Rose Bampton (November 28, 1907 in Lakewood, Ohio – August 21, 2007 in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania) was a celebrated American opera singer who had an active international career during the 1930s and 1940s.
She began her professional career performing mostly minor roles from the mezzo-soprano repertoire in 1929 but later switched to singing primarily leading soprano roles in 1937 until her retirement from the opera stage in 1963.
She notably had a lengthy and fruitful partnership with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, singing there for eighteen consecutive seasons between 1932 and 1950. Her greatest successes were from the dramatic soprano repertoire, particularly in operas by Richard Wagner.
Not a stranger to the concert repertoire, Bampton was particularly known for her performances of works by Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg, and her friend Samuel Barber, notably having performed their compositions with the composers accompanying her in concert.
Born in Lakewood, Ohio, Bampton grew up in Buffalo, New York. She entered Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa where she initially began training as a soprano but was redirected by her voice teacher into the mezzo-soprano repertoire after a serious bout of laryngitis.
Shortly after graduating with a bachelor’s degree, Bampton made her professional opera debut as Siebel in Gounod’s Faust at the Chautauqua Opera in 1929. Her performance was positively received and she was invited to perform at the Worcester Music Festival in Worcester, Massachusetts that summer.
In the fall of 1929 Bampton moved to Philadelphia after being offered a contract to join the roster of singers at the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company (PGOC) where she sang mostly comprimario roles over the next three years.
Bampton made her PGOC debut as Mercédès in Georges Bizet’s Carmen on October 23, 1929 with a cast that included Sophie Braslau as Carmen, Ralph Errolle as Don José, Chief Caupolican as Escamillo, and Henri Elkan conducting.
Other roles with the company included Mistress Bentson in Lakmé (1929), Feodor in Boris Godunov with Georges Baklanoff in the title role (1929), Mama Lucia in Cavalleria rusticana (1929, 1931), Alisa in Lucia di Lammermoor (1930), the shepherd boy in Tosca (1930, 1932), Myrtale in Thaïs (1930, 1932), the first maid in Elektra with Charlotte Boerner as Chrysothemis (1931, 1932), Brangäne in Tristan und Isolde with Paul Althouse as Tristan (1932), Wellgunde in both Das Rheingold and Götterdämmerung (1932), and Waltraute in Die Walküre (1932).
While performing at the PGOC, Bampton entered the Curtis Institute of Music in 1930 to pursue graduate studies in singing where her voice teachers included Horatio Connell and Queena Mario.
She also had the opportunity to attend masterclasses given by Lotte Lehmann. While at Curtis she developed a friendship with fellow students, composers Samuel Barber and Gian Carlo Menotti. Barber notably recruited her to sing in the New York premiere of his vocal chamber work Dover Beach in 1933. Bampton also sang several times with the Philadelphia Orchestra in the early 1930s under the baton of Leopold Stokowski.
With the orchestra she notably sang the Wood-Dove in the United States premiere of Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder (1932), was the soloist for a performance of Manuel de Falla’s El amor brujo (1932), and sang the role of Kundry in a concert version of Parsifal (1933) among other performances. Bampton made several appearances at the Bethlehem Bach Festival during the early 1930s.
A recording of Bampton’s performance of the Gurre-Lieder with the Philadelphia Orchestra reached the ears of Giulio Gatti-Casazza, then General Director of the Metropolitan Opera. Impressed with her performance, he contacted Bampton to come and audition for the company.
She obliged and ended up being offered a Met contract. According to Opera News, Bampton initially hesitated to accept the invite as “she had doubts as to whether her true vocal range was mezzo or soprano and was concerned about her lack of stage experience.”
However, she relented and made her first appearance with the company for an out of town engagement in Philadelphia on November 22, 1932 as Laura Adorno in La Gioconda with Rosa Ponselle in the title role, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi as Enzo, and Giuseppe Sturani conducting.
Bampton and her husband both decided to leave the Met when Rudolf Bing was appointed the company’s new general manager in 1950. Bampton stated in a 1989 interview that, “Both of us got the feeling that we wouldn’t be happy with the new regime.” She continued to appear in operas into the early 1960s, although her opera schedule after 1950 was sparse in comparison to the schedule she kept in the 1930s and 1940s.
Bampton’s last opera performance was in Dialogues of the Carmelites as Mme. de Croissy at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, New York in 1963. She continued to perform sporadically in recitals and concerts into the early 1970s. Her husband died in 1982 and she never remarried.
After her opera career ended, Bampton embarked on a second career as a voice teacher, serving for lengthy periods on the voice faculties of Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard School (1974–1991).
She also had shorter stints on the faculties at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Drake University and Adelphi University.