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- 5000 Nights at the Opera by Rudolf Bing (1972, Hardcover)
Over the years I had watched people who had an inborn gift to attract publicity. When [Sir Thomas] Beecham sneezed, it made the newspapers. I had no hope of imitating his style of high intrigue, supreme control through attrition by indecision, mixed with charm.
But I studied his performance. In spite of his postViennese experiences as head of the Glyndebourne and Edinburgh festivals in Great Britain and his two decades as the Met's overseer, Sir Rudolf never did understand, let alone appreciate, the wildly pluralistic nature of the critical press. Certainly not the New York chapter.
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He acted as if he believed that critics and opera managers mould be part of one happy conspiracy; failing that, the alternative could only be unending guerrilla warfare. Understanding the power of publicity, Sir Rudolf could always be counted on for a sharp quote, for which interviewers often had occasion to thank him. If there were no tape, he said, he could deny having said any unfortunate thing that might appear in print — such as, possibly, the foregoing. But if Sir Rudolf overestimated the importance of his image, music critics as opposed to casual reporters tended to begrudge him his real achievements, no doubt as a direct result.
The Bing years did see the entry of blacks into the Met the ballerina Janet Collins in his second season, Marian Anderson soon thereafter and the cracking of the color line on the Metropolitan's Southern tours. With a few glaring exceptions he engaged the world's leading singers, though sometimes too briefly only in their fading years.
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- 5000 Nights at the Opera: The Memoirs of Sir Rudolf Bing!
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Administratively, the level of efficiency rose in all departments. But, musically, the Metropolitan never could rise consistently above its general manager's own limited tastes in that area. Sir Rudolf's insistence on holding all authority in his hands meant that few great conductors could be happy working under him for long.
He fought with most of them, and always won. Essentially he remained a retailer of vocal stars, one who failed to understand that operatic drama flows out of the composer's score, not out of the singer's head. Inasmuch as the book was written before Mr. Gentele's death in an auto accident last summer, one naturally finds poignant references to problems the new man would be facing. Schuyler G. Gentele, being so new here, may not have the strength to stand up against the truly unceasing clamor of the bankers.
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There have been no particular difficulties. They have helped us and we have helped them. That Donizetti's three operas are pure Italian, not English, makes Sir Rudolf's remark as pointless as it is peevish. But then, as he said about Miss Sutherland, if we wanted the meat of his regime, we had to take the bones too.
This was the most momentous action taken by Bing during the entire period of his reign at the Met, as it opened the door for all the other immensely gifted black artists, headed by Leontyne Price and Grace Bumbry, who have sung there since. Renata Tebaldi also made her Metropolitan debut in , as Desdemona in Verdi's Otello; she remained for 17 seasons. The libretto was adapted from Shakespeare by Franco Zeffirelli, who also directed. Although this was not the unmitigated disaster it has been made out, the weight of the sets caused one of the turntables to break, jamming the new machinery.
Foreign singers, for instance Placido Domingo, also took this route. The culmination of Bing's years at the Met should have been a new production, jointly mounted with the Salzburg Festival, of the complete Ring cycle, directed and conducted by Herbert von Karajan; in the event, only Die Walkure and Das Rheingold in that order were performed before Bing retired. This was mainly due to the three-month strike which closed the theatre in the autumn of , but partly to the antagonism existing between Karajan and Nilsson, an indispensable Brunnhilde in any Ring cycle.
The following year, after his retirement from the Metropolitan, he published his autobiography, 5, Nights at the Opera. For a while he lectured at Brooklyn College, City University. The final years of his life were marred by Alzheimer's disease. You can find our Community Guidelines in full here.
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