Thomas Stewart

Baritone known for Wagner roles


Thomas Stewart, opera singer: born San Saba, Texas 29 August 1928; married 1955 Evelyn Lear (one stepson, one stepdaughter); died Rockville, Maryland 24 September 2006.

The American baritone Thomas Stewart was probably best known for his Wagner roles, particularly Wotan in Der Ring des Nibelungen, which he sang at Bayreuth and the Salzburg Easter Festival as well as at the Metropolitan, New York. But he had a lyrical voice, well suited in the earlier years of his career to roles such as Don Giovanni, the Count in Le nozze di Figaro, Golaud in Pelléas et Mélisande and Eugene Onegin.

He was also a fine interpreter of modern roles, taking part in the premieres of works by Boris Blacher and Giselher Klebe in Berlin, and in the US premieres of operas by Hindemith and Reimann in America. Married to the American soprano Evelyn Lear, he frequently sang with her, especially in the 20th-century repertory.

Stewart was born in San Saba, Texas, in 1926. Having originally studied mathematics, he turned to singing and studied with Mack Harrell at the Juilliard School in New York. He made his début there, while still a student, as La Roche the Theatre Director in the American premiere of Strauss's Capriccio. That was in 1954, and the same year he sang the Commendatore in Don Giovanni at the New York City Opera and made his Chicago début as Baptista in Giannini's The Taming of the Shrew. In Chicago he also sang Raimondo in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor and Angelotti in Puccini's Tosca - all bass roles, incidentally.

In 1957, two years after their marriage, Stewart and Lear went to Europe and were both engaged at the Städtische Oper in Berlin. Stewart made his début there in 1958 as Escamillo in Carmen. Later he sang Golaud, and William in the first performance of Blacher's Rosamunde Floris. In 1961 the company moved to a new theatre and became the Deutsche Oper. One of the first productions in the new theatre was the premiere of Klebe's Alkmene, with Lear in the title role and Stewart as Jupiter. He also sang Gluck's Orpheus, a role often taken by a baritone in Germany at that time.

Meanwhile Stewart made his Covent Gardén debut in 1960 as Escamillo, returning later as Gunther in Götterdämmerung and the title roles of Don Giovanni and Der fliegende Holländer. He made an excellent Giovanni, and an even better Dutchman. Stewart first sang at Bayreuth that same year, taking on Donner in Das Rheingold, Gunther and Amfortas in Parsifal.

He returned regularly to Bayreuth until 1972, adding Wolfram in Tannhäuser, the Dutchman and finally Wotan to his repertory there. He also sang Wotan at the Salzburg Easter Festival from 1967 to 1973. Though his voice was perhaps light for Wotan, it was so well produced and his diction was so good that he always rode the orchestra without trouble.

Stewart first appeared in San Francisco in 1962, when he sang Rodrigo in Verdi's Don Carlos, Valentin in Faust and Ford in Falstaff. Over the next decade he returned there in a variety of roles, including Yeletsky in Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades, Germont in La traviata, the Count in both Capriccio and Le nozze di Figaro, Golaud, Orestes in Elektra and, in 1971, a memorable Eugene Onegin with Lear as Tatyana. After a 10-year interval he returned to San Francisco to give a shattering performance of the title role of Reimann's Lear.

He made his Metropolitan début in 1966 as Ford - singing there for 14 seasons. Among his best characterisations were the four Villains in Les Contes d'Hoffmann, John the Baptist in Salome, Kurwenal in Tristan und Isolde, Iago in Verdi's Otello, Balstrode in Peter Grimes and Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. He had first sung Sachs, appropriately enough, in Nuremberg in 1971, and it was a role that fitted his personality particularly well, better, in my opinion than Wotan, though Stewart's Wotan was greatly admired at the Met, and rightly so.

In 1967 Stewart sang the title role of Hindemith's Cardillac at Santa Fe and in 1972 he was the Dark Fiddler at Washington in Delius' A Village Romeo and Juliet, both American premieres.

Elizabeth Forbes

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