In 1978, he began summer classes at the Music Academy of the West, studying with Horst Gunther and Martial Singher
, the famous baritone. In college, he balanced both potential careers by getting a B.A. in government from Eastern Washington University and a B.F.A. in voice performance from Fort Wright College. However, by 1980, when he won second place in the Met's Western Region competition and in the San Francisco Merola Program auditions, his plans focused more and more on music. In the Merola program, he studied with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
, another of the great lieder teachers. In September of that year, he went to Europe and was hired at the Dusseldorf Opera. His career began to expand, particularly when at the Dusseldorf Opera he graduated to more important roles, and in 1984, he was engaged by the Zurich Opera. During the same year, Schwarzkopf
and the Walter Legge Foundation sponsored his debut recital in Wigmore Hall in London. In 1986, he made his Met debut as the Count in Le nozze di Figaro and his Vienna State Opera debut as Gugliemo in Cosi. Two years later, he made his Salzburg Festival debut as the Count. In 1994, he created the role of the Vicomte de Valmont in the world premiere of Conrad Susa's Dangerous Liaisons. During the 1990s, he began teaching master classes and in 1997, he received the Citation of Merit for Lifetime Contribution to Music and Education from the National Arts Club of America.
He has recorded widely with special concentrations in German and American song, both familiar and more obscure. In musical theater, his recording of Cole Porter
songs (EMI) has just the right tongue-in-cheek sophistication for the comic songs and the heart-on-the-sleeve lyric emotional expression for the romantic ones. In lieder, his recital, including Dichterliebe and An die Ferne Geliebte (EMI), shows off his voice and excellent German diction and in opera, his recording of the French version of Don Carlos also on EMI is outstanding.
In 2010 and 2011, the anniversaries of Mahler's birth and death, Hampson devoted attention to concerts and recordings featuring the composer's music. In 2011, he won the ECHO Klassik "Singer of the Year" award for his Deutsche Grammophon recording of Des Knaben Wunderhorn, the third time he has received the prestigious award. In 2012, he will sing in the premiere of Christopher Theofanidis' Heart of a Soldier at the San Francisco Opera.