Years ago — maybe a dozen? — Thomas Hampson told me, “I was a young Giovanni, I’m a middle-aged Giovanni, and I’m going to be an old Giovanni.” He was talking about the famous, and infamous, title character of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni. Hampson is a famous — not infamous — baritone from Spokane, Wash.
Here he is in Milan, singing Giovanni at La Scala. He is an “old” Giovanni, I suppose — but those quotation marks are necessary. The calendar says he’s to be 62 this summer, but he’s still Thomas Hampson, looking like a million bucks. (“Thomas Handsome,” they sometimes call him.)
“Do you have to work at it?” I ask. “At what?” he says. “At this physique of yours. Is it natural — a lucky constitution — or do you starve yourself?” “I starve myself,” he says. He doesn’t really mean it. But he is careful about his diet. Plus, “I exercise daily. I do yoga daily. Have ever since college.”
In college, he took an acting class, taught by “this crazy artist-type guy. We spent the first six weeks putting on leotards every morning and doing yoga.” It stuck, with Hampson. “It’s just a ritual for me, every day. I can’t function till I’ve popped the right things and gotten my back and legs in the same conversation.”
“Does it help your singing?” I ask. “Oh, yes,” he answers. And when he teaches, he spends a good amount of time on the physical aspects of singing: posture, the workings of the body, etc.
In his classes, he likes to ask his students a question: “How many keys does a piano have?” They all know the answer is 88, though there’s usually a wisenheimer who will point out that a Bösendorfer can have more (either 92 or 97). Then Hampson will ask, “And how many ribs do you have?”
“Clueless,” I say. That’s right, says Hampson, they are clueless. I explain that I am clueless. Hampson says, “But you’re not trying to sing” (as far as he knows). Incidentally, the answer is 24: 24 ribs, twelve on each side.
“The structure of your ribs is one of the most important things about singing,” Hampson continues. And “this is not some typical Hampson Wissenschaft bullsh** that I get accused of.” (That German word means “science.”) “If you’re going to play tennis, you have to know how to hold a racquet and how to swing it.” If you’re going to sing, you had better know about ribs and such.
I press Hampson a little: Caruso, Pinza, Pavarotti — they didn’t know about all this Wissenschaft, did they? I mean, they were children of nature, who simply stood and sang. Hampson lets me know in no uncertain terms that this is baloney. Caruso, for example, wrote an excellent book on singing: How to Sing.
More by Jay Nordlinger at National Review
Image: Teatro alla Scala
Beginning the new season, Thomas Hampson returns to Opéra national de Paris to star as Graf Danilo Danilowitsch in Lehar’s ever-popular Die lustige Witwe (“The Merry Widow”). He sings the role September 9 – October 21, with a sparkling cast including Véronique Gens as Hanna Glawari, Valentina Naforniţa as Valencienne, and Stephen Costello as Camille de Rosillon. Conductors Jakub Hrůša and
Marius Stieghorst alternate performances, with a production staged by Jorge Lavelli.
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.
In song, you have one of the most amazing diaries of any generation’s culture at a given time.