The first time I ever saw Thomas Hampson sing live was just last November in Chicago, as he played Count Danilo in Lyric’s production of The Merry Widow. Though, I’ve actually been listening to his recordings for a while now – La Traviata conducted by Carlo Rizzi, Falstaff conducted by Claudio Abbado, and more recently, a 2014 recording he made in honor of Richard Strauss’ 150th birthday, Notturno, with Wolfram Rieger on the piano. Coincidentally, his song recital at the Salzburg Festival this year was also with pianist Wolfram Rieger, and I was lucky to be there for the whole thing.
The first half of the program featured a selection of English and Austrian Shakespeare songs from three composers – Roger Quilter, Gerald Finzi, and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. It was great to hear songs actually sung in English (making it much easier for me to understand and less reliant on looking at the program for the lyrics!). Hampson’s diction is so clear, and it was obvious that he was totally invested in conveying not only the musical performance, but also the dramatic performance. Shakespeare’s words and stories became fully alive through both Hampson’s interpretation and the equally wonderful piano accompaniment by Rieger. This strong artistic partnership was evident in Notturno, and it was clearly in full force at the recital. It started right from the first line of the first song of the recital, Come Away, Death by Roger Quilter. When we heard the combination of Hampson’s smooth voice with the sensitive piano playing of Rieger’s of the opening line, my sister and I immediately knew that we were going to be treated to an absolutely sublime evening – and indeed it was!
The second half of the recital was all Mahler – music that was much more familiar to the majority of the audience, as well as to the singer himself! While Hampson had the music out for the first half of the concert, he didn’t need it for this portion of the recital, and it was clear why. His strong command of the German language and the ease with which he sang Mahler’s music, illustrated his long time association with this repertoire, making it the perfect complement to the first half of English Shakespeare songs.
After the concert (and the three generous encores!), the Festival Shop hosted a signing with Hampson and Rieger – and of course, there was a long line! Nonetheless, we got our programs signed by the both of them. And, as a bonus, we had our Lyric Merry Widow program signed by Hampson himself (so glad we brought it from home!), and got a picture with him! Definitely the best way to conclude our last full day in Salzburg 😀