Rudolf Bing

Rudolf Bing
General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera
In office
Preceded by Edward Patrick Johnson
Succeeded by Göran Gentele
Personal details
Born Rudolf Franz Joseph Bing
(1902-01-09)January 9, 1902
Vienna, Austro-Hungarian Empire (now Austria)
Died September 2, 1997(1997-09-02) (aged 95)
Yonkers, New York, United States
Cause of death Respiratory failure
Spouse(s) Nina Schelemskaya-Schlesnaya
(m. 19281983; her death)
Carroll Douglass
(m. 1987; annulled)
Education University of Vienna
Occupation Opera impresario

Sir Rudolf Bing (January 9, 1902 September 2, 1997) was an Austrian-born opera impresario who worked in Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, most notably being General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City from 1950 to 1972. He became a British citizen in 1946 and was knighted in 1971.

Life and career

Early years

Born Rudolf Franz Joseph Bing in Vienna, Austria-Hungary to a well-to-do Jewish family (his father was an industrialist). Bing was an apprentice to a bookseller at the prestigious Viennese shop of Gilhofer & Ranschburg before moving on to Hugo Heller, who also ran a theatrical and concert agency. He then studied music and art history at the University of Vienna. 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 naturalised British subject. There he helped to found the Glyndebourne Festival Opera and after the war, organised the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland.

Metropolitan Opera

In 1949 he moved to the United States, and became General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera the following year, a post he held for 22 years. During the 1960s, he supervised the move of the old Metropolitan on Broadway and 39th Street, to its new quarters in Lincoln Center and 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.[1]

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 in 1955. She was soon followed by Reri Grist, Robert McFerrin, Shirley Verrett, and many others. He was noted for his preference for European singers and an apparent lack of interest in some leading American performers. Beverly Sills had to wait until after Bing's retirement to make her Met debut in 1975, although Bing later said that not using Sills earlier was a mistake.[2] He fostered the careers of many American artists. Roberta Peters, Leontyne Price, Anna Moffo, Sherrill Milnes, and Jess Thomas are just a few that flourished during his time.

Bing is also remembered for his stormy relationship with the era's most famous soprano, Maria Callas. After hiring her for the Met with a debut as Norma on opening night in 1956, he famously canceled her contract in 1958 when they could not come to terms regarding the roles she would sing. Bing invited Callas to return to the Met for two performances of Tosca in 1965, the year that turned out to be her final season in opera.[3]

After leaving the Met, Bing wrote two books of memoirs, 5000 Nights at the Opera (1972) and A Knight at the Opera (1981).

Personal life

While living in Berlin, Bing married the Russian ballerina Nina Schelemskaya-Schlesnaya in 1928. They remained together until her death in 1983. They had no children.

In January 1987, he married again, to Carroll Douglass, a 45-year-old woman who then took him with her to an island in the Caribbean. After Bing's departure, it was revealed that Douglass had a history of mental illness. Due to this reason, and the fact that Bing himself had been suffering for some years from Alzheimer's disease, an American court eventually declared him incompetent to enter into a marriage contract and annulled the union.[4]

Final years

In 1989, Roberta Peters and Teresa Stratas arranged for Bing to be admitted to The Hebrew Home for the Aged in Riverdale, The Bronx, New York City, where he resided until his death. Bing died from respiratory failure as a complication of Alzheimer's disease on September 2, 1997, aged 95, at St. Joseph's Hospital in Yonkers, New York.[5] He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City.


Bing received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in 1971 for his services to the arts, becoming Sir Rudolf Bing. Throughout his years in America, Bing had remained a British subject.[6] In 1973, Bing received the Grand Decoration of Honour in Gold for Services to the Republic of Austria.[7]


  1. James R. Oestreich, "For Rudolf Bing at 88, Operatic Drama Lingers". The New York Times. March 11, 1990.
  2. Morgan, Brian (2006), Strange Child of Chaos: Norman Treigle, iUniverse, pp. 176–177, ISBN 978-0-595-38898-1
  5. James R. Oestreich (September 3, 1997). "Rudolf Bing, Titan of the Met, Dies at 95". New York Times. Retrieved 2015-08-28. Sir Rudolf Bing, who as the dapper and acerbic general manager of the Metropolitan Opera from 1950 to 1972 ushered the company into the modern era and into Lincoln Center, died yesterday at St. Joseph's Hospital in Yonkers. He was 95 and lived at the Hebrew Home for the Aged at Riverdale in The Bronx.
  6. Lewis, Anthony, "Elizabeth Dubs Met's Bing Sir Rudolf"', November 10, 1971, New York Times
  7. "Reply to a parliamentary question" (PDF) (in German). p. 372. Retrieved 19 October 2012.


Preceded by
Edward Johnson
General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera
Succeeded by
Göran Gentele
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