Academic journal article Journal of Singing

A Conversation with Thomas Hampson, Part I

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

A Conversation with Thomas Hampson, Part I

Article excerpt

I met with baritone Thomas Hampson in the beautiful press meeting room at Tanglewood. It was a sunny, warm day, and the large windows made us one with the surrounding trees. Following is part one of our long and interesting conversation . . .

Leslie Holmes: We have been trying to get together for several years, now.

Thomas Hampson: We have, indeed.

LH: As I was reading over volumes of material about you, I was struck by the fact that your interests and accomplishments are so varied and so enormous that it was a challenge to figure out how I was going to focus this conversation. I did a rough count, and you have about thirty-six opera recordings; you have about twenty lieder recordings; you have about sixteen American song recordings; and you've gotten almost every award you can think of.

TH: It's a good beginning.

LH: You also have a large number of aria, duet recordings, plus A Portrait of what Tom Hampson Does Best, and so I decided that, since this conversation is for NATS, I should focus on song. You like to be called a singer, rather than an opera singer. Why the preference?

TH: Well, that sort of came up as people themselves tried to get a focus on what Tom Hampson is, and what Tom Hampson does. Being involved in so many layers of the opera world, a classical singer is probably going to find most of his recognition, or public, through opera. And then, this song thing was extremely expansive, in my case. The whole point comes down to what is it we do, and why does one have to put that kind of a label on what we do. I think that question is actually a function of the industry, and not of the art of singing. I think we should be singers. We sing, we sing, we sing, we sing. I like to compare it to tennis: you play clay court; you play grass; you play asphalt. The spin is different. The play is different. Your opponents are different. The net is different. But, you're still playing tennis.

LH: You have a racquet and a ball . . .

TH: The context is, perhaps, different, but the content is the same. If I'm doing an opera role, and I'm doing Onegin or I'm doing a Macbeth, what's their schooling? What did they think? Why did they think the way they thought that would let them get into the situation in which they found themselves? That's the world of lieder, if you need this kind of breakdown. The world of lieder tries to think in exactly the way as the poet or the person who was creating the text. On stage, you carry all of that with you in a particular theatrical context, or life's context, that has become the theatrical context. It all starts from why did they think that and, then, why did they say it in that way?

LH: Yes, some people stand up and sing an art song recital as if they are wooden. If you are on stage, you need to put yourself into the text, whether it's Brahms or Cole Porter or Verdi.

TH: NATS is about song. I grew up with NATS . . . my first teacher was a NATS member . . . I read NATS magazines . . . I collected old NATS magazines. I kind of fell off the wagon a little bit, but I know this organization from the old days, when I read the magazines and sang in the competitions. It's about singing, and I think this question is a wonderful first question to start with. It is about why we sing, and it's not about becoming singers for an industry. And I feel very strongly about that.

LH: And NATS is so concerned with keeping the song recital. Now, NATS has even broadened out into music theater . . . it's all singing!

TH: I've never met an opera singer that wouldn't be better if their lieder life were augmented, and I've certainly never met a lieder singer that wouldn't be better if they had more theatrical experience.

LH: Right.

TH: There's just no question about that. And then, selfishly, I am who I am. My idols-the people that I followed and looked at the most, especially in the European tradition-were singers. …

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