Thomas Hampson, The Metropolitan Opera, Verdi, Iago, Otello
This spring, Thomas Hampson's U.S. engagements take him from opera house to concert and recital hall, and from Verdi and Mahler to the latest in contemporary American composition. The baritone makes his company role debut as Iago in Otello at the Metropolitan Opera (March 11) and premieres new chamber works by Michael Hersch (Feb 26) and Mark Adamo (April 24), before touring the latter to the Boston Celebrity Series (April 26) and New York's Lincoln Center (April 28). Besides singing songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn with the Indianapolis Symphony (Feb 22-23), his orchestral collaborations also take him back to Europe to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in a star-studded gala benefit (April 10) and reprise the title role of Simon Boccanegra with the Vienna Symphony, in a concert performance that will be recorded for future album release (April 13 & 17).
In the opera house: first Iago at the Met
Hampson's upcoming appearances in Otello mark his second Verdian Met role debut in as many seasons; last March he sang his first Macbeth for the company, impressing Opera Brittanica with his "energetic, fiercely committed performance," while the Financial Times observed: "Hampson knows how to project incisive power on his own estimable terms, and he focuses the tragedy with abiding intelligence."
Now Hampson resumes his portrayal of the Machiavellian Iago in the Met's revival of Elijah Moshinsky's "imposing 1994 production" (New York Times). Argentinean tenor José Cura co-stars in his signature role as Otello, with Bulgarian soprano Krassimira Stoyanova as Desdemona, and Alain Altinoglu on the podium.
In recital, including world premieres of two new commissions
No stranger to new music, it was Hampson who created the starring role of Rick Rescorla in the world premiere production of Christopher Theofanidis's Heart of a Soldier, which was written to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks; the Los Angeles Times describes how "the great baritone Thomas Hampson, a larger-than-life Rick Rescorla, won our hearts."
It is in recital, however, that the baritone - a passionate advocate of the art of song - debuts two new commissions from American composers this spring. The first of these is Domicilium by Michael Hersch (b.1971), "one of the most fertile musical minds to emerge in the U.S. over the past generation" (Financial Times). Set to poems by Thomas Hardy, Domicilium is a song cycle in four parts that marks the composer's first vocal writing in over a decade. Hersch explains what drew him to the poet's work: "At its best, Hardy's writing exhibits a remarkable power and immediacy; an ability, at least for me, to cut to the bone of whatever subject he engages with." Hampson gives the song cycle's world premiere in recital with pianist Wolfram Rieger at San Francisco's Herbst Theatre, on a program with Schumann's beloved Liederkreis and selected songs by Samuel Barber (Feb 26).
Two months later, the baritone teams up with the Jupiter String Quartet to give the first performances of a second new commission, by Mark Adamo (b.1962), whose first opera, Little Women, was pronounced "a masterpiece" by the New York Times. A lyrical song cycle titled That Year, the new chamber work places vocal settings of four contemporary poems at the center of a surreal, modern, and intensely personal response to Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." Coupled with selected lieder for baritone and string quartet by Hugo Wolf, That Year will receive its world premiere at UC Davis on April 24, followed by its East Coast premiere at Boston's New England Conservatory on April 26, and its New York premiere in Alice Tully Hall two days later.
A high point for Hampson last season was the debut of the "Song of America" radio series, which explores the history of American culture through song. On March 3, the baritone will be joined by pianist Craig Rutenberg for a "Song of America" recital at the Tuesday Musical Association in Akron, OH, where their program will range far and wide across the American songbook, from Copland, Barber, and Ives to Hopkinson, Bowles, and Farwell.
Hosted by the singer and co-produced by his Hampsong Foundation and the WFMT Radio Network, the "Song of America" radio series has proven to be extremely popular, having aired on 311 radio stations and in nine out of the top ten markets in the U.S. According to data gathered by the WFMT Radio Network, the series reached approximately 5.3 million listeners in the U.S. and was one of the WFMT Radio Network's most successful series. Song of America was also made available by the European Broadcasting Union to its 48 member stations in 2012, and it reached another 3.1 million listeners abroad. Stations outside of the United States that aired the series included Raidió Teilifís Éireann (Ireland's national public service broadcaster), New Zealand Public Radio (NZPR), and public radio stations in Croatia, Romania, Denmark, Latvia, Serbia, the Czech Republic, and Germany.