Thomas Stewart (bass-baritone)

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Thomas Stewart
Born(1928-08-29)August 29, 1928
DiedSeptember 24, 2006(2006-09-24) (aged 78)
Nationality American
Occupation Bass-baritone

Thomas Stewart (August 29, 1928 September 24, 2006) was an American bass-baritone who sang an unusually wide range of roles, earning global acclaim particularly for his performances in Wagner's operas.

A bass-baritone is a high-lying bass or low-lying "classical" baritone voice type which shares certain qualities with the true baritone voice. The term arose in the late 19th century to describe the particular type of voice required to sing three Wagnerian roles: the Dutchman in Der fliegende Holländer, Wotan/Der Wanderer in the Ring Cycle and Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Wagner labelled these roles as Hoher Bass —see fach for more details.

Richard Wagner German composer

Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, theatre director, polemicist, and conductor who is chiefly known for his operas. Unlike most opera composers, Wagner wrote both the libretto and the music for each of his stage works. Initially establishing his reputation as a composer of works in the romantic vein of Carl Maria von Weber and Giacomo Meyerbeer, Wagner revolutionised opera through his concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk, by which he sought to synthesise the poetic, visual, musical and dramatic arts, with music subsidiary to drama. He described this vision in a series of essays published between 1849 and 1852. Wagner realised these ideas most fully in the first half of the four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen.


Thomas James Stewart was born in San Saba, Texas. He graduated from Baylor University in 1953 and then went to the Juilliard School, where he studied with Mack Harrell. He made his debut in 1954 as La Roche in the American premiere of Richard Strauss's Capriccio , and went on to sing with the New York City Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago.

San Saba, Texas City in Texas, United States

San Saba is a city located in Central Texas and the county seat of San Saba County. It was settled in 1854 and named for its location on the San Saba River. The population was 3,099 at the 2010 census.

Baylor University private university in Waco, Texas, United States

Baylor University, or simply Baylor, is a private Christian university in Waco, Texas. Chartered in 1845 by the last Congress of the Republic of Texas, it is the oldest continuously operating university in Texas and one of the first educational institutions west of the Mississippi River in the United States. Located on the banks of the Brazos River next to I-35, between the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and Austin, the university's 1,000-acre campus is the largest Baptist university campus in the world. Baylor University's athletic teams, known as the Bears, participate in 19 intercollegiate sports. The university is a member of the Big 12 Conference in the NCAA Division I.

The Juilliard School is a private performing arts conservatory in New York City. Established in 1905, the school trains about 850 undergraduate and graduate students in dance, drama, and music. It is widely regarded as one of the world's leading drama, music and dance schools, with some of the most prestigious arts programs.

He married soprano Evelyn Lear in 1955, and the following year the couple participated in a studio recording of Kurt Weill's Johnny Johnson , first produced in 1936. In May 1957 he created the role of Dioneo in the world premiere of Carlos Chávez's The Visitors . [1] Later that year he and his wife traveled to Berlin on Fulbright Scholarships. In 1958 he made his major-role debut as Escamillo in Bizet's Carmen with the Städtische Opera, now the Deutsche Oper Berlin. He created the role of Jupiter in Giselher Klebe's 1961 opera Alkmene and remained on the Berlin company's roster until 1964. He debuted at the Royal Opera House in 1960, again as Escamillo, and sang frequently at Covent Garden until 1978, with roles including Golaud in Pelléas et Mélisande , Gunther in Götterdämmerung , and the title roles in Don Giovanni and The Flying Dutchman.

A soprano[soˈpraːno] is a type of classical female singing voice and has the highest vocal range of all voice types. The soprano's vocal range (using scientific pitch notation) is from approximately middle C (C4) = 261 Hz to "high A" (A5) = 880 Hz in choral music, or to "soprano C" (C6, two octaves above middle C) = 1046 Hz or higher in operatic music. In four-part chorale style harmony, the soprano takes the highest part, which often encompasses the melody. The soprano voice type is generally divided into the coloratura, soubrette, lyric, spinto, and dramatic soprano.

Evelyn Lear American operatic soprano

Evelyn Shulman Lear was an American operatic soprano. Between 1959 and 1992, she appeared in more than forty operatic roles, appeared with every major opera company in the United States and won a Grammy Award in 1966. She was well known for her musical versatility, having sung all three main female roles in Der Rosenkavalier. Lear was also known for her work on 20th century pieces by Robert Ward, Alban Berg, Marvin David Levy, Rudolf Kelterborn and Giselher Klebe. She was married to the American bass-baritone Thomas Stewart until his death in 2006.

Kurt Weill German composer

Kurt Julian Weill was a German Jewish composer, active from the 1920s in his native country, and in his later years in the United States. He was a leading composer for the stage who was best known for his fruitful collaborations with Bertolt Brecht. With Brecht, he developed productions such as his best-known work The Threepenny Opera, which included the ballad "Mack the Knife". Weill held the ideal of writing music that served a socially useful purpose. He also wrote several works for the concert hall. He became a United States citizen on August 27, 1943.

A regular at the Bayreuth Festival for 13 years (1960–72), Stewart sang most of Wagner's heroic baritone roles, including Wotan/Wanderer and Gunther in the Ring Cycle, the Dutchman, Wolfram in Tannhäuser , and Amfortas in Parsifal . He sang the latter role for 13 consecutive Bayreuth seasons.

Bayreuth Festival music festival

The Bayreuth Festival is a music festival held annually in Bayreuth, Germany, at which performances of operas by the 19th-century German composer Richard Wagner are presented. Wagner himself conceived and promoted the idea of a special festival to showcase his own works, in particular his monumental cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen and Parsifal.

<i>Der Ring des Nibelungen</i> Cycle of four operas by Richard Wagner

Der Ring des Nibelungen, WWV 86, is a cycle of four German-language epic music dramas composed by Richard Wagner. The works are based loosely on characters from the Norse sagas and the Nibelungenlied. The composer termed the cycle a "Bühnenfestspiel", structured in three days preceded by a Vorabend. It is often referred to as the Ring cycle, Wagner's Ring, or simply The Ring.

<i>Tannhäuser</i> (opera) Opera by Richard Wagner

Tannhäuser is an 1845 opera in three acts, music and text by Richard Wagner, based on two German legends: Tannhäuser, the legendary medieval German Minnesänger and poet, and the tale of the Wartburg Song Contest. The story centers on the struggle between sacred and profane love, and redemption through love, a theme running through much of Wagner's mature work.

In 1967 Herbert von Karajan launched the Salzburg Easter Festival with a new staging of the Ring Cycle, casting Stewart as Wotan/Wanderer and Gunther during the festival’s first four seasons, and again as Wotan in a later revival of Das Rheingold . Karajan recorded the entire cycle with the Texas baritone, and Time Magazine acclaimed him "the Wotan of his generation."

Herbert von Karajan Austrian conductor

Herbert von Karajan was an Austrian conductor. He was principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic for 35 years. Generally regarded as one of the greatest conductors of the 20th century, he was a dominant figure in European classical music from the mid-1950s until his death. Part of the reason for this was the large number of recordings he made and their prominence during his lifetime. By one estimate he was the top-selling classical music recording artist of all time, having sold an estimated 200 million records.

The Salzburg Easter Festival is an annual festival of opera and classical music held in Salzburg, Austria during Easter week.

<i>Das Rheingold</i> opera by Richard Wagner

Das Rheingold, WWV 86A, is the first of the four music dramas that constitute Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen,. It was performed, as a single opera, at the National Theatre Munich on 22 September 1869, and received its first performance as part of the Ring cycle at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, on 13 August 1876.

Stewart made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Ford in Verdi's Falstaff in 1966. Over the next decade he figured in many stage and broadcast performances as the Met's leading Wagner baritone (Wotan/Wanderer, Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger , Kurwenal in Tristan und Isolde , Amfortas, Wolfram, the Dutchman, Gunther). He also sang a variety of other roles: Golaud, Jochanaan in Salome , Orest in Elektra , Iago in Verdi's Otello , Balstrode in Peter Grimes , the four villains in Contes d'Hoffmann , as well as Mozart's Almaviva and Don Giovanni. He returned to that house annually until 1976, then less regularly but still frequently thereafter; the Met database lists his last season with the house as 1993–94.

Metropolitan Opera Opera company in Manhattan, New York City

The Metropolitan Opera is an opera company based in New York City, resident at the Metropolitan Opera House at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. The company is operated by the non-profit Metropolitan Opera Association, with Peter Gelb as general manager. As of 2018, the company's current music director is Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Giuseppe Verdi 19th-century Italian opera composer

Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was an Italian opera composer. He was born near Busseto to a provincial family of moderate means, and developed a musical education with the help of a local patron. Verdi came to dominate the Italian opera scene after the era of Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti, and Gioachino Rossini, whose works significantly influenced him.

<i>Falstaff</i> (opera) opera by Giuseppe Verdi

Falstaff is a comic opera in three acts by the Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi. The libretto was adapted by Arrigo Boito from Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor and scenes from Henry IV, parts 1 and 2. The work premiered on 9 February 1893 at La Scala, Milan.

With the San Francisco Opera he sang the title role in the American premiere of Aribert Reimann's Lear (1981). At the same house he also sang several French and Italian roles (Golaud, Valentin in Faust , Posa in Don Carlos , both Ford and the title role in Falstaff ), as well as major Wagnerian roles (Wotan/Wanderer, Gunther, Wolfram, Kurwenal, Amfortas). He received a medal from that company in 1985 for his 25 years of distinguished performance.

In his prime years Stewart also returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago to sing the Dutchman and Hans Sachs, as well as Orest, Ford, and Mozart's Almaviva. At other houses worldwide, his better-known roles also included Scarpia in Tosca , Renato in Un ballo in maschera , di Luna in Il trovatore , Amonasro in Aida , and the title roles in Rigoletto and Eugene Onegin .

In later years, he and his wife ran the Evelyn Lear and Thomas Stewart Emerging Singers Program of the Wagner Society of Washington, D.C.

Thomas Stewart died of a heart attack while playing golf near his home in Rockville, Maryland, aged 78. He was survived by his two children and his wife, who died in 2012.

Selected discography

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  1. Howard Taubman (May 10, 1957). "Opera: First by Chavez" (PDF). The New York Times .