf Bing onstage with baritone Leonard Warren during a break in Otello.

Photograph by Harry Schumer, Music
Librarian at the Met between 1938 & 1968.





Bing with Zinka Milanov in her dressing room before her Act I entrance in Tosca. When Renata Tebaldi was not able to appear for her first scheduled Met Aida on February 19, 1955, Bing changed the opera to give the audience Milanov's first Met Tosca.

Photograph by Louis Mélançon.




Bing backstage with Maria Callas at her return to the Met as Tosca on March 19, 1965. The inscription reads "To Rudolf with deep affection and sincere friendship in memory of our special performances and his affectionate care of me. Maria Callas 1965"

Photograph by Louis Mélançon.