From Development server
22 August 2007

Soprano Rose Bampton, Whose Career Began More than Seven Decades Ago, Has Died at Ninety-Nine

Soprano Bampton in the late 1930s
Lakewood, OH, November 28, 1907 - Bryn Mawr, PA, August 21, 2007

One of the most intelligent and sophisticated singers of her generation, Rose Bampton was among the few remaining links to the closing years of the Gatti-Casazza regime at the Metropolitan Opera - a time when Depression-era financial woes made the future of opera in the U.S. look particularly bleak. As the Met's fortunes began to recover in the late 1930s, the young singer established a distinctive and distinguished career, anchored by her rigorous interpretive standards and unfailingly honest musicianship and abetted by her tall, slim figure, graceful deportment and genial stage presence. In retirement, Bampton's reputation may have fallen short of the "living legend" status of many of her contemporaries - her voice, though an instrument of impressive size and quality, lacked the final measure of charisma that marks a great star - but during the prime years of her career, Bampton sang with the most important names of her era, among them Leopold Stokowski, Arturo Toscanini, Kirsten Flagstad, Lauritz Melchior, Rosa Ponselle, Beniamino Gigli, Giovanni Martinelli, Tito Schipa and Eva Turner. Long after she had stopped singing and turned to teaching, Bampton remained a striking figure at musical events in New York, her warm, dimpled smile and regal bearing marking her as a lady of consequence well into her ninth decade. In fragile health for several years, Bampton died just a few months short of her one-hundredth birthday. (In a 1989 OPERA NEWS interview with John W. Freeman, the soprano revealed that the year of her birth, often given in reference works as 1908, was actually 1907.)

Born in the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood, Bampton made her opera debut in 1929, as Siébel in Faust at Chautauqua. The following year, she began formal vocal studies as a mezzo-soprano at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where her classmates included composers Gian Carlo Menotti and Samuel Barber. While at Curtis, Bampton sang the first public performances of several Barber songs, including "Dover Beach," took on comprimario assignments with Philadelphia Grand Opera (Mercédès in Carmen, Myrtale in Thaïs) and appeared in several concerts with Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra, including Falla's El Amor Brujo and the Wood-Dove in the U.S. premiere of Schoenberg's Gurrelieder. A recording of Gurrelieder brought her to the attention of Giulio Gatti-Casazza, then general manager of the Metropolitan Opera. Bampton hesitated when Gatti-Casazza offered her a Met contract - she had doubts as to whether her true vocal range was mezzo or soprano, and was concerned about her lack of stage experience - but she made her debut with the company in 1932, in a Philadelphia performance of La Gioconda, in the mezzo role of Laura, with Ponselle and Giacomo Lauri-Volpi her costars. For the next several seasons, Bampton continued to sing lower-lying roles with the company, from Brangäne and Amneris to Waltraute in Die Walküre and the Sandman in Hänsel und Gretel; a 1937 performance of Leonora in Il Trovatore marked her official move into soprano territory and was regarded as her "second" Met debut. Her Met career flourished during Edward Johnson's tenure as the Met's general manager (1935-50), as did that of her husband, veteran Canadian-born conductor Wilfrid Pelletier, whom Bampton married in 1937, and who was her frequent partner in concert at the Met and in recital.

The soprano's most frequent role with the Met was Sieglinde in Die Walküre, which she sang twenty-one times in New York and on tour, often to the Siegmund of Melchior. Other assignments with the company, where Bampton remained on the roster through the 1949-50 season, included Aida, Donna Anna, Kundry, Gluck's Alceste, and Elsa in Lohengrin. (In an impressive feat of musical versatility still unequaled at the Met, Bampton once sang the roles of Aida and Amneris within a single week in January 1940.) Away from the Met, Bampton sang in Chicago, San Francisco, Europe and South America: in five seasons at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, Bampton took on several roles that she never sang anywhere else, among them Strauss's Daphne, Chrysothemis, Ariadne and Marschallin; Eva in Die Meistersinger; Agathe in Der Freischütz; and Mozart's Countess.

Bampton and Pelletier both left the Met with the arrival of Rudolf Bing as general manager in 1950. In her 1989 interview with Freeman, Bampton admitted, "Both of us got the feeling that we wouldn't be happy with the new regime." The soprano continued to perform in recital and concert, arenas in which she had been well-established since the beginning of her career. A happy professional association with Arturo Toscanini began in 1936, when Bampton sang Une Récitante in Debussy's La Damoiselle Élue with the New York Philharmonic, and included several broadcasts with the conductor and his NBC Symphony, among them a 1944 Fidelio (as Leonore) that remains in circulation on CD. Bampton's last opera performance was as Mme. de Croissy in Dialogues of the Carmelites at the College of St. Mary-on-the-Hudson in Newburgh, New York, in 1963. She was widowed in 1982.

Bampton was a frequent vocal competition judge and an enthusiastic and accomplished voice teacher after she stopped performing, with long-term faculty service at Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard School to her credit, as well as teaching positions at North Carolina School of the Arts, Drake University and Adelphi. At the time of her death, Bampton was a member of the boards of the Metropolitan Opera and the William Matheus Sullivan Foundation and honorary chairman of the Bagby Foundation for the Musical Arts.


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