The news that American soprano Rose Bampton had passed away in August at the age of 99 came with no small amount of shock attached, although the shock had more to do with her surprising longevity then with her death. Bampton represents an era in American opera so distant that it is practically inconceivable that anyone from her time would still be around in 2007. Bampton began her career with a Chautauqua opera society that performed in an open-air tent pitched at railroad stops. She sang opposite singers like Leonard Warren and Lawrence Tibbett, and under the baton of Toscanini. At the Met, some of the singers she would have competed against for roles would have been Elisabeth Rethberg, Rosa Ponselle, Marjorie Lawrence and, of course, Kirsten Flagstad.
A native of Ohio, Rose Bampton was a "soprano's soprano" -- a singer whose purity of tone and excellence in voice set the bar for others, even though her acting seemed disinterested and she lacked the vocal power to send you up to the heavens, like Flagstad. Bampton showed impeccable taste in her choice of repertoire, and was noted for her portrayal of the Wood Dove in Arnold Schoenberg's lieder-cycle-wanna-be-opera Gurrelieder; she also included his more difficult cycle "The Book of the Hanging Gardens" in her regular recital repertory. Bampton sang the Wood Dove at the American premiere of Gurrelieder under Leopold Stokowski in 1932 and recorded it with him for RCA Victor that year. The Met came calling, and at the time Bampton was concentrating on mezzo-soprano roles, but by 1937, she was feeling underutilized and switched to soprano â€“- a decision that kept her busy until her retirement in 1950. After that, Bampton continued to sing in recital, and she became a teacher to many other singers. With her passing, the world loses one of its last living links to the grand pre-war tradition of opera.