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"Robert" Stuart Hamilton, CM, Hon. LL.D, A.R.C.T. (September 28, 1929 – January 1, 2017) was an award-winning Canadian pianist, operatic vocal coach, radio broadcaster, artistic director, and producer based in Toronto. Perhaps best known as the longtime quiz master for CBC Radio’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera, he taught opera repertoire and diction at the University of Toronto. Hamilton has also received international acclaim as a panelist for the Metropolitan Opera Quiz from New York.
As one of Canada’s top vocal coaches for over 65 years, he has inspired and coached generations of singers. As a piano accompanist, he had performed alongside internationally celebrated artists such as: Isabel Bayrakdarian, Maureen Forrester, Elizabeth Benson Guy, Ben Heppner, Rosemarie Landry, Richard Margison, Dustin Lee Hiles, Stuart Howe, Lois Marshall, Roxolana Roslak, Mary Lou Fallis, and Mary Simmons. As a soloist, he had played concerts across Canada, in New York, and in London, England. Hamilton was the founder, former producer, and Artistic Director Emeritus of Opera in Concert, the acclaimed concert series based in Toronto. He was also the first artistic director for the Canadian Opera Company ensemble.
Life and career
Early life in Regina
Born in Regina, Saskatchewan, in the city's General Hospital, Hamilton grew up in a house at 2325 Angus Street near what later became known as "The Crescents" neighbourhood His mother, Florence Hamilton (née Stuart; 1893-1983) was from North Dakota and worked as a nurse (she later remarried under the surname Twiss). His father, James Shire Hamilton (1897-1954), was from Galt, Ontario (now part of Cambridge), and worked as a corporate lawyer. Stuart was their fourth child after Peter, Dorothy and Douglas. A few years later, in 1937, the Hamilton household would welcome another addition, Patricia, known in the family as "Patsy", who would grow up to become a famous Canadian actor of “Anne of Green Gables" fame.
Despite being born at the very beginning of the Great Depression in Canada, in the hardest-hit Prairie Provinces, Hamilton seems to have grown up in relative comfort and happiness. He went to Davin Public Elementary School near his family home. He attended and graduated high school at Regina Collegiate which later renamed Central Collegiate Institute, and is now closed.
His first musical training was in the Lakeview Boys Choir in Regina, under the direction of Kay Hayworth.
While in public school, he also took drama classes with Jean Brown in her private Drama School. His drama coach suggested he favour comedic roles over dramatic leads.
In 1943, at the age of 14, his parents agreed to send him to piano lessons with Martha Somerville Allan. He continued studying with Allan for close to three years.
In 1946, Hamilton's parents moved to Saskatoon. He decided to stay behind to continue his lessons, moving into an apartment with Mrs. Annie Hailstone, a dress-maker. Hamilton moved to Toronto in 1947 to join his sister Dorothy Marshall (née Hamilton), who was already settled in the city and was pursuing her own singing career. He began his piano performance studies at The Royal Conservatory of Music with the Chilean-Canadian composer, pianist, and teacher Alberto Guerrero. Guerrero noted of Hamilton's hands: "...not only were these hands small and stubby but the double-jointed fingers seemed like an insurmountable obstacle." His student nonetheless persevered. He was later diagnosed as having Dupuytren's contracture, eventually resulting in an operation to straighten one of his forefingers. Another forefinger still remains bent. Nonetheless, he continues to play piano recreationally.
In 1948, to help support his studies, he worked for $2.00 per night as a uniformed usher at Eaton Auditorium, Canada's premier concert stage. This job allowed him to see many performances of The Eaton Auditorium concert series. He also coached singers on the side for twenty-five cents an hour. In 1950 he earned certification as an Associate of The Royal Conservatory of Music (ARCT).
Hamilton spent much of his time in the 1950s involved in the Toronto classical music scene. These seminal years laid much of the ground for his future career in Canadian music. He started frequenting performances and social events of The Royal Conservatory Opera (later known as the Canadian Opera Company) with Herman Geiger-Torel, Nicholas Goldschmidt, and Arnold Walter. After a false start working for Herman Geiger-Torel at the Royal Conservatory Opera School, Hamilton accepted an offer from soprano June Kowalchuck, founder of Opera Hamilton, to become their chorus director, rehearsal pianist, and occasional conductor, which he did for a period of five years. His connection to the city of Hamilton was strengthened further when he accepted his first position as a voice teacher at the local Music Conservatory, which required him to spend two full days in the "Steel City" per week. The other days of the week Hamilton spent in Toronto, coaching Elizabeth Benson Guy, Maureen Forrester, and Lois Marshall, as well as accompanying Greta Kraus's lieder classes, and the growing ranks of younger vocalists. Around this time, he also became interested in CBC Radio opera programming, which was growing in popularity. The sudden success of a teaching position, and better social networking in his field, may have emboldened Hamilton to prepare for his first solo debut in New York City.
In 1967, at age 38, he took up a significant technical and musical challenge by accepting the role of pianist and singer in a production of Beyond the Fringe, a role made famous in England by Dudley Moore. The show was performed in Buffalo, New York for six weeks, in Toronto for six months, and he later toured across Eastern Canada with a final run in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. During afternoons and off days, Hamilton practiced for his New York City Town Hall piano recital, which proved to be truly rewarding, even prompting a New York Times critic to praise him as "beguilingly musical". After a second New York recital in 1968, and a third one in London's Wigmore Hall in 1971, Hamilton decided not to further pursue a concert career and concentrated his efforts on the Toronto classical music scene.
Opera in Concert, 1974
In 1974, Hamilton initiated the annual Opera in Concert series at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts in Toronto, acting as artistic director, producer, and accompanist. His aim was to use the large pool of talented local singers by offering them opportunities to learn and perform rarely produced works. Normally presenting four operas each season, with the occasional double or triple bill, each opera was performed twice using alternate casts, in concert versions with piano. By 1991 over three hundred singers had presented more than sixty operas, many of which had been given their Canadian or Toronto premières. In 1994 Hamilton stepped down as Artistic Director of Opera in Concert, though he continued his association with the company as artistic advisor and Artistic Director Emeritus.
The operas performed by Opera in Concert under Hamilton's direction have included:
- Thomas' Hamlet (1974, 1977)
- Montemezzi's L'Amore dei Tre Re (1976, 1984)
- Bizet's Djamileh (1976, 1987)
- Verdi's Il Corsaro (1977) and Stiffelio (1978)
- Franz Schmidt's Notre Dame (1978)
- Weinberger's Schwanda the Bagpiper (1979)
- Weber's Der Freischütz (1980, 1990)
- Holst's Savitri (1981)
- D'Albert's Tiefland (1982)
- Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie and Mercadante's Il Giuramento (1983)
- Saint-Saëns' Henry VIII (1985, 1991),
- Bellini's Il Pirata (1989)
- Rutland Boughton's The Immortal Hour (1991)
- Twelve Massenet operas:
During the 1980s and 1990s, Hamilton was in regular demand as an adjudicator for competitions such as the CBC Young Performers' Competition, Opera America Auditions, the Sullivan Foundation Awards, the Oralia Dominquez Competition (in Mexico), and the George London Foundation Awards.
In 1981, he became the host of the opera quiz on the CBC's Saturday Afternoon at the Opera April–December broadcasts. From 1982-2007 Hamilton worked as the Quiz Master on CBC's weekly Saturday Afternoon at the Opera, as well as appearing regularly as a panelist, and occasionally guest quiz master, on the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts in New York City. Hamilton's last Opera Quiz for Saturday Afternoon at the Opera was in the fall of 2007.
Hamilton has appeared regularly for the Canadian Opera Company and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as lecturer and commentator.
Hamilton's autobiography Opening Windows was published by Dundurn Press in the fall of 2012.
Awards and recognition
- In 1984 Hamilton was made a member of the Order of Canada.
- In 1989 he won the Toronto Arts Award in the Performing Arts Category.
- In 1992 he received the Governor General’s Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada in recognition of significant contributions to performing arts in Canada.
- In 2000 he was awarded the first Ruby award (named for Ruby Mercer) given by Opera Canada Magazine.
- In 2004 he was awarded the Beckmesser Award from the Los Angeles Opera League.
- In 2008 Dalhousie University gave him an honorary doctorate.
- More recently, he has been awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal 2012
Personal life and death
Hamilton's brother Lieutenant Douglas Hamilton served in the Canadian Armed Forces in the Korean War and died in action within a month of his deployment. His brother Captain Peter Hamilton worked as a commercial aircraft pilot, and died in the tragic Air Canada Flight 621 crash at Toronto Pearson International Airport in 1970.
Hamilton has two living siblings. Dorothy Marshall (née Hamilton) has worked as a volunteer for the Canadian Opera Company Archive Library. Patricia Hamilton continues working in theatre and television after 12 years at the Shaw Festival. Patricia's son (Hamilton's nephew) is actor Ben Carlson.
- Baker, Paul. "Opera in Concert's 25th," Opera Canada, Dec 1998
- Beckwith, John, 'In search of Alberto Guerrero,' Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 2006
- Bogart, Marlene. 'Werther's producer earned the Order of Canada for his contribution to Canadian music,' The Lyric, Spring 1987
- Crory, Neil. 'Something had to be done,' OpCan, vol 25, Spring 1984
- Cummings, David M., International who's who in music and musicians' directory: (in the classical and light classical fields), (Melrose Press:Routledge, 2000), p. 262
- Enright, Jane. 'Stuart Hamilton: unsung opera hero,' Fugue, Aug-Sep 1978
- Kraglund, John. 'Rare fare opens Opera in Concert,' Toronto Globe and Mail, 20 Oct 1983
- Mérinat, Monika, 'Stuart Hamilton: le maître.d'oeuvre d'Opera in concert,' Aria, vol 13, summer 1990.
- Neufeld, James, 'Lois Marshall: A Biography,' Dundurn Press Ltd., 2010
- Scott, Iain. 'Stuart Hamilton: the genius behind Opera in Concert,' OpCan, vol 28, Winter 1987
- "Stuart Hamilton," Opera Canada, fall 2000
- The house was torn down in the 1950s to make a parking lot which still exists. Streetview shows a parking lot.
- Many sources erroneously claim Patricia Hamilton was born in 1938.
- The Internet Movie Database erroneously states that Patricia Hamilton and Barbara Hamilton are sisters.
- "Stuartissimo" by Guillermo Silva-Marin, in Rarities in Performance: a Commemorative Look at 25 Years of Opera in Concert, Opera in Concert, 1998, p.16
- "Stuartissimo" by Guillermo Silva-Marin, in Rarities in Performance: a Commemorative Look at 25 Years of Opera in Concert, Opera in Concert, 1998, p.17
- "Stuartissimo" by Guillermo Silva-Marin, in Rarities in Performance: a Commemorative Look at 25 Years of Opera in Concert, Opera in Concert, 1998, p.18
- "Guillermo Silva-Marin | Stage Director". Silva-marin.com. Retrieved 2013-10-01.
- "Margaret Maye". Margaretmaye.ca. Retrieved 2013-10-01.
- Ottawa, The (2008-10-23). "Veteran baritone sings first Hamlet for Opera Lyra". Canada.com. Retrieved 2013-10-01.
- "CBC Radio | Saturday Afternoon at the Opera | About Us". Web.archive.org. 2004-02-16. Archived from the original on 2004-02-16. Retrieved 2013-10-01.
- "YouTube". YouTube. Retrieved 2013-10-01.
- "Stuart Hamilton, C.M". Music.utoronto.ca. Retrieved 2013-10-01.
- "News Headlines". Mun.ca. 1999-12-16. Retrieved 2013-10-01.
- "Order of Canada". Archive.gg.ca. 2009-04-30. Retrieved 2013-10-01.
- The Beckmesser "award" is rather like a "Wooden Spoon". The most interesting lecturer for the year is awarded an old shoe, which is passed on to the next recipient after a year. The shoe is an operatic in-joke reference to a scene in Act 1 of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
- "Honoris Causa - Dal News - Dalhousie University". Dal News. 2008-05-13. Retrieved 2013-10-01.
- "The Governor General of Canada > Diamond Jubilee Medal". Gg.ca. Retrieved 2013-10-01.
- "Memorial to honour victims of 1970 Air Canada crash | CTV Toronto News". Toronto.ctv.ca. 2010-07-03. Retrieved 2013-10-01.
- "Photo Gallery". Coc.ca. Retrieved 2013-10-01.
- "Ben Carlson". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2013-10-01.
- Pelley, Lauren (January 2, 2017). "Opera community mourns loss of Canadian vocal coach Stuart Hamilton". CBC News. Retrieved 2017-01-02.
- Terauds, John (January 1, 2017). "IN MEMORIAM | Stuart Hamilton, One Of The Great Champions Of Canada's Opera Community, Dies At Age 87". Musical Toronto. Retrieved 2017-01-02.
- International Who's Who in Music and Musician's Directory: Classical and ... - Google Books. Retrieved 2013-10-01 – via Google Books.
- Lois Marshall: A Biography - James Neufeld - Google Books. Retrieved 2013-10-01 – via Google Books.