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Volume 16 Issue 7 - April 2011

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Stuart

Stuart HamiltonReminiscences of an Operatic Man About TownLast December, Stuart Hamilton sent an email to MarshallPynkoski, co-director of Opera Atelier. Hamilton wrote:Dear Marshall, last night I dreamt that you told me that nextseason you were planning Le Nozze di Figaro and that you wantedme for the role of Cherubino. When I mentioned that next seasonI will be 82, you said that, in line with the current “colour-blind”trend in casting, you were planning an “age-blind” production andthat you felt I had the right bratty personality for the page. Althoughnot because of my age, but because I feel that I can no longer dothat it’s only fair to warn you that if indeed you’re planning such aproduction my answerwould be the same. Ithat you hadn’t offeredme the Countess. Ithe long phrases in“Dove Sono.” Withcontinued admirationand respect, from yourancient pal, Stuart.Pynkoski wasamused, and moved,enough to post theemail on his blog(www.operaatelier.com/blog), describingHamilton as “Canada’svocal coach extraordinaireand man abouttown.”Hamilton’s mel-not be a presence onopera stages these days – not that it ever was. But it certainly iswell-known to Canadian opera-lovers, mostly from his many yearsas quizmaster on CBC Radio’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera.Hamilton has an unmatched knowledge of all things operatic, honedby his long experience coaching, giving master classes, and accompanyingCanada’s top singers like Lois Marshall, Elizabeth BensonGuy, Maureen Forrester, Jon Vickers, Richard Margison, BenHeppner, Russell Braun and Isabel Bayrakdarian.As well, he spent twenty years running Opera in Concert, whichOpera Company Ensemble. He even played Dudley Moore’s part ina tour of Beyond the Fringe.I met with Hamilton last month at his apartment, where hewas recovering from a recent heart attack and surgery. He lookedremarkably vigorous and dapper. He lives in the same building thathoused the legendary Eaton auditorium – now authentically restored,to Toronto in 1948.Your early years were in Saskatchewan? I was born and raised inRegina – and I still bear the emotional scars.You must have stood out there as a rather unusual kid. Unusual isa nice way to put it. It was the depression – there was the droughtand the grasshoppers. It was just hideous. So I lived at the movies.All I wanted to do was get out of Regina and be up on screen doingroutines with Shirley Temple, Jeanette Macdonald, Nelson Eddy andall those actors.PAMELA MARGLESStuart Hamilton and Maureen Forrester – Northern Ontario tour, 1978.Above, “Trying to be a serious musician in Toronto,” 1950.I was surprised to learn that you didn’t start piano lessons until youwere fourteen. It’s true – I started out as a child actor. I was verytiresome, but I was good because I was funny. So I was alwayscast as the comedy person. But I wanted to be the boy that wassaving the girl from the giant or whatever. The woman who ranthe children’s theatre was very tough, and I liked her a lot. So onetime I told herI didn’t want to be thecomedy person any more,I wanted to play the boy.She said, “Listen, kid,the way you act you’relucky you’re not beingcast as the girl.”So I gave that upand started to sing. Ihad quite a remarkableboy soprano voice,and I won all thefestivals. I used tosing at luncheons forthe men’s clubs at theSaskatchewan Hotel.I would sing Philene’saria Je suis Titaniafrom Mignon by Thomas. But Ididn’t know anything about French,so I just copied the sounds froma record of the French sopranoLily Pons.How did you get interested inopera? It was through the broadcastsfrom the Metropolitan Opera,like millions of people. I stillaround with the dial on the radioand I came across these three people singing their heads off. It wasFaust – the big trio Anges purs, angesradieux. I was so astonished I was crying. My father came in andsaid, “What’s the matter with you now?” My father, who was alawyer, was a very good man. But he and I didn’t understand oneanother at all, so we never got along well. In fact, when I was givenan honorary Doctor of Laws from Dalhousie a couple of years ago,I was sure he was in heaven saying, “Doctor of Laws my ass – youbarely got through high school!” I couldn’t explain to him that Ihad just discovered what my life was going to be about. He neverunderstood what music meant to me.Then the next week they did Wagner’s Tannhäuser. I didn’t knowwho Wagner was, but the minute the overture started my hair stoodon end. I was hooked – all because of the Met broadcasts.Did you ever want to be a concert pianist? No, I took up the pianobecause my sister Barbara Hamilton, who’s now a well-known actor,wanted to be a Broadway singer. There was no opportunity in thoseyears, so she sang classical music. She had a beautiful voice, so Idecided to study the piano so that I could play for her. I was alwaysmore interested in accompanying than a solo career.Yet you did give solo recitals in places like New York, London andParis – and apparently they were quite successful. But that was only toestablish myself as a pianist. I went too quickly when I started and Ididn’t develop a good technique. Alberto Guerrero, my teacher, saidI had the worst hands for the piano he had ever tried to deal with.But that didn’t stop me.Did he understand that you didn’t intend a career as a solo pianist?12 thewholenote.comApril 1 - May 7, 2011

adjudicating for the RCM. He asked me what I wanted to do with mypiano. I said I wanted to be an accompanist. He said, “Ah, but to bean accompanist you have to be a very good pianist.” So as a result ofthose recitals I was hired by singers like Lois Marshall and MaureenForrester to accompany them and tour with them. Both those ladieswere just unbelievably great singers.I still remember that extraordinary concert they gave together atMassey Hall sometime in the early 1970s, with you on piano. Whenyou got them on the stage together, they sent sparks off each other.It was so exciting, and they were fabulous. But they didn’t like oneanother very much. Maureen resented the fact that everybody talkedabout how spiritual Lois was, that she had a direct line to Bach andevery composer she sang. She was an incredibly intuitive singer.And Lois resented Maureen’s success.Wasn’t Guerrero Glenn Gould’s teacher as well? Yes, and GlennNew York, Glenn told me he wanted to hear my recital because hehadn’t heard me play for quite a while. So I started playing for him –and then, of course,I wanted to be an accompanist.“Ah, to be an accompanist youhave to be a very good pianist”he took over.You mean hetook over at thepiano? He tookover the wholeafternoon. Glennwas never one to sit there and listen to other people play. After Iplayed a couple of pieces, he just said, “No, no – that’s no good.You can’t play those pieces, you don’t have the technique.” He wasright. So he changed my repertoire, and I chose an entirely differentprogram. Later he said, “You’ve improved, but you still play like anaccompanist.” Which I did. I was never a good solo piano player.Why did you first come to Toronto? I came for the summer masterclass in accompanying with Gerald Moore in 1948. I had won thetop award at a festival in Regina, which was 0 – a fortune inBenson Guy, with whom I had a long and wonderful relationship ascoach and accompanist. contest on a program called Singing Stars of Tomorrow. I had writtenher a letter from Regina telling her how much I had enjoyed herperformance – she had studied with the same teacher as my sister.Then when I met her at Gerald Moore’s class she told me she wasgoing to be singing Turandot (which she never should have sungbecause it was not for her voice). I told her I loved Turandot, and sowe started working together. The CBC had started the CBC OperaCompany to produce operas for the radio. Elizabeth sang sometwenty leading roles in the nine years they produced operas. So Icoached her in all that repertoire, three or four times a week forsinger. She was the daughter-in-law of Greta Kraus, and they livedin the same house. So I got to play for Greta’s classes as well, whichwas a wonderful experience,What was Kraus like to work with – she had so much influence here,and not just on singers. Greta was a great lieder teacher. She was justso passionate about the music that it was thrilling to work with her. Ilearned a tremendous amount from her.But I understand that she was quite a character. The conductorHeinz Unger, who, like Greta, had come from Germany to escapethe Nazis, liked me because I played Mahler very nicely. At one lowpoint in my career I said to Greta, “It’s terrible – Heinz Unger is theonly person in the musical establishment here in Toronto who likesme.” She said, “Yes, he’s deaf, you know.” That was Greta – thoughit was true that Unger wore a hearing aid.I played in New York for Vera Shwartz, a very beautiful andelegant singer who had given the early performances of RichardStrauss’ Die Ägyptische Helena and things like that. Once, after IStändchen, which is very tricky, Vera said,“Stuart, Strauss played that for me many, many times and neverplayed it as well as you do.”presentsMasques of OrpheusMarc-Antoine Charpentier: James Rolfe/André Alexis : Orpheus and EurydicefeaturingAlexander Dobson, Teri Dunn, Charlotte Knight,Peter McGillivray, Shannon Mercer, Bud Roach,Richard Whittall, Lawrence Wiliford and Agnes ZsigovicsDirected by Marie-Nathalie LacoursièreDesigned by Caroline GuilbaultLighting Design by Gabriel CropleyMusical Direction by Larry BeckwithMay 5 and 6, 20118:00 pm (7:15 pre-show chat)Enwave Theatre//416-954-0366 / www.torontomasquetheatre.comApril 1 - May 7, 2011 thewholenote.com 13

Volumes 21-25 (2015-2020)

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