American baritone Thomas Hampson, at the peak of his powers in opera, concert, and recital, is devoting increasing blocks of time to performances in the United States. This season alone, he opens both the Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall seasons, stars in two operas at the Met, and continues with recitals and concerts on two continents, including a European tour in October with the Verbier Festival Orchestra, and a performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem commemorating the 90th anniversary of Armistice Day.

The Met’s opening night on September 22, celebrating the company’s 125th anniversary season, presents one act of each of three operas, each starring Renée Fleming. Act II of La traviata presents Hampson’s Germont Père opposite Fleming’s Violetta in one of Verdi’s most touching “father/daughter” scenes, and later on in “Di provenza il mar’ il suol”, the father’s eloquent plea to his son to abandon his foolhardy affair for the sake of his family.

Two nights later, on September 24, Thomas Hampson joins the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra under Michael Tilson Thomas for Carnegie Hall’s gala opening, in an evening dedicated to music by Leonard Bernstein, who befriended both artists early in their careers. In addition to other Bernstein selections, Hampson will sing “To What You Said”, Bernstein’s touching setting of a Walt Whitman poem in his Songfest, as well as “Ya Got Me, Gabey”, with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green from the hit musical On the Town, which Hampson recorded with Thomas, Comden, and Green in London in 1992.

A few seasons ago Hampson made his debut at Lyric Opera of Chicago in the challenging role of the ascetic monk Athanaël opposite Renée Fleming’s sensual Thaïs in Massenet’s too seldom-staged opera Thaïs. The two American singers, who recorded the opera together for Decca, meet again at the Metropolitan Opera on December 8 for a run of ten performances of Thaïs, a work most recently performed on the Met stage in 1979 by Beverly Sills and Sherrill Milnes.

Reviews for Hampson’s Chicago Athanaël were, in a word, ecstatic. The role is more daunting than the title part (but without the dancing). The pairing of Hampson with Fleming was also greeted as the ne plus ultra of the Chicago season, so there is excited anticipation of their Met reunion in the same opera. A typical critical reaction to Hampson’s role debut performance was published in England’s prestigious Opera magazine:

“In his belated Lyric debut, the American baritone didn’t put a sandal wrong, stealing the show, and investing Athanaël with a dramatic weight, dignity and credibility that carried the opera through its several weak spots. More than ever, one thought the work should really be titled ‘Athanaël’ since the driven holy man is the dominant role, and t the centre of nearly every scene. … A commanding performance.”

Even before arriving in New York to open the Met Opera and Carnegie Hall seasons, Hampson will be at the Zurich Opera for four performances of one of his signature roles: Rodrigo in Verdi’s Don Carlo. Zurich is the company where Hampson got his start as a young singer, working frequently with Nikolaus Harnoncourt, among others, and developing his core operatic repertoire. His only major European operatic engagements this season are in Zurich; in addition to these four in Don Carlo, and a single one as La traviata’s Germont Père in March, Hampson takes on an uncharacteristically evil role there in April: Scarpia in Puccini’s Tosca. The new Robert Carsen production, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, opens on April 4, 2009 for a run of nine performances.

While Hampson opens his Met Opera season with only a single act of Verdi’s Traviata, he performs the complete work several times next spring, in addition to the one special Zurich appearance: he will perform in a run of five performances at London’s Royal Opera House in June, closing out his full season.

Orchestral concerts are high on Thomas Hampson’s list of engagements. Between his New York season openings and his return to the Met for Massenet’s Thaïs, he tours with the UBS-Verbier Festival Orchestra singing Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder under Ludovic Morlot in Milan, Lucerne, Berlin, and Madrid. In March 2009 it’s more Mahler, when Hampson gives two concerts with the Orchestre de Paris singing Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer under Christoph Eschenbach. On May 24 in Hamburg, Germany, Hampson gives a special concert with the North German Radio Orchestra Hamburg (NDR) under its principal conductor, Christoph von Dohnanyi, performing songs for baritone and orchestra by Hugo Wolf. They repeat the program a few days later at the Prague Spring festival. A solo recital in Lisbon with one of Hampson’s regular piano partners, Wolfram Rieger, follows on May 30 at the Gulbenkian Foundation; this is one of the few solo recitals on Hampson’s calendar in a very opera-rich season.

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Thomas Hampson