I met Rose Bampton when I was 17 and a high school senior at the North Carolina School of the Arts. She had been most persuasively, she said, talked into a weekly commute between her New York City home and Winston-Salem by N.C.S.A. founder and president (and former Juilliard faculty member, from 1939-64), composer Vittorio Giannini. Miss Bampton—as she always was to me, despite her many years of pleading with me to call her Rose—was the tall, beautiful, and elegant surprise waiting for me when I walked into her teaching studio in the fall of 1966 as her newly assigned studio accompanist. Little did I realize that magnetic woman would, to this day—more than 40 years after I first met her, and little more than two months after her death at close to 100—remain one of the strongest and most indelible influences on my professional and personal life. I am deeply grateful Dr. Giannini talked her into that commute.
Rose Bampton’s career began in the early 1930s. Originally trained as a contralto and later as a mezzo, she made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1937 as a soprano (Leonore) in Verdi’s Il Trovatore. (She used to amaze me in lessons by singing all the female roles from any number of Verdi and Wagner scores.) Miss Bampton performed the works of Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg, and her friend Samuel Barber with each composer at the piano. She was a favorite of Arturo Toscanini, who often conducted her performances, and she was a leading operatic singer internationally for more than 30 years. Through personal stories she told about the many leading composers, conductors, and singers with whom she had worked, as well as the great example of her own singing in lessons, I reached back into time to learn from a musical world, a performance practice, I never otherwise could have touched. And so it was for many others. Juilliard was indeed fortunate that in 1974 Dean Gideon Waldrop invited Rose Bampton to join the Juilliard faculty. She remained here until 1991, when deteriorating health prevented her from continuing. The years at Juilliard, she said, were some of her most exciting.
Of all her generous and great gifts, I think the single finest thing Rose Bampton gave to generations of students was the example of her integrity—musical and personal. She was the one who taught us that, in the end—after it is all over, the career and life itself—the thing we should hope could be said about us is that we acted with integrity, truthfulness, compassion, and selfless dedication to our art. Indeed, she lived this. Thank you, dear Rose … I have finally, naturally, just called her “Rose”!