An opera singer is a rare species of unbridled talent.
By: Freya Pruitt & Tumora Mead
A dramatic soprano with a spectacular high C can blow a city block to smithereens! A tenor with a velvet voice can soothe you into submission and a Mezzo Soprano can use her lush and sexy notes to lure you under her spell. If you are a coloratura soprano you sing with the highest flying birds of the sky. You may begin at middle C but you quickly ascend to heights even canaries never dream of.
There is a great mystery to an opera singer. Being born with a God given voice is important, but it takes a lot more than talent to get you to the most famous opera house in the world. To arrive at The Metropolitan Opera House is indicative of the highest level of competition and accomplishment an artist can achieve. Making the distance to the top demands an acute sense of a competitive spirit, amazing talent and a drive so vigilant it is like going into battle!
But winning the war is a journey of individual steps that few ever complete. Success comes to only a select group of singers as they aggressively strive towards stardom at The Met. There can be no great opera houses without great opera singers and The Met has spawned numerous stars that have become living legends of superlative vocal technique and astounding talent.
TTW proudly looks back in history at the greatest opera house in the world. We salute The Metropolitan Opera for its extraordinary contribution to American operatic history and to the many artists who have graced its great stage. May The Metropolitan Opera continue to reign as the “voice” of The Lincoln Center giants.
As the largest classical music organization in North America, the Metropolitan Opera continues to show the world that it is still the “Venue for the world’s greatest voices”! As one of the greatest and most prestigious of its kind, with over 800,000 people in annual attendance and in 2011 reaching an HD audience of 3 million throughout 1700 theaters worldwide, there is no doubt that the Met is the name above all in the Opera community.
When one thinks of the greatest opera houses in the world, The Metropolitan Opera always stands as the citadel of them all, but the brilliance and greatness of the Met was inspired by many great impresarios, directors and general managers. As one looks back through history, Rudolf Bing stands out as one of the greatest general managers of all time. His artistry and ability to find extraordinary voices and turn them into stars is unparalleled. He led The Met to a new level of greatness. Bing was considered a Svengali and cultivated his singers with great passion and consistency as he groomed newcomers into some of the most famous and revered singers in the world. Sir Rudolf Bing left a lasting and permanent impression on The Met and set the standard for all that followed in his footsteps.
Born Rudolph Franz Joseph Bing in Vienna, Austro-Hungarian Empire to a well-to-do Jewish family (his father was an industrialist), Bing studied at the University of Vienna and as a young man worked in theatrical and concert agencies. In 1927, he went to Berlin, Germany and subsequently served as general manager of opera houses in that city and in Darmstadt. While in Berlin he married a Russian ballerina, but in 1934, with the rise of Nazi Germany, the Bings moved to the United Kingdom where in 1946, he became a naturalized British subject. There he helped to found the Glyndebourne Festival Opera and after the war, organized the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland.
In 1949, he went to the United States, to become General Manager of the Metropolitan, a post he would hold for 22 years. During the 1960s, he supervised the move of the old Metropolitan to its new quarters in Lincoln Center and his administration presided over one of the most prominent eras of the Met. It was summed up in 1990 by James Oestreich in the New York Times as follows:
“Wielding his powerful position at the Metropolitan Opera with intense personal charisma over two decades, Sir Rudolf Bing ruled much of the operatic universe in autocratic fashion, nurturing young artists and cutting superstars down to size with equal enthusiasm. He oversaw the abandonment in 1966 of the stately but somewhat dilapidated old Metropolitan Opera House [which he then had razed] and the construction of a grand monument to his regime, the building the company now occupies, which dominates Lincoln Center. His conservative musical and dramatic bent, preference for Italian opera and concern for theatrical values yielded an identifiable artistic legacy.”
During Bing’s tenure the Met’s artist roster became integrated for the first time. Marian Anderson became the first African American to sing a leading role at the house in 1955. She was soon followed by Reri Grist, Robert McFerrin, Shirley Verrett, and many others. Bing was noted for his preference for European singers and an apparent lack of interest in some leading American performers. Notably, Beverly Sills had to wait until after Bing’s retirement to make her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1975. In an interview after his retirement, Bing acknowledged that not using Sills was a mistake. Still, Bing fostered the careers of many American artists during his years at the Met. Roberta Peters, Leontyne Price, Anna Moffo, Sherrill Milnes, and Jess Thomas are just a few that flourished during his time.
The Metropolitan Opera, now in its 129th season, is home to some of the most creative and talented artists, composers, conductors, singers, musicians, designers, directors, choreographers and dancers from across the globe. It has always engaged many of the world’s most prominent and important operatic artists and stars. During it’s inaugural season, Christine Nilsson and Marcella Sembrich shared leading roles, followed by Lilli Lehmann dominating anything she sang through the German seasons. Just before the turn of the century, Nellie Melba and Emma Calve shared the spotlight with Jean and Edouard De Reszke along side Emma Eames and Lilliana Nordica. Enrico Caruso had sung more performances with the Met than with all the world’s other opera companies combined. American singers Geraldine Farrar
and Rosa Ponselle along side Lawrence Tibbett, the first American baritone for whom the Met was considered home, had joined the company and added critical acclaim by 1920. Through the National Council Auditions and Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, the Met discovers and trains artists as it continues to present the greatest available talent from around the world.
Among notable singers who were never engaged by Sir Rudolf were Patricia Brooks, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Maureen Forrester, Leyla Gencer, Chester Ludgin, Patricia Neway, Magda Olivero, Mirto Picchi, Miriam Pirazzini, Arlene Saunders, Nancy Shade, Rita Shane, Sills, Norman Treigle, Tatiana Troyanos, and Beverly Wolff.
After leaving the Met, Bing wrote two books, 5000 Nights at the Opera (1972) and A Knight at the Opera (1981).
The U.S. has seen premieres of some of the most important operas in the repertory directly through the Met. Wagner’s works Die Meistersinger von Numberg, das Rheingold, Siegfried, Gotterdammerung, Tristan und Isolde, and Parsifal were first performed in this country by the Met. Other American premieres included Boris Godunov, Der Rosenkavalier, Turandot, Simon Boccanegra, and Arabella. Humperdinck’s Konigskinder, Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West and Il Trittico, and five recent works – John Corigliano and William Hoffman’s The Ghosts of Versailles (1991), Philip Glass’s The Voyage (1992) John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby (1999), Tobias Picker’s An American Tragedy (2005), Tan Dun’s The First Emperor (2006), the Baroque pastiche The Enchanted Island (2011), were among the Met’s 32 world premieres and an additional 45 operas have had their Met premieres since 1976.
In 1977, with a performance of LaBoheme, the Met began a regular series of televised productions viewed by more than four million people on public television. In the decades to follow, more than 70 complete Met performances have been made available to a huge audience around the world. The company launched The Met: Live in HD, a performance series transmission shown live in high definition to movie theaters around the world, today reaching more than 1700 venues in 54 countries. It also launched a groundbreaking commissioning program in 2006 in partnership with New York’s Lincoln Center Theater providing renowned composers and playwrights with the resources to create and develop new works at the Met and at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater. Along side the Arnold and Marie Schwartz Gallery Met, which displays the work of top contemporary visual artists, new public programs that provide greater access to the Met, including the series of Open Dress Rehearsals which are free to the public and many other initiatives as well. The Met continues to change the world by expanding people’s artistic experiences and bring amazing works of art to all who wish to experience them.
With it’s excellent acoustics and state of the art stage facilities, the Met has advanced the Operatic community within the United States and worldwide and there are many more exciting and innovative years to come. With the passing of Bing in 1997 his legacy becomes more evident as The Met continues to soar to new heights and they continue to fill the great house with enthusiastic fans. His memory will live on in the premier of each new opera, with the high “C” of every new soprano and will continue to resonate with the soaring notes of each new tenor. Bing’s contribution will be the shadowed brilliance behind each performance as The Metropolitan Opera maintains its prominence as the greatest opera house in the world. Sir Rudolf Bing will live on in the history books as one of the greatest operatic contributors the world has ever seen. May God continue to bless the great house as its soars into a new level of greatness with each new season. We embrace the future of the arts and express gratitude to the Metropolitan Opera for bringing this beautiful craft to new heights.