America’s finest: Thomas Hampson returns to San Francisco

Thomas Hampson, whose European opera career has outpaced engagements in his native country, is now appearing with more frequency in U.S. opera houses. This month, San Francisco Opera welcomes the baritone’s first stateside Macbeth; later this season, he’ll sing Germont at Lyric Opera of Chicago and Don Carlo in the Met’s Ernani. DAVID J. BAKER listens in.

Thomas Hampson is on the move. After twenty-five years, his powerhouse career shows no signs of slowing down, as he vigorously explores new ideas, new roles and interests that range from Mahler to Broadway, from golf to podcasts. The current season is shaping up as something of a turning point for the fifty-two-year-old American baritone, who has been based mainly in Europe and is now “moving his center of gravity back over the Atlantic.”

More surprising, in musical terms, is his opera repertoire for the 2007–08 season. These days his calendar reads like a page from the biography of Leonard Warren. After last season’s Met Boccanegra, he returns to the house in March for his first Carlo in Ernani. Before that, Chicago will hear him as Giorgio Germont, and this month he appears at San Francisco Opera as Verdi’s Macbeth. Hampson may not be the first name that pops up when one thinks of a Verdi baritone, and the singer himself, conscious that his is an essentially “lyric voice,” is careful to avoid what he calls “real tub-thumping Verdi.”

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