Rudolf Bing, immigrant Opera impresario: He created great institutions in two adopted countries.

September 04, 1997

IF THE TREND toward closing a country's doors to refugees and immigrants grows, the next Rudolf Bing won't make it.

Sir Rudolf, who died Tuesday at 95, was an Austrian whose career in bookselling turned into concert and theater management in Germany. An early refugee from Nazi tyranny, he landed in 1934 in England as assistant manager trying to create summer opera on a country estate. The result: the Glyndebourne Festival, of which he became general manager. It is a rare and thriving institution that has launched many a career.

After World War II, he organized for Edinburgh a seasonal arts festival -- a daft idea to many. He was its artistic director. This event is now the toughest ticket on the tourist circuit and the standard for all arts festivals.

Somebody had the bright idea at the stodgy Metropolitan Opera in New York to bring this obscure emigre to its helm. And so he came, without ever giving up the British citizenship he had been so grateful to acquire. He built the Met into the world's premier opera company.

He brought in great artists and designers and stage directors to integrate the work of the very best singers and conductors. He broke down the inexcusable color bar on the Met's stage, opening every possibility to African-American dancers and singers. He moved the company out of its revered but obsolete hall into the new Lincoln Center.

The Met's general manager from 1950 to 1972 was known for an aloof manner and a biting wit in his adopted language. To this day, Sir Rudolf is the archetype of the opera impresario. What a loss for the countries that had no use for him. What a gain for the countries that took him in.

Pub Date: 9/04/97

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