Obituary by Barry Millington, published in The Guardian, Friday 29 September 2006 10.07 EDT
US baritone with a magisterial voice and striking presence
Thomas Stewart, one of the leading baritones of the postwar generation, has died at the age of 78 in his home city of Rockville, Maryland. He suffered a heart attack while playing golf with his wife, the singer Evelyn Lear, to whom he had been married for more than 50 years. Magisterial of voice and striking of presence, Stewart played a prominent part on the operatic scene in the US and Europe: he took several major roles, including that of Wotan, at the Bayreuth Festival between 1960 and 1972, and was a familiar and popular figure on the stage of the Metropolitan, New York, where he sang 169 performances of 23 roles over 14 seasons.
Born in San Saba, Texas, Stewart discovered at the age of 10 he had a voice that commanded attention. He studied with Mack Harrell at the Juilliard school in New York, with Jaro Prohaska at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin and with Daniel Ferro in New York. It was at the Juilliard that he made his stage debut in 1954 as La Roche in a production of Strauss's Capriccio - the first time the work had been performed in the US. In the same year he made his debut, as the Commendatore in Don Giovanni, at New York City Opera and in Chicago as Baptista in Giannini's Taming of the Shrew.
He married Evelyn Lear, also a vocal student at Juilliard, in 1955, and they travelled to Europe the following year to study in Berlin on Fulbright scholarships. Within weeks, Stewart had been offered a job as a member of the Berlin Städtische Oper, making his debut as Don Fernando in Fidelio and remaining with the company until 1964.
Again it was not long before his talent was spotted. By the late 1950s, his name was being mentioned, usually favourably, in reviews. By 1960, major invitations were beginning to come his way. That year he received the summons to Bayreuth, taking the roles of Donner and Gunther (The Ring) and Amfortas (Parsifal) with distinction. In the same year he made his Covent Garden debut, as Escamillo in Carmen, though he initially made less of an impression in the role of the brash toreador than he had a few weeks before in the Wagner parts.
At Bayreuth, however, he went on to assume the mantle of Hans Hotter, chiefly in the role of Wotan, which he sang there first in 1967, adding the role of the Wanderer in 1969. Hotter gave him enormous encouragement at this time and they remained close friends. Stewart also sang Wotan/Wanderer on the Karajan recording of the Ring, a portrayal some critics felt lacked something of the tonal strength and depth of a true bass-baritone but which others praised for its fine line and attractive tone. The Bayreuth performances of the role were similarly praised for their intelligence and elegance of phrasing.
His Dutchman there, sung under Karl Böhm and also recorded, achieved, if not quite consistently, the desired demonic pungency and a sense of existential desperation. Certainly the performances of all the major baritone roles at Bayreuth in these years consolidated Stewart's reputation as one of the great Wagner singers of his time.
He was equally at home in a range of roles including Falstaff, Golaud (Pelléas et Mélisande), Count Almaviva (The Marriage of Figaro), Jochanaan (Salome), the villains in Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann, Iago and Balstrode (Peter Grimes). Although contemporary music was not his forte, he created the role of the tragically deceived king in Aribert Reimann's Lear (San Francisco, 1981), a performance judged to have struck the ideal balance of action and passivity and praised as one of his greatest.
In retirement, Stewart and his wife set up, in collaboration with the Wagner Society of Washington DC, the Thomas Stewart and Evelyn Lear Emerging Singers Program, facilitating the careers of dozens of young professionals.
Perhaps Stewart's finest recording is his performance of Hans Sachs on Rafael Kubelik's version of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, taped in 1967 but not released until 1996. The humanity that radiates from his characterisation of the cobbler-poet somehow encapsulates the generosity, kindness and integrity of the man to which all who knew him testify.
He is survived by his wife, son Jan and daughter Bonni.
· Thomas Stewart, baritone, born August 29 1928; died September 24 2006
As can be seen in this chart, before going to Europe, Stewart sang three supporting roles in the very first
season of the re-born Lyric Opera of Chicago, and then returned for major roles in later seasons.
1954 - Taming of the Shrew (Giannini) [Baptista] with Jordan, Lind, Thompson, Foldi, Gramm; Rescigno, Harrower, Ritholz
Lucia [Raimondo] with Callas, Di Stefano, Guelfi; Rescigno, Wymetal
Tosca [Angelotti] with Steber, Di Stefano, Gobbi, Badioli, Assandri, Mason (Shepard Boy); Rescigno, Wymetal
1969 - Flying Dutchman [Dutchman] with Silja, Cox, Talvela; Dohnányi, Ebermann, Wolf Siegfried Wagner
1974 - Falstaff [Ford] with Evans, Ligabue, Zilio, Chookasian, Alva, Andreolli, Roni; Maag, Zeffirelli/Anderson/Evans
1975 - Elektra [Orest] with Roberts, Neblett, Boese, Little; Klobučar, Heinrich
Marriage of Figaro [Count] with M. Price, Malfitano, Dean, Ewing, Voketaitis, Begg; Pritchard, Ponnelle
1985-86 - Meistersinger [Hans Sachs] with Johnson/Wells/Griffel, Johns, Kavrakos, Patrick, Del Carlo, Kuebler; Janowski, Merrill, O’Hearn
1986-87 - Magic Flute [Speaker] with Blegen, Araiza, Nolen, Serra, Salminen; Slatkin, Everding, Zimmermann
1990-91 - Magic Flute [Speaker] with Mattila, Hadley, Nolen, Jo, Lloyd; Kuhn, Everding, Zimmermann
|Rosemary Isabel Brown (27 July 1916
– 16 November 2001) was an English composer, pianist and spirit medium who
claimed that dead composers dictated new musical works to her. She created
a small media sensation in the 1970s by presenting works purportedly dictated
to her by Claude Debussy, Edvard Grieg, Franz Liszt, Franz Schubert, Frédéric
Chopin, Igor Stravinsky, Johann Sebastian Bach, Johannes Brahms, Ludwig van
Beethoven, Robert Schumann and Sergei Rachmaninoff.
Brown claimed that each composer had his own way of dictating to her: Liszt controlled her hands for a few bars at a time, and then she wrote down the notes; Chopin told her the notes and pushed her hands on to the right keys; Schubert tried to sing his compositions; and Beethoven and Bach simply dictated the notes. She claimed the composers spoke to her in English.
After studying the compositions, psychologists came to the conclusion they were the work of Brown's own subconscious. Leonard Zusne and Warren H. Jones in their book Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Magical Thinking (1989) noted that "Brown wrote hundreds of pieces of music dictated by the various composers. They were passable works, entirely in the style of these composers, but appeared to be simply reworkings of existing pieces."
© 1981 & 1991 Bruce Duffie
These conversations were recorded in Chicago on December 5, 1981 and January 31, 1991. Portions were broadcast on WNIB the following year, and again in 1993 and 1998. Much of the first interview was transcribed and published in Wagner News in March, 1982. Portions of the second interview were broadcast on WNIB in 1993, 1996, and 2000. A small section was also used on the website of Lyric Opera of Chicago as part of their 50th Anniversary Season which saluted several Jubilarians who were significant in the history of the company. The transcription of the second interview was made in 2016, and posted on this website at that time, along with the complete transcript of the first interview. My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago. You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.