In the review I posted in March of Stuart Hamilton’s memoir Open Windows, I said that no one has been involved in more aspects of Canadian operatic performance than Stuart Hamilton.
Born in Regina, Hamilton, the young pianist chose to focus on accompanying singers. The list of the artists he accompanied is more or less the list of the best & brightest in this country. Sometimes Hamilton recognized the talent before anyone else, so that he was also a conduit whereby singers came to be discovered.
Hamilton is associated with two artistic enterprises:
- Opera in Concert, begun in 1974
- The Opera Quiz on Saturday Afternoon at the Opera
In one role he was self-effacing and humble, while in the other his personality propelled him to fame. Yet there’s no contradiction, both aspects are true to who Stuart Hamilton really is, a kind & generous artist who is not just full of fun, but a gifted raconteur who has seen a lot in his time, and generously shares his experiences.
Hamilton is a Member of the Order of Canada, recipient of the Governor General’s Award and a Toronto Arts Award. Although he no longer hosts the Opera Quiz or plays for Opera in Concert, Hamilton is still a teacher & coach, a man of vast experience & expertise in the vocal realm.
I ask Hamilton ten questions: five about himself, and five about coaching and teaching.
1) Are you more like your father or your mother?
I don’t think I resemble either of my parents. They were good people , but they didn’t have an artistic bone between them. I was never close emotionally with them.
2) What is the best thing or worst thing about being a coach & accompanist?
The best thing about being a vocal coach is the repertoire one deals with. Who could complain about having Bach, Mozart, Verdi, Wagner and Debussy to work for? These people were the very best people in their field and to work with them is a superb privilege.
I can’t think of anything bad about my work. I adore it.
3) Who do you like to listen to or watch?
I don’t have a record player and the only thing I listen to on the radio are the broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera. I don’t have a TV set. I don’t listen to records or watch films, as I’m only interested in the performing aspect of music and I don’t like to listen to the same performance more than once.
4) What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
It would have been useful in my career if I had been able to transpose at sight which I’ve never been able to do. I also wish that I had had hands which were more suited for playing the piano.
5) When you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favourite
thing to do?
I enjoy reading. Right now I’m re-reading Stendhal-La Chartreuse de Parme and Le Rouge et le Noir en français—superb ! and I’m about to retackle Flaubert with Madame Bovary and L’Education Sentimental.
Five more about Stuart Hamilton’s ongoing commitment to coaching & accompanying singers
1)Having formerly given yourself to a busy career including Opera in Concert, the CBC, and other coaching & teaching activities, how does your “new” life challenge you?
I’m enjoying having time to practise the piano and I’ve fallen in love with Bach which I never had time to work on before. I’m studying the piano with Boris Zarankin and enjoying it immensely. When I told Mary Morrison at the Faculty of Music that I was taking piano lessons , she said “It’s about time ! “
2) what do you love about coaching / accompanying?
This seems to me to be a repeat of question 2 in the first part.
3) Do you have a favourite work or composer ?
Pelléas is still for me, one of the supreme musical achievements. I still love Montemezzi’s “L’amore dei Tre Re and Chabrier’s Le Roi Malgré Lui. I adore Wagner and Verdi but also Mozart and Schubert. Actually, I don’t know of any so-called Classical music that I don’t like.
My favorite scene in the Debussy opera is in act four where Mélisande gets dragged around by the hair after which Arkel says “If I were God, I’d have pity on the hearts of men.”
4) How do you relate to the operatic world as a modern man?
I’m something of a Philistine when it comes to regie. When the curtain goes up, I look and then forget about the décor and concentrate on the music and the performance.
5) Is there anyone out there who you particularly admire, and who has influenced you?
Most of the people who I admire in the music business are dead. Guerrero, my piano teacher in the fifties was a great influence as were Lois Marshall and Maureen Forrester. Actually, I’ve been most influenced by all the singers with whom I’ve had the privilege of working.
Stuart Hamilton continues as teacher & coach. His memoir Opening Windows can be obtained in bookstores, or by following the link if you click the image to the right.