Thomas Hampson is still on song

The American baritone continues to successfully promote his country’s classical heritage, as he opens in a star-studded Royal Opera production tonight.

American baritone Thomas Hampson opens in the Royal Opera‘s classic Verdi’s La Traviata tonight. Read it and weep, La Scala and the Met: Calleja – Fleming – Hampson. Not bad for a lineup for Alfredo, Violetta, (everyone’s favourite “doomed courtesan”, as the Royal Opera House’s website has it, with the sort of euphemistic literary flourish you only find in opera synopses – she’s a prostitute), and Germont.

It’s easy to think of opera stars like Joseph Calleja, Renée Fleming, and Hampson as globe-trotting megastars, more interested in which brand of hotel-lobby luxury jewellery or watch they’re going to sponsor, than delving into the psychological depths of operatic characterisation.

But that’s unfair. I met Hampson for this week’s Music Matters, and discovered that he’s one of music’s genuine enthusiasts, and a cyber-philanthropist to boot. Have a look at (clever!), maybe the single most impressive classical singer’s site out there, a bespoke production that gives you access to some of his recordings to stream, links to his appearances on YouTube, photos of  Thomas with Alec Baldwin and musical slebs, and the promise of his personal iPhone photos coming soon.

More impressive than all that, though, is Hampson’s Song of America project. He’ll shortly be touring the States with a programme celebrating 250 years of art-song in America (the first was composed in 1759 by Francis Hopkinson, one of the undersigned of the Declaration of Independence), and he told me he plans a free online archive, in association with the Library of Congress, of scores, performances, and scholarly material. When he gets it finished, this could be one of the internet’s great musical resources.

No one has done more to promote American song, from Foster to Barber, from Burleigh to Rorem, than Hampson. They’re lucky to have him as an advocate. Have a listen to this, and see what I mean.