Soprano Adelaide Bishop; manager and public-relations executive Edgar Vincent

Adelaide Bishop
Bishop: soprano, teacher
and director

New York, NY, June 23, 1928 - Sarasota, FL, June 20, 2008

The diminutive American soprano's singular career was forged in the heady musical world of 1940s Manhattan, at a time when singers with classical ambitions often honed their theatrical skills by taking advantage of "non-classical" singing opportunities. Armed with abundant energy, talent and good looks, Bishop was singing principal roles on Broadway at an age when most of her contemporaries were still in high school. She joined New York City Opera when its roster was rich with eager, well-trained young American talents like herself, a generation of artists who thrived on the fledgling company's vigorous mix of standard-repertory fare and novelties. Bishop's most famous credit was her 1955 creation of the title role in Griffelkin, which had its premiere on television's NBC Opera Theater. Bishop's energetic, pixie-ish performance as a ten-year-old devil who couldn't quite succeed in hell - seen by an estimated audience of one million viewers - was abetted by character makeup that included a pair of pointed, furry prosthetic ears. OPERA NEWS's review of the Griffelkin premiere gave Bishop credit for the success of the performance: "In Griffelkin, Lukas Foss is almost too brilliant for his own good. Adelaide Bishop, creating the title role, saved the day. Extraordinarily impish in appearance, she not only sang like an inspired choirboy but succeeded in bringing wonder and a heartbreaking confusion into the scenes when the small hero is seized with the first pangs of humanity."

Trained in New York at Luigi Rossini's Rossini Opera Workshop and with Paul Breisach, Louis Polanski and Rose Landver, among others, Bishop sang on Broadway in Blossom Time (1943) and The Girl from Nantucket (1945) and with Philadelphia's American Opera Company (1946) before making her New York City Opera debut at nineteen, as Gilda in Rigoletto (1948). Gian Carlo Menotti had recommended her to the company after hearing her sing Laetitia in a Philadelphia performance of The Old Maid and the Thief. Later that year, Bishop returned to Broadway to sing Lucia in a brief run of The Rape of Lucretia; she renewed her association with Britten's opera in 1956, when she sang Lucia to Jon Vickers's Male Chorus and Regina Resnik's Lucretia at Canada's Stratford Festival.

Other lyric-soprano roles at New York City Opera for Bishop, who sang with the company until 1960, included Susanna in Figaro, Musetta, Sophie, Olympia, Gretel, Norina in the company premiere of Don Pasquale (1955), Mary Stone in the company premiere of Moore's The Devil and Daniel Webster (1959) and the Stepdaughter in the world premiere of Hugo Weisgall's Six Characters in Search of an Author (1960). Bishop also created the role of Estelle in Weisgall's The Stronger in 1952 and later recorded the opera with the Columbia Chamber Orchestra. Adele in Die Fledermaus was another Bishop specialty: she sang the saucy chambermaid for NBC Opera Theater (1950) and with the New York City Center Light Opera Company (1954). Bishop appeared with Sarah Caldwell's Boston Opera Group (later Opera Company of Boston) in its early days, as Queen Popotte in the 1958 U.S. premiere of Offenbach's Le Voyage dans la Lune and in The Beggar's Opera.

Beginning in the late 1950s, Bishop was very active as a stage director, competition judge and teacher, with faculty associations at Carnegie Mellon; the Mannes School; the Hartt School, where she was chairwoman of the opera department and artistic director of the opera theater for some thirteen years; and at the school of the arts at Boston University, where she was opera department chair, among other institutions. She also served as artistic director of the Wolf Trap Opera training program. Bishop directed for Indianapolis Opera, San Diego Opera, Baltimore Opera, Opera Company of Philadelphia, Opera Omaha, Tulsa Opera, Central City Opera Festival, Hawaii Opera, Portland Opera and many other U.S. companies, staging a wide range of operas from standard repertory (La Traviata, Le Nozze di Figaro, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, etc.) to twentieth-century American works such as Summer and Smoke, The Crucible, The Medium, Amahl and the Night Visitors and The Stronger. At Lake George Opera she directed the 1968 world premiere of David Amram's Twelfth Night. She died in a car accident.


Reflected glory: Vincent, with
longtime client Risë Stevens

© Eugene Cook 2008
Hamburg, March 13, 1918 - New York City, June 26, 2008

In his sixty years as a public-relations wizard and expert manager, Edgar Vincent became a genuine institution in the opera industry. Best known for his close associations with titans such as Plácido Domingo, Birgit Nilsson and Beverly Sills, Vincent was much more than a publicist: he was an incomparable architect of singers' careers. When he died, at age ninety, at Manhattan's Lenox Hill Hospital, many in the opera world felt that a great and glorious era had lost one of its most dedicated players.

Vincent was born in Hamburg but raised in Holland by a Dutch father and an Italian mother, Maria Pos-Carloforti, a soprano who appeared on the opera stage in Germany after the close of World War I. Vincent initially studied to be a concert pianist and later embarked on a career as an actor. Early on, Warner Bros. Pictures expressed interest in building him as a juvenile star, but his heavy accent proved problematic. In 1940, he appeared at New York City's Little Theatre in Reunion in New York, a musical revue directed by Herbert Berghof and Ezra Stone. After serving in U.S. Army intelligence, Vincent landed his first public-relations post with Muriel Francis. His command of Italian led to his first major assignment - working with Ezio Pinza, who was then starring on Broadway in South Pacific. "We had two choices," Vincent later told me. "We could say Pinza was 'the greatest voice Broadway has,' and publicize it that way. Or we could publicize the matinée-idol aspect. People said, 'You're crazy - Pinza can't be a matinée idol.' I said, 'Excuse me - you haven't seen him in this part. Why don't we try it?' We ran away with that story."

Upon Muriel Francis's retirement, Vincent took control of the firm. His longtime business partners included Cynthia Robbins and Patrick Farrell, who was still working with him at the time of his death. "I learned one thing early," Vincent once said - "that in order to do good P.R., the product has to be as close to perfect as possible." Throughout his career, he worked with the best performers in the industry. In the past two decades alone, his clients included Cecilia Bartoli, Roberta Peters, Risë Stevens, Mirella Freni, Teresa Stratas, Deborah Voigt, Dolora Zajick, Sharon Sweet, Vladimir Chernov, Aprile Millo, Samuel Ramey and David Daniels.

Vincent's association with Beverly Sills began in 1966, when the soprano was scheduled to sing Cleopatra in Handel's Julius Caesar during New York City Opera's first fall season in its new home at Lincoln Center. Handel operas were rarities in those days, and Sills had a hunch that this might be a turning point in her career; although she had been a City Opera fixture for years, stardom had been elusive. She engaged Vincent to publicize the event. His response was, "We'll have a ball" - and so they did. After years in the business, Sills became a major star as a result of Julius Caesar. She and Vincent were inseparable friends and associates throughout her peak years at City Opera, her belated Met debut, her emergence in the 1970s as a major television personality and her eventual assumption of the general directorship of City Opera. Vincent was deeply involved in each phase of her career, and they remained close until the soprano's death in 2007; Vincent remembered that the first telephone conversation he had each morning was with Sills.

His association with Plácido Domingo was no less impressive. In a working relationship that lasted more than a quarter of a century, Vincent saw to it that the world was made aware of Domingo's seemingly inexhaustible gifts - as a tenor whose voice remained remarkably fresh and intact, as the general director of the Los Angeles and Washington National Opera companies, as a conductor, and as an artist of insatiable intellectual curiosity who was busily creating new roles (in Gian Carlo Menotti's Goya, Deborah Drattell's Nicholas and Alexandra, Tan Dun's The First Emperor) long after most of his contemporaries' careers had run out of steam. The other major (some said rival) P.R. guru of the time, Herbert Breslin, loved his share of the limelight. Vincent, by contrast, operated with tact, dignity, even a great degree of anonymity, making sure that the spotlight shone on his clients and not on himself. When OPERA NEWS ran a 1993 article on opera publicists, Vincent practically begged the editors not to run a photograph of him.

Despite his gentlemanly, cultivated demeanor, Vincent was not an easy mark: when he felt that industry standards of civilized behavior had been violated, he was the first one to speak up - often in a letter to the editor of The New York Times or OPERA NEWS. More recently, an article in the Times appeared in advance of the new Broadway revival of South Pacific. When Richard Rodgers's daughter Mary dismissed Ezio Pinza as a "fat old geezer," Vincent made his displeasure known, loud and clear. "Please, caro, please," he would complain over the telephone when he thought that something about one of his clients had been misreported. He believed in his clients absolutely, but he often resented the interference that came from their spouses. When discussing major star singers he had represented, one of his favorite refrains was "The husband was the problem."

To those of us who had the pleasure of working with him over a period of many years, Vincent was a man of style and wit - the quintessential music-business pro.


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Current Issue: July 2011 — VOL. 76, NO. 1