American singer Thomas Hampson has been one of the world's top opera stars since the early 1990s, with some 200 recordings to his credit.
Hampson combines a mellifluous tone that has proven remarkably durable, a powerful top, and charisma that saw him named one of the world's 50 most beautiful people by the American magazine People in 1993. Hampson was born June 28, 1955, in Elkhart, Indiana, but grew up in Spokane, Washington. He and his two older sisters sang in church, but at first he was unsure of his career choice: he attended Eastern Washington University, graduating with a government major, but also earned a voice degree from Fort Wright College. Summer classes at the Music Academy of the West with baritone Martial Singher and a second-place finish in the Metropolitan Opera's Western Region auditions in 1980 tipped the scales. Hampson traveled to Europe for auditions, studying with contralto Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and joining the company of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf in 1981. Engaged for bigger and better roles, he joined the Zurich Opera in 1984, gave a Wigmore Hall debut recital touted by Schwarzkopf, made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Count Almaviva in 1986, and by the late 1980s was clearly one of opera's top rising stars. Performing in several famed readings of Mahler works conducted late in life by Leonard Bernstein cemented his reputation.
Since then, there is hardly a major world opera house or concert venue in which he has not appeared. Hampson has had a flair for highly visible public performances, such as a 1991 Live from Lincoln Center television broadcast of Copland's Old American Songs with the New York Philharmonic, and a 2009 recital at the Supreme Court of the United States, populated by opera-loving justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia. Yet he has also championed new music, giving world premieres of operas by Richard Danielpour, Michael Daugherty, and others. He has a repertory of nearly 100 operas, spanning the genre's entire temporal range, taking up new darker-toned roles such as Amfortas in Wagner's Parsifal and Scarpia in Puccini's Tosca in middle age. He has continued to specialize in Mahler, whose large-scale but lyric music fits his voice beautifully. Yet Hampson has also been clearly defined as an American singer, performing repertory from that country, teaching and serving on the board of the Manhattan School of Music, and winning induction into the elite American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2010. That year, he participated in the first broadcast of classical music on a streaming mobile phone app, teaching a master class in Mahler song at the Manhattan School of Music. He has also been open to crossover projects, such as a CNN television musical exchange with South African vocal harmony group Ladysmith Black Mambazo in 2012. The pace of Hampson's recording career did not slow in the late 2010s; the year 2018 saw his debut on the Chicago label Cedille with a song recital, Songs from Chicago.