Humans, in general, mellow with age. Thomas Hampson doesn't. Au
contraire, he is more intense, dramatic, overwhelming, multitasking,
brilliant than ever. Beyond the simple excellence of his other master
classes, such as the one in Wigmore (http://tinyurl.com/5yru2o) or in
the old S.F. Conservatory of Music (http://tinyurl.com/3hmylp), his
six hours over Thursday and tonight went beyond all expectations.
Here he was, in the new Conservatory building, at the first "LIEDER
ALIVE!" master workshop, singing duets of traditionally "single-voice"
lieder, massaging skulls (his own and those of others), discussing music,
literature, psychology, anatomy, the transporter beaming process in "Star
Trek" (more about that later), and other subjects too numerous to list.
The two evenings were reminiscent of what was going on in the nearby
War Memorial: the amazing excess, surfeit, dazzle of "Die Tote Stadt."
Another similarity: above all, both events are about music, other factors
- however numerous - be damned.
And yet, sometimes it was difficult to remember that main theme,
watching Katherine Tier surrounded by Hampson phantoms - one pressing
in on the mezzo's cheekbones, the other singing "Kindertotenlieder" with
her, the third in throes of the grief and resolution she should convey,
and the fourth thundering an interpretation of the text speaking of the
eyes of dead children becoming stars of future nights:
"It happens. Your children will not stay with you. And guess what: you
will die too. It's OK." And suddenly, instead of crumbling under that
manifold "attack," Tier sang "Nun seh'ich, wohl, warum so dunkle Flammen"
beautifully, with an understanding of its subtle catharsis, rather than
Perhaps Hampson's greatest triumph was the transformation of Heidi
Melton's interpretation of "Fruhlingsfeier." This truly exceptional young
singer (Hampson: "I have never heard a 27-year-old soprano like you!")
first belted out the frantic Richard Strauss song as if channeling Ethel
Merman at her loudest.
Hampson never told Melton the simple truth: it was loud and wrong.
Instead, he spent almost an hour, urging the soprano to "help Strauss
out," explaining that "legato is a function of resonance," asking her
to "keep the sound buzzing," showing Melton how to breathe through nose
and mouth at the same time, exhorting her to sing without vibrato,
pointing out - perhaps most importantly - that "voices do not project,
they resonate... do not sing at the audience, sing for them" and so on
and so forth - and then had Melton sing the climaxing "Adonis!" again
and again... until, miraculously, the song soared on that great big
voice with understanding, technical skill, vision, and beauty.
There were lengthy and fascinating mini-lectures about the origin and
nature of several song cycles Hampson has "studied and sang for 30
years." Other participants were baritone Ferris Allen, soprano Marcelle
Dronkers, and baritone Kittinant Chinsamran.
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