A fresh breeze blew into the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s concert hall Monday: Thomas Hampson giving a master class to three gifted singers from the Conservatory. In town to sing Renato in the San Francisco Opera’s current Un ballo in maschera, the celebrated baritone took an untraditional tack, first with jocular, unbuttoned humor to warm up the sizeable audience (“Be sure and turn on your cell phones when you leave”). And always with encouraging and supportive admiration to the singers; “Wonderful,” “that’s fine,” “you have a great talent,” as opposed to the old-fashioned negative, picky approach.

He worked and spoke fast, giving the audience as well as his subjects a lot about singing to chew on. In fact, a major distinction of this class was that the audience could learn almost as much as the singers. One of Hampton’s main points was the importance of connecting the vowels. He kept picking on the “ee” sound, insisting that it be sung not horizontally (in the “smile” manner) but vertically, pulling it into a deeper vowel, an “oh” with which it might be linked, as in coi.

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In song, you have one of the most amazing diaries of any generation’s culture at a given time.

Thomas Hampson