Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: An Impresario for the Ages: Rudolf Bing

Rudolf Bing (1902-1997) circa 1944
Rudolf Bing (1902-1997) circa 1944

We mark the birth on January 9, 1902 – 121 years ago today – of the opera impresario Rudolf Bing, in Vienna Austria.  The general manager of the Metropolitan Opera in New York from 1950 to 1972, Bing died in Yonkers, New York in September 1997 at the age of 95.  His was a long life by any standard, but particularly by the standards of an opera impresario, whose professional livesare marked by a degree of life-threatening stress and anxiety that, perhaps, only has its equal in combat and divorce court.  


The term “impresario” originated in the world of Italian opera in the 1750s.  Deriving from the Italian word “impresa,” which is “an enterprise or undertaking,” an impresario was that single individual who organized, financed, and produced operas (and later, concerts).  It was a job similar to what a film producer does today; a high stress job not for the faint of heart or weak of bladder.

Apropos of the impresarios of his day, the great Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) wrote in reference to how he went about composing his opera overtures:

“Wait until the evening before the opening night.  Nothing primes inspiration more than necessity, whether it’s the presence of a copyist waiting for your work or the prodding of an impresario tearing at his hair.  In my time, all the impresarios of Italy were bald at 30.”

For our information, Rudolf Bing was bald at thirty.

At left, a bald Rudolf Bing at Glyndebourne in 1935
At left, a bald Rudolf Bing at Glyndebourne in 1935

Rudolf Bing (1902-1997)

Rudolf Franz Joseph Bing was born into a well-to-do Jewish family in Vienna 121 years ago today.  By his own admission a terrible student, Bing’s parents allowed him to drop out of high school (or gymnasium) at sixteen.  He went to work at the prestigious Viennese bookshop of Gilhofer & Ranschburg before moving on to the shop of a bookseller named Hugo Heller, who also ran a theatrical and concert agency.  By the age of 19, Bing was deeply immersed in the running of Heller’s concert operation, and he was hooked, later writing in his memoir 5000 Nights at the Opera:

“I enjoyed the atmosphere of the theater, with its nightly deadline; only journalism and the theater give you this daily excitement, and it is a poison far more habit forming than coffee or nicotine.”

(For our information, Bing grew up speaking German and English, and as such, was completely fluent in English.  His two memoirs, 5000 Nights at the Opera [of 1972] and A Knight at the Opera [of 1981] were both written in English.)…

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