Monterey County Herald | June 1st, 2006
By BARBARA ROSE SHULER
A few days ago a man by the name of Albert Imperato left a message on my phone urging me to write about a unique concert taking place in San Jose by Thomas Hampson, the internationally renowned baritone.
Intrigued, I returned the call to learned more about the famed singer’s collaboration with the Library of Congress to celebrate the history of creativity in America.
Described once as tall, charismatic and as square-jawed as the Marlboro man, Hampson possesses a rich, affecting voice and empowers his singing with interpretive depth and intelligence.
I had just enjoyed his performance of Mozart’s aria “La ci darem la mano” on the PBS 30-year retrospective of “Live from Lincoln Center.”
So, it was a double pleasure to find myself in conversation with the baritone shortly thereafter about his 11-city “Song of America” tour.
Hampson, a passionate champion of American song, explores a repertoire that extends from the 1700s to the present day.
“The tour is really the visible element of my work with the library in the continuing development of their music division Web site, specifically American concert song,” Hampson said. “I have been working with them over the years to put together a cross referenced database of songs that have been recorded, songs that have been written, anthologies that have already been printed. My dream is to have things that are already available in the public domain available for download and even an online streaming library.”
Hampson sees these songs as a “diary of America becoming America.” He found a collaborative soul mate in Dr. James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, whose unprecedented national program, “Creativity Across America,” fit perfectly with Hampson’s vision of preserving and showcasing this great treasure of Americana.
“Jim Billington is passionate about the Library of Congress being the people’s library and not just some huge government institution,” said Hampson. “That’s why the tour developed so much momentum so quickly. At every concert site there are advanced teams that come in and work with the community to help serve the needs and interests of that community.
“And they are traveling with priceless manuscripts that you can see at the concert. My idea is that you can actually teach American history through song. We’ve had some wonderful educational outreaches along those lines.”
Hampson said this widely acclaimed project is the first of several such tours that will take place over the next few years.
Programs include unfamiliar concert songs of well-established American composers, such as Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland and Charles Ives, as well as in the songs penned by lesser-known, but yet equally influential composers, including Harry T. Burleigh, Arthur Farwell, and Elinor Remick Warren.
There are Psalm settings, hymns, folksongs, cowboy songs, war songs, African-American spirituals and much more.
“Mr. Hampson conveys the idea of an oral tradition that it is his mission to pass on, with the closed-eyed intensity of a blind poet when he is singing and the zeal of an evangelist when he is addressing the audience about its cultural heritage,” wrote Anne Midgette of The New York Times.
The “Song of America” has been wonderfully successful according to Hampson. He has appeared with this material on widely received programs such as “Good Morning, America” and National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition.”
“I can really feel the enthusiasm that audiences have for this repertoire: they understand and are connecting with the storytelling the composers and poets have presented them with and they are seeing this music as a narrative of their own experiences,” said Hampson. “This has been an uplifting and entirely positive experience for me.”
Hampson, who is no stranger to our region, confesses to being an avid golfer with a fondness for the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament. He has appeared at Sunset Center Theater in Carmel and thrilled AT&T volunteers with his singing as well.
The San Jose performance of “Song of America” takes place at 8 p.m. Saturday at the California Theatre.
Tickets and information are available at the Opera San Jose Box Office at (408) 437-4450. The ticket includes a post-performance reception. GO!
Thomas Hampson will fill in as a guest host for Terrance McKnight on WQXR this Thursday, November 5, beginning at 7 pm ET. During this hour, Thomas will celebrate the song repertoire, featuring works by Schubert, Mahler, Ives, and many others. Tune in and learn more about Hampson’s guest host hour via WQXR.
PENTATONE continues its American Opera Series with Houston Grand Opera’s world premiere recording of Tarik O’Regan’s The Phoenix (2019), an opera on the life of Lorenzo da Ponte, Mozart’s favorite librettist. Da Ponte (1749-1838) was an adventurer, who not only travelled the world, but in a way also through time, living across what seem to be impossible moments of history that never should have aligned in somebody’s life.
The documentary by C Major Entertainment “The Animated Story of Jenny Lind”, in which Thomas Hampson is the narrator, has won this year’s Golden Prague Fesitval’s Performing Arts Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious and acclaimed Performing Arts festival for TV and film, with opera, dance, concerts and documentaries from all over the world. It is also on the Shortlist of potential winners of the Prix Italia.
Thomas Hampson makes his Global Concert Hall debut next month, performing with the Orchester Wiener Akademie under the baton of its founder and musical director Martin Haselböck. The concert, filmed at the Brucknerhouse Linz in August 2020, will be streamed on IDAGIO’s Global Concert Hall on Thursday, October 15, beginning at 8 pm Berlin / 2 pm New York. The concert will be available to stream through October 22.
Thomas Hampson returns to the stage this month, with a concert at the Stiftskirche Millstatt, and two performances at the Salzkammergut Classic Festival. Beginning on August 2 in Millstatt, Hampson will perform lieder by Gustav Mahler and Johannes Brahms with pianist Christian Koch, and the Carinthia Chor Millstatt will sing Carinthian songs under the direction of Bernhard Zlanabitnig.
For the first time ever, audiences around the world will have a special opportunity to watch the Canadian Opera Company’s 2018 world premiere production of Hadrian, in full, online. On Monday, August 10 at 6:30 p.m. ET, in partnership with Montréal Pride Festival, the COC is hosting a free, one-night-only digital stream of the modern grand opera. The Hadrian Watch Party helps kick off one week of virtual Pride events and will feature a live Q&A session with both the composer and celebrated singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright and librettist Daniel MacIvor, a giant in Canadian theatre.
In song, you have one of the most amazing diaries of any generation’s culture at a given time.