Sir Rudolf Bing, 95, the autocratic, witty and sometimes controversial general manager of the Metropolitan Opera from 1950 to 1972 who reinforced its claim to be one of the world's greatest musical institutions, died of respiratory ailments Sept. 2 at St. Joseph's Hospital in Yonkers, N.Y. He had been under treatment for Alzheimer's disease.
Sir Rudolf was born in Vienna, Austria. As a young man, he studied voice and considered a career on the concert stage. The unsettled conditions in the aftermath of World War I undercut those plans.
He was forced to seek employment, first selling books and then on the management side of music. He went on to learn the business with some of the leading opera companies of the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe.
With that background, Sir Rudolf brought to the Metropolitan Opera an unstinting commitment to artistic integrity and a determination to present the world's greatest artists, regardless of race, politics or other extraneous reasons. His policy was not without its critics, as when in 1951 he brought back the Wagnerian soprano Kirsten Flagstad. She had been barred from singing at the Met since World War II, because she had performed for Nazis.
Sir Rudolf also opened the ranks of the Met company to African Americans. The first was Janet Collins, a prima ballerina hired in 1951. In 1955, the great contralto Marian Anderson made her debut on the Met's famous stage.
This was followed on Jan. 27, 1961, by the spectacular debut of Leontyne Price in the role of Leonora in Verdi's "Il Trovatore." The audience responded with a standing ovation and chants of "Price! Price! Price!" that went on for 35 minutes.
Much as he admired his singers' abilities, Sir Rudolf insisted that he was in charge. He fired Lauritz Melchior, a leading tenor of the day, and he quarreled famously with Maria Callas. He fired her because of her reported refusal to sing roles in the order he wished. He later tried to get her back, but she refused.
"Don't be misled," the tall, slender, elegantly attired Sir Rudolf said, repeating an often-quoted remark. "Behind that cold, austere, severe exterior there beats a heart of stone."
Crises Sir Rudolf survived at the Met included strikes in 1961 and 1969. In 1966, he oversaw the company's move from the old Metropolitan Opera House on West 40th Street in Manhattan to new quarters, also called the Metropolitan Opera House, at Lincoln Center.
Set designers he hired included Cecil Beaton, Eugene Berman, Rolf Gerard and Robert O'Hearn. Among his conductors were Franco Zeffirelli, Tyrone Guthrie, Peter Brook and Nathaniel Merrill.
In 1967, he persuaded a friend, the painter Marc Chagall, to design a set for a new production of Mozart's "The Magic Flute." He also had Chagall paint murals for the new opera house at Lincoln Center.
Sir Rudolf's devotion to the classical repertoire of opera was such that he was criticized for not staging more new works. Those he did put on included Samuel Barber's "Antony and Cleopatra" and "Vanessa" and Martin David Levy's "Mourning Becomes Elektra."
But he was enormously successful with the public. During his tenure, the number of subscribers to the Metropolitan Opera grew from 5,000 to 17,000, and Sir Rudolf boasted that "for 18 of my 22 years, we played to 97 percent of capacity, a record that can be matched by no other opera house in history."
When he retired from the Met, Sir Rudolf taught for three years at Brooklyn College. In "A Knight at the Opera," a memoir he published in 1981, he said teaching made him feel "like a phonograph record." In 1974, he went to work at Columbia Artists Management Inc. and was a director there for several years.
Sir Rudolf was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1971. In addition to "A Knight at the Opera," he published another book, "5000 Nights at the Opera," which appeared in 1971.
Born on Jan. 9, 1902, Rudolf Franz Joseph Bing grew up surrounded by music. The family was prosperous, and his parents, Ernst and Stefanie Hoenigsvald Bing, often had chamber music performances in their house and frequently attended the Vienna State Opera.
In 1921, Sir Rudolf went to work for the Hugo Heller bookstore in Vienna. When it added a concert agency, he was immediately attracted to it and soon established an opera bureau.
In 1927, he joined a theatrical agency in Berlin, and the next year he was named general manager of the Hessian State Opera in Darmstadt. From 1930 to 1933, he was at the Civic Opera in Berlin-Charlottenburg.
In 1934, Sir Rudolf moved to England and helped found the Glyndebourne Opera Festival. In 1935, he was named general manager.
The festival's productions of that time have been described as "jewels of perfection." During World War II, when the opera was suspended, Sir Rudolf worked for a bookstore in London. In 1946, he organized the Edinburgh Festival. In the same year, he became a British subject.
In 1949, Sir Rudolf moved to New York and joined the Metropolitan Opera as an adviser. He was appointed general manager the following year.
Signs of Alzheimer's disease appeared in the 1980s. Friends related that to the death of his first wife, the Russian ballerina Nina Schelemskaya-Schelesnaya, whom he married in 1929. She suffered a stroke and died in 1983 after a long illness, during which Sir Rudolf took care of her.
In 1987, Sir Rudolf married Carroll Lee Douglas, who was 38 years younger than he was. She had a history of mental illness and had been married on three previous occasions to substantially older men. Despite his failing health, she took him to England, Scotland and the Caribbean.
In 1989, Justice Carmen Caprice of the New York State Supreme Court annulled the marriage on the grounds that "as a result of the degenerative nature of his disease," Sir Rudolf "lacked the mental capacity to enter into a marriage."
From 1989 until his death, Sir Rudolf lived in the Hebrew Home for the Aged in New York City.
He leaves no immediate survivors. CAPTION: SIR RUDOLF BING