I don’t believe there’s anyone who was involved in more aspects of Canadian operatic performance than Stuart Hamilton. I say “was” because many of those are in the past now, but even so, let’s make a list.
- Hamilton founded Opera in Concert, playing most of the operas between its inception in 1974 and his last appearance in the 1990s.
- Hamilton was the first music director –albeit briefly—of the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio
- Hamilton was the host for the opera quiz for roughly a quarter of a century of broadcasts of CBC’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera
- In more than half a century of coaching and accompanying singers, Hamilton played with all the great singers of this country, often before anyone else had recognized the singer’s potential
- Of the four major opera programs in Canada –UBC, U of Toronto, the Royal Conservatory & McGill—he’s worked with (if not actually having mentored) most of their teachers.
- Ditto for summer programs such as Summer Opera Lyric Theatre
I just finished reading Opening Windows, Stuart Hamilton’s delightful memoir. I laughed out loud many times. It’s fun in a way that stands in stark contrast to the other book about a Toronto opera icon, namely Lotfi Mansouri: An Operatic Journey. I suppose the chief difference is really a reflection of the people writing their memoirs. One of the joys of Mansouri’s book, by one of the most powerful figures in the opera world is the dirt it dishes where Hamilton’s story, coming from a much more modest & self-effacing figure, is true to the title of his book, a fun book that never has to work hard for its laughs.
The title goes back to Hamilton’s piano teacher Alberto Guerrero, who also taught Glenn Gould. Hamilton figured he must have been proud of this achievement, but Guerrero said
“Glenn would have been great no matter with whom he had studied. If I’m proud of anything in my life, it is that I was able to open a few windows onto the world of music for the less talented students who worked with me.”
That’s the spirit not just of the book, but of Hamilton’s life.
I can’t imagine how many people Hamilton has known and worked with, but when I surveyed the index (before beginning to read) it seemed that the author worked studiously to include a great many people even in the tiniest roles. He manages to mention everyone and I mean everyone, which is no mean feat, likely because he knew they’d be hoping to be mentioned.
After a charming account of his childhood & his music education, we’re taken on an odyssey that parallels the growth of many of the big musical institutions in this country. We find out a great deal about the challenges of preparing and touring vocal music through small towns across this enormous country of ours, about the performing life of singers such as Lois Marshall, Maureen Forrester, and to a lesser extent, tenors Ben Heppner & Richard Margison. We read about the beginnings of such institutions as Opera in Concert, the COC Ensemble and the Opera Quiz. And throughout, Hamilton is at his witty best.
If you have no interest in opera you might still enjoy this memoir of a modest Canadian whose career regularly brought him into contact with greatness, especially because of the author’s charming anecdotes. The book is as likeable as its author.