Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Dukes of Opera

Thomas Hammons has performed at the Met more than 350 times. He’s performed the role of Bartolo in The Barber of Seville countless times. To say he’s a veteran of the stage is putting it mildly. But don’t think for a minute that means he’s full of himself. He took the time to meet with me, a lowly little blogger! And in that meeting, I found him to be an intelligent and engaging man with a wide base of knowledge that encompassed history, art and literature. Read on…

What’s the biggest challenge in playing the role of Bartolo?
I’ve performed the role more than 400 times. The first time was in 1973 and I learned the role with Italo Tajo, who was a mentor of mine. So the biggest challenge has been to adapt to each new cast and work with their own interpretations of what they’re doing. You pick up on the personalities of other singers and so you can’t insist on performing the role in such a rigid way each time. Another challenge is his portrayal. I don’t perform him as this lecherous old man or a stupid fool. He is smart and he is a doctor and does indeed draw sympathy from the audience.

What actor would you want to play you in the movie of your life?
Peter O’Toole. I’ve always admired him as an actor. He was known as a bit of a wild man and was often compared to the title character of J.P. Donleavy’s novel, The Ginger Man, for his wild Irish nature, something I can definitely relate to. But I think Peter also has a sensitive side that he can showcase, as in the film Becket about King Henry II and his relationship with his close friend and advisor, Thomas Becket.

Where in the world would you like to visit that you haven’t yet been?
The pyramids of Egypt. I’d love to see the Sphinx. The whole area – the Middle East and the Holy Land. I want to go to the Wailing Wall and the Fortress of the Knights Templar.

What would you do if you didn’t have to work?
I’d collect art and have the best surrealist collection in the Midwest, with works by Max Ernst, Dali, and Picasso. When I was a young child, I went to the Chicago Art Institute and saw Picasso’s Blue Guitar, which was a life-changing experience. Since then, I’ve always enjoyed the early surrealist period, those works created around the 1930’s. There’s an enigmatic quality to surrealism that speaks to me. As in life, these works provide no easy answers or interpretations.

Is there a food that you really dislike?
I cannot stand raw onions. They’re fine cooked, but I will never have onions on my hot dog or hamburger. The flavor’s just too strong. I’ve also never been fond of anchovies.

If you owned a boat, what would you name it?
My father was actually a sailor and named his boat Tomatlen after his three children. I think I would follow in his footsteps and do the same, so my boat would be named Marmad after my daughters Margo and Madeline.

What opera do you think would translate well to a series on HBO?
I would like to see Beaumarchais’ original plays – The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro, and The Guilty Mother – made into a miniseries. The characters are so interesting and I think they’d translate well to screen even in play form. You’d have to translate them into English, but they could be done in a period setting and it would be very interesting, I think.

Stay tuned for more Barber entries and don’t forget – the opera opens February 6. (The countdown begins!) I'll also be at the Opera Colorado Women's Luncheon tomorrow - say hi if you see me.

See you on Thursday!


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