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CONCERT REVIEW: Thomas Hampson, Spokane Symphony shine

Monday Nov 6, 2017 • Reviews • The Inlander

By Dan Nailen

Early in Thomas Hampson's Sunday show with the Spokane Symphony, the renowned baritone took up a microphone to apologize for cracks or hacks that might erupt from his throat during the "Overtures and Arias" program, as he'd taken on an illness during his week-long visit to his hometown. Still, he assured the audience, "I am 100 percent here, and 100 percent thrilled to be here." 

After witnessing Hampson perform for nearly two hours alongside the symphony, Spokane Symphony Chorale and Eastern Washington University Symphonic Choir, all I can say is, if that's what the guy sounds like when he's sick, it's no wonder his pipes have led him to international stardom among the opera and classical-music crowds. Hampson's voice is a truly incredible instrument, and it's hard to imagine anyone walked away from the Fox Theater on Sunday afternoon disappointed. 

Anyone who knows me knows that my knowledge of classical music and opera is pretty much limited to what I've heard in Looney Tunes cartoons and on movie soundtracks (seriously, Bugs Bunny's spin on The Barber of Seville in Rabbit of Seville is a classic!). Part of Hampson's skill is appealing to everyone from the expert to the novice, with an ingratiating performance style that's as fun to watch as it is to hear. 

For the experienced classical and opera fan, hearing Hampson tackle a program split between the likes of Mozart, Wagner, Verdi and Puccini and American composers like Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland and Cole Porter had to be a thrill. As a non-expert, I was easily drawn in to his takes on "Hai gia vinta la causa" from Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro and Hampson seeming to be swept away by the emotion of "O du, mein holder Abendstern" from Wagner's Tannhäuser.  And the sheer power of Hampson, the choir and the symphony joined together on the first set's closing "Va, Tosca" was truly remarkable. 

Hampson's winning stage persona came through even more in the second half of the program, as conductor Eckart Preu led the ranks on stage through vibrant, energetic American classics. The mini-suite of Copland's "The Dodger," "Simple Gifts" and "The Boatman's Dance" was lovely, and Porter's "Begin The Beguine" brought some subtle dance moves from the headliner and one of several standing ovations from the audience — leading to an encore performance of Porter's "Night and Day." 

While Hampson's career has taken him far from Spokane, to the opera houses and recital halls of Europe, he was one of the community members who worked so hard to raise money and awareness for the Fox's rebirth a decade ago. He sang the praises of the venue Sunday during a show that, in addition to showcasing a favored son of Spokane, illustrated what treasures we have access to all the time in the Spokane Symphony and its singers. 

"I hope you all know how to be proud of this hall and its orchestra," Hampson said Sunday. Programs like this weekend's make that easy. 

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