He can't be ignored. He won't be ignored. Thomas Hampson's physique and his even bigger personality can't be hushed, and even when he's onstage -- costumed as Valentin in Gounod's Faust, the lead in Mozart's Don Giovanni, or Scarpia in Puccini's Tosca -- it comes through. In recital, however, it's a constant balance between the lightness of the composer's music/poet's text and Hampson's booming baritone. Especially in Lieder, which the American singer's been lately commited to, with the poems as the protagonist -- and the struggle to leave the lightest touch while saturating each word in emotion is a big task.
But Hampson managed it -- despite tiny, sparse moments of un-Liederlike enthusiasm -- and he showed-off his elegant Austrian/Hungarian Lieder to a packed house at Teatro alla Scala on Monday night as the Milanese went insane for his sensitive program of Schubert, Liszt, and Mahler -- and especially for the five generous encores that he kept hitting out of the park, right onto Lansdowne Street. Hampson's intuitivness and intelligence complimented the songs, and his earnest, "I'm just a boy, standing in front of an audience, asking them to love Lieder" approach was refreshing.
The program started with six Lieder from Franz Schubert's "Schwanengesang", Swan Song, a posthumous collection that used texts from 3 poets, composed in 1828 and published the next year, only a few months after Schubert's death.
Hampson sang the six songs set to poems by Heinrich Heine, all ruminations on love and longing. Der Doppelgänger -- where the protagonist looks towards the house where his love once lived and is appalled to see someone else standing there, only to realize that it's the shadow of himself, miserable and lonely /lol/ ("You may tell yourself, this is not my beautiful house and you may tell yourself, this is not my beautiful wife." /lol/) -- was an expression of great, softened emotion and expression. Hampson mastered the songs through lovely passages that segued gracefully from tranquility to turbulence.
The second set was six assorted Lieder from Franz Liszt, and pianist Wolfram Rieger's beautiful expression and well-shaped phrases took the spotlight. He shadowed Hampson expertly and lovingly, giving him space to interpret and breathe through the Lieder. Hampson sang Liszt's Lieder with a dark weight, very powerful and at times uplifting. "Vergiftet sind meine Lieder" was a standout, a piece full of longing, tenderness, and remorse where Hampson saturated it with a nice balance of melancholy and nostalgia that never sunk to the depths of depression and rode the rallying undercurrent of Hampson's interpretation.
It's Mahler's centenary and everyone is going cray-cray for the Austrian composer's gorgeously romantic, lushly-pastoral works. Trendsetter Hampson recently dropped a new CD in celebration of Mahler's 100th with Des Knaben Wunderhorn and the Wiener Virtuosen. So it's no surprise that the selections form Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn was the most engaging, resonant part of the program. Set to 14 poems over the span of almost 10 years, Mahler's composition was taken from a three volume collection of folk songs from two Romantic poets from the very beginning of the 19th century.
Hampson's rich, Austrian pronunciation worked well with his clean voice in a stellar reading of 8 Lieder from Das Knaben Wunderhorn and overlap in Lieder und Gesänge. He affected a convincing vulnerability, singing with a nativity, freshness and youthfulness that was much younger than his years. Ich ging mit Lust durch einen grünen Wald had an uplifting hope and tenderness, one of his standouts.
Poised and lyrical, Hampson's real skill was the streamlining of his Hampsony idiosyncrasies to allow the gorgeous Lieder breathing room, always staying tender and pensive throughout the poems. And as if La Scala's audience wasn't enthusiastic enough over his concert, Hampson came out for five separate encores, all Lieder, like from Mahler's Lieder und Gesänge, with a standout by Meyerbeer.