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Stories from the Archive: Rudolf Bing

On Holocaust Memorial Day we take a look at the life of Sir Rudolf Bing, an Austrian Jew who fled Nazi Germany and became a key figure in Glyndebourne history.

On Holocaust Memorial Day we take a look at the life of Sir Rudolf Bing, an Austrian Jew who fled Nazi Germany and became a key figure in Glyndebourne history.

During your visit to Glyndebourne, you might have noticed the blue plaque, nestled on the wall near our Mulberry Tree. The plaque was unveiled in 2016 by the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR) to commemorate Rudolf Bing, who was Glyndebourne’s General Manager from 1936-49, and one of the key players in our early years.

As part of our Stories from the Archive series, and to mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2020, we take a look at his life and career.

Early years

Born in 1902 in Vienna, Sir Rudolf studied music and art history at the University of Vienna before relocating to Berlin in 1927. In 1928 he became assistant to Carl Ebert, the newly appointed Intendant of the Hessian State Theatre, Darmstadt. Here, Bing learned his trade as an artistic administrator, before moving on to Städtische Oper Berlin. Bing was forced to leave his position by the Nazis in 1933.


The birth of the Festival

Glyndebourne Festival is famously the creation of John and Audrey Christie, but they never could have done it alone. For their fledgling opera festival, John found the winning team of conductor Fritz Busch and producer Carl Ebert, the Festival’s first artistic directors. Both refugees from Hitler’s Germany, they brought with them the high European standards of performance which set Glyndebourne apart, and which, over the years, drew on the talents of a wide circle of émigré artists and musicians, including Rudolf Bing.

In February 1934, at the request of the artistic directors, Bing negotiated the contracts for European singers to perform at Glyndebourne before arriving himself in the summer of 1934. He fulfilled the same job a year later when he also worked at the Festival as an assistant producer.

Rudolf Bing, photo: Glyndebourne Archive

In 1936 Bing took over as General Manager, a job he held until 1939 when Glyndebourne closed due to the outbreak of WWII. In 1944 Bing opened a new Glyndebourne office in London and began planning for the reopening of the Festival after the war.

In his memoir, A Slim Volume, Sir George Christie (Glyndebourne’s Chairman from 1958-1999) wrote ‘Busch and Ebert brought their power of persuasion into play in engaging Rudolf Bing as General Manager – a real coup for Glyndebourne, as he was one of the most outstanding entrepreneurs in the operatic world at the time.’ Sir George later explains: ‘… the alchemy of the Busch, Ebert and Bing mixture combined with the feed-in from my parents gave Glyndebourne a kick-start which has had lasting effect.’

Above: Rudolf Bing at Glyndebourne in 1941 by the lake, and visiting the flamingos from London Zoo that made Glyndebourne their home during the war.
Photos: Glyndebourne Archive.

Beyond Glyndebourne

During the Second World War Glyndebourne Festival temporarily ceased operations. Bing was employed at the Peter Jones department store in London.

Returning to Glyndebourne after the war, Bing had the idea of performing Glyndebourne productions away from Glyndebourne, ideally at a new international festival ‘in which the other nations of the world could join in paying tribute to Britain’s courage and sacrifice in the struggle against Hitler’ (quoted in The Hitler Emigrés: The Cultural Impact on Britain of Refugees from Nazism by Daniel Snowman).

This idea became a reality in 1947 when Glyndebourne founded the Edinburgh Festival with Bing in charge of the content, from planning to materialisation. Glyndebourne administered the Edinburgh Festival from 1947 to 1949 (inclusive), when Bing resigned his position as General Manager of Glyndebourne and Edinburgh to go to the Metropolitan Opera in New York, a post he held for 22 years.

Bing became a British subject in 1946, a year before founding the Edinburgh International Festival. He was knighted in 1971 and died in September 1997, aged 95 in New York.

About Holocaust Memorial Day

Holocaust Memorial Day Trust is an international day on 27 January to remember the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, alongside the millions of other people killed under Nazi Persecution and in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

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