Road Show: Thomas Hampson in Salzburg
American baritone Thomas Hampson feels at home in Austria's favorite festival city. He tells ERIC MYERS why.
The Salzburg skyline, topped by Hohensalzburg Castle
© Gregory Downer 2013
Ask Thomas Hampson where home is, and all you'll get is a big laugh. "Home is suitcases!"
As with so many other peripatetic opera singers, home to him is a very fluid concept. He's happiest when he has his family around, but with his kids now grown and out on their own, it can be hard to rally the troops. A summer performing in Salzburg, however, makes all of that much easier. While he was singing Rodrigo there this year, his daughter Catherine was in town with her husband, Luca Pisaroni, who was singing Guglielmo in Così Fan Tutte. Another daughter, Felicitas, can easily visit from her home nearby in Vienna. "And my wife, Andrea, was born in Salzburg, so her whole family is here," he said by phone in July. "So if we're all sitting around the deck in Salzburg, that's what feels very homey to me."
Hampson was happy to be back in Salzburg after an absence of several years. "Salzburg is a magical city. It's got everything from the Sound of Music tours to Mozart's birth house. It's a glorious musical town, and it has way too many tourists, but that can also be fun. The nice thing is that most of the tourists are in a great mood, even if the place is just bursting at the seams. It's like going to Disneyland — everybody is just jazzed to be there. And I get that. It's a very friendly area. It's also a very athletic area, with everything from swimming to skiing to skydiving. And, of course, great hiking and golf. My wife and I are very passionate about hiking, and some of the greatest hiking in the world is here in the Austrian Alps."
Some of the best eating is, too. With its fertile plains, drizzly summer climate and Alpine air, the area is known for terrific fruits, vegetables, fish, game and dairy products. Salzburg's bounty is on display every Saturday, when the town center becomes a renowned marketplace. "You can find every kind of fresh produce, fresh food, fresh cheeses," says Hampson. "And right next to the Grosses Festspielhaus, there is a local who makes the best chicken you've ever eaten in your life. He sets up shop there every Saturday as part of the marketplace. That's one of my favorite haunts every weekend. Then right next to that is a terrific restaurant that is really the go-to place for artists working at the festival. It's called Triangel. It's got a very lively atmosphere, where you'll see perpetual greeting and embracing of artists to artists, and there are a lot of regulars that the staff knows very well. It's in a building that's from the fifteenth or sixteenth century, and it's very rustic inside, with planked tables and stone walls. It feels like an old place, and the food is traditional Austrian cuisine with a slightly new flair to it. You'll get some of the best beef that you can hope for, and also some of the best vegetables and cheeses. Their desserts are extraordinary."
Another traditional restaurant on Hampson's list is Der Goldener Hirsch (The Golden Deer). "It's one of the big meet-greet-and-be-seen-after-the-performance places," says Hampson, "and it has very, very good food. Across the water is a great hotel and restaurant, the Hotel Sacher, owned by the same lady who owns the Sacher in Vienna. She's a very dear friend. It's an elegant place with a wonderful kitchen."
© Clemens Kois 2013
Wiener Philharmonikergasse 7,
Tel: 43 662 84 22 29
DER GOLDENER HIRSCH
Getreidegasse 37, A-5020 Salzburg
Tel: 43 662 808 40
(hotel and restaurant)
A-5412 Puch bei Salzburg
Tel: 43 6245 8991
HOTEL GASTHOF DOKTORWIRT
Aigen, Glaserstrasse 9,
Tel: 43 662 62 29 73 0
TRACHTEN STASSNY SALZBURG
Getreidegasse 30, A-5020 Salzburg
Tel: 43 662 842 357
Theatergasse, A-5020 Salzburg
Tel: 43 662 87 35 96
Hampson's favorite place to stay is the intimate Hotel Vollererhof, in the mountains just outside of town, "away from the bang and hustle of the festival. I get up in the morning there and go for a walk or a run through the pines, or I'll go for a swim. It's a wonderfully healthy place to live. They have an extraordinary spa and an extraordinary kitchen, with the most natural pure foods, beautifully prepared. I go there sometimes just to hide away from the world. Well — there goes that secret!" He also recommends an ancient, atmospheric pensione, oddly named Doktor Wirt, in the part of Salzburg known as Aigen.
Salzburg is not considered much of a shopping mecca. "But," says Hampson, "if you're looking for the suit that was in the suitcase that wasn't delivered, you're going to be fine. Down the main street of old Salzburg are some very high-end shops, like Stassny Salzburg, which is a place to buy the very beautiful Austrian dresses called trachten. They also have quite a bit of modernized Austrian couture that has the Austrian style and mixes in the contemporary. You can get some very interesting antiques and antique jewelery in central Salzburg, and there are some extremely good old book shops. And there's a very good music store on the other side of the water called Mayrische Musikalienhandlung, which is also a wonderful bookstore."
It's not just Salzburg that Hampson loves — it's the Salzburg audiences, who show artists enormous respect and appreciation. "The level of performance here is about as high as it can be in our business," Hampson attests. "You feel challenged by performing here, and I think most artists want to feel challenged. Austria still very much believes in the artist and the artistic path. You feel truly special here, and I have a relationship to Salzburg and the Salzburg public that I really cherish."
ERIC MYERS is the author of three books. He has contributed articles to Playbill, Time Out New York and The New York Times Magazine and Arts and Leisure sections.
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