Rose Bampton grew up in Buffalo, New York State. Shortly after graduating from Drake University, where she moved from soprano to mezzo-soprano, she made her operatic début as Siebel in Gounod’s Faust with the Chautauqua Opera in 1929. In the same year she joined the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company, staying for three years and singing mainly small rôles, although by 1932 she was tackling Brangäne/Tristan und Isolde. Meanwhile she entered the Curtis Institute in 1930, where she studied with Horatio Connell, Queena Mario and Lotte Lehmann, and became friendly with composers Samuel Barber and Gian Carlo Menotti. In 1933 Bampton took part in the first New York performance of Barber’s Dover Beach and sang in several performances led by Leopold Stokowski, including the rôles of the Wood-Dove/Gurrelieder (1932) and Kundry/Parsifal (1933). Bampton’s recording with Stokowski of the ‘Song of the Wood Dove’ from Gurrelieder came to the attention of Gatti-Casazza, manager of the Metropolitan Opera, who offered her a contract following audition: her début at the Metropolitan Opera came in November 1932 as Laura/La Gioconda.
During the following four years Bampton sang mainly small rôles, her two major assignments being Amneris/Aida, and Brangäne. She married the conductor Wilfrid Pelletier in 1937, the year in which she decided to move from mezzo-soprano to soprano, making her soprano début at the Metropolitan as Leonora/Il trovatore in May 1937. The change was successful: for the next thirteen years she sang major soprano rôles at the Met, including Donna Anna/Don Giovanni, Elisabeth/Tannhäuser, Elsa/Lohengrin, Sieglinde/Die Walküre, and the title rôles in Aida and Gluck’s Alceste. With the appointment of Rudolf Bing as the company’s general manager in 1950, both Bampton and Pelletier decided to leave the Metropolitan, her last appearance there being as Elsa in April 1950.
During her Metropolitan years Bampton was also busy on several other fronts. Between 1937 and 1939 she toured England, Holland and Sweden; and appeared annually from 1942 to 1948 at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires. Here she sang several rôles for the only time in her career, including Eva/Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Agathe/Der Freischütz, Ariadne/Ariadne auf Naxos, Chrysothemis/Elektra and the title rôle in Daphne, which she prepared at the request of the conductor Erich Kleiber. She appeared regularly in Chicago from 1937 onwards, with the San Francisco Opera in 1949 and with the New York City Opera in 1950, singing the Marschallin/Der Rosenkavalier. During the 1930s and 1940s Bampton sang frequently in concert, most notably with Toscanini, performing Debussy’s La damoiselle élue with the maestro and the New York Philharmonic in 1936, and in 1944 singing Leonora in his NBC broadcast of Beethoven’s Fidelio, which was subsequently released on record.
After she left the Metropolitan, Bampton’s opera appearances diminished significantly. She made her final stage appearance as Mme de Croissy/Dialogues des Carmélites in 1963 at Mount Saint Mary College, Newburgh, New York, but continued to give concerts until the early 1970s. Following her retirement, between 1974 and 1991 she developed an active teaching career at the Manhattan School of Music, the Juilliard School and elsewhere. At the time of her death she was a board member of the Metropolitan Opera.
Bampton possessed a tall, slim figure, graceful deportment and an attractive stage presence. Her voice was large and powerful, and hence was most useful to a busy repertory company; but in the final analysis it lacked individuality. This was compensated to some extent by her fine musicianship. Her recordings with Stokowski and Toscanini, and live performances from the Metropolitan Opera and the Teatro Colón, are all worthy of investigation.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).
Role: Classical Artist