“I’m sure they told you,” the baritone Thomas Hampson said recently with a smile. “If you ask me a question, I’ll go on.” It’s true. There are some people who speak in sentences. Others speak in paragraphs. Mr. Hampson, 54, speaks–his big blue eyes staring at you–in pages.
He loves to talk about the things he likes: distance-learning technology, Chris Anderson’s book The Long Tail, Alex Ross’ advocacy of the composer Charles Ives, the second and third (but not the fifth) acts of Ambroise Thomas’ opera Hamlet, the restaurant-delivery Web site SeamlessWeb. And he loves to talk about the things he doesn’t like: Fresh Direct (wasteful amounts of packaging), watching old clips of himself on YouTube (“they’re coming up with shit that I’d forgotten I’d even done”), the concept of the “Verdi baritone,” singers who arrive late to rehearsals.
If it were not for a rehearsal at the Metropolitan Opera, where he is singing Germont in La Traviata, Mr. Hampson, fueled by periodic coffee refills, seemed like he would have been delighted to talk all afternoon. We were at his favorite diner, the Olympic Flame at 60th and Amsterdam, around the corner from the apartment he rents and, conveniently, a few blocks from Lincoln Center.
Mr. Hampson will be spending a lot of time in the area this month. In addition to the Traviata, which runs through April 24, he is finishing his season as the first-ever New York Philharmonic Artist-in-Residence with recitals at Alice Tully Hall on April 11, featuring Schumann’sDichterliebe and Barber songs, and Symphony Space on April 16. The latter concert, part of CONTACT!, the orchestra’s new music series, will feature the world premiere of a Philharmonic commission written especially for Mr. Hampson, Matthias Pintscher’s Songs from Solomon’s Garden.
“It is truly the New York Philharmonic and [music director] Alan [Gilbert] rethinking how they work,” Mr. Hampson said of inviting a vocalist to take such a prominent role in the orchestra’s season. “Everybody belongs here. Dance belongs here, movement belongs here, color belongs here, opera belongs here, singers belong here, instrumentalists belong here.”
He’ll also be delivering his third and final “Insights Series” lecture for the orchestra on April 5, on one of his favorite topics, German romantic poetry and its reverberations in the 19th-century song literature. Manhattan School of Music has devised an application that will live-broadcast his master class there to anyone with an iPhone. “Just call me Eric Schmidt,” Mr. Hampson said. “Well, actually, don’t.”
Like Mr. Schmidt and another Hampson idol, Steve Jobs, Mr. Hampson is a Big Thinker. “I don’t mean to be a cultural philosopher here,” he said. “Is it the art forms that need to adapt to technology,” he wondered aloud, “or will in fact the technology manipulate, metamorphosize and, in consequence, adapt or change the art form itself?”
On occasion his thoughtfulness takes him down darker paths. On the Web site for the Hampsong Foundation he has the rather eerie formulation, “In fact, should our civilization, all of our culture, be destroyed and taken from us–it would be singing, this most personal and natural form of musical expression, that would first reappear.” And at the diner, contemplating his beloved distance-learning initiatives, he confessed some doubts. “Are we alienating kids? Are we actually tearing down their ability to communicate one on one?” He sighed. “I tend to think that in the evolution of man every generation asks those questions.”
With his rich voice and trademark sweep of hair. Mr. Hampson has a calming air, like a cool dad. His intellectualism, the foundation and his fascination with the deeper issues of education, technology and the arts would all seem to point Mr. Hampson toward an administrative post. Placido Domingo, for instance, runs not one but two opera companies. “Can I imagine hanging up my spurs, period, and just doing something like running an organization?” he asked aloud. “Sure, I can imagine it. I can’t see it being an opera house; I can see it being a school.”
But not yet. “I can maintain this level of activity and vocal quality,” he said. “I’ve made some adjustments to my schedule. I was singing a little too much. But I say that with a certain irony, because next season is kinda sick. January to June, I think I sing 55 concerts, Mahler’s music with seven different orchestras on three different tours. I’m gonna get a lot of frequent-flyer miles.” But don’t get him started on Mahler. That’s a whole other day’s discussion right there.
With “Serenade,” his first album exclusively dedicated to French song, Mr. Hampson brings his passion for works by French opera composers to the Pentatone label. Curated with the French Literature scholar Sylvain Fort and in a first collaboration with the Polish pianist Maciej Pikulski, the track listing includes romantic and introspective as well as humorous selections by Bizet, Chabrier, Chausson, Gounod, Magnard, Massenet, and Saint-Saëns, featuring texts written by some of France’s most revered writers including Victor Hugo, Paul Verlaine, Rosemonde Gérard, and others.
For more information about this CD, visit Mr. Hampson’s discography.
This recording is available exclusively from Pentatone’s website.
Thomas Hampson continues his summer season in Europe this month, as the featured soloist in two Gala Concerts in Germany. Mr. Hampson travels to Bremen to sing with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie and conductor David Marlow at Knoops Park on August 11, part of the annual “Summer in Lesmona” Festival at the park. He follows this engagement with another Gala Festival Concert, this time with the Staatsorchester Hannover at the Staatsoper Hannover Opernhaus. The performance, hosted on August 19, features both Ivan Repušić and Mark Rohde leading from the podium, with a roster of more than 15 soloists from the company. Klaus Angermann hosts the evening, with proceeds benefitting the Staatsoper Hannover Foundation and its education programs. Works featured will preview the company’s upcoming 2017/18 season in arias, ensembles, and solo orchestral selections.
The critically lauded Deutsche Grammophon release of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, starring Thomas Hampson in a “wondrous” and “moving” (Online-Merker) portrayal of Count Almaviva, has been honored as the 2017 ECHO Klassik Award-winner in the “Best Opera Recording” (works up to or through the 17th/18th century) category. The album features a phenomenal roster of talent, including Mr. Hampson’s son-in-law Luca Pisaroni in the title role and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, all conducted by Maestro Yannick Nezet-Seguin. The ECHO Klassik Awards Gala takes place on October 29 at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg; tickets and more info can be found at ECHOKlassik.de.
Naxos has released a DVD recording of Verdi’s La Traviata, with an all-star cast featuring Marina Rebeka as Violetta Valéry, Francesco Demuro as Alfredo Germont and Thomas Hampson as his father, Giorgio Germont. Canadian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson is at the podium, leading the NDR Radiophilharmonie.
Thomas Hampson returns to the Verbier Festival this month as a Verbier Academy Faculty member, presenting a series of Masterclasses. Focused on specific topics in singing, these Masterclasses will take place on July 21 & 22 (Opera) and July 23 & 24 (Lied/Art Song). The classes are open to the public – visit VerbierFestival.com for detailed programme information.
Thomas Hampson is a featured contributor to the newly launched platform MUSAIC, from the New World Symphony and Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas. Mr. Hampson and other acclaimed artists, including cellist Yo-Yo Ma and conductor Pablo Heras-Casado, are featured in various site content including master classes, interviews, and more. Watch and learn today at musaic.nws.edu!
In song, you have one of the most amazing diaries of any generation’s culture at a given time.