(Robert) Stuart Hamilton, C.M., Hon. LL.D, A.R.C.T. (born September 28, 1929) is an
award-winning Canadian pianist,
operatic vocal coach, radio broadcaster,
artistic director and producer
based in Toronto. Perhaps best known as long-time quiz master for
Radio’s Saturday Afternoon at
the Opera, he presently teaches opera repertoire and diction
at the University of Toronto.
Hamilton has also received international acclaim as 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 has performed alongside internationally celebrated
artists such as Isabel Bayrakdarian, Maureen Forrester, Elizabeth
Benson Guy, Ben Heppner, Rosemarie
Landry, Richard Margison, Lois Marshall, Roxolana
Roslak, Mary Lou Fallis, and Mary
Simmons. As a soloist, he has played concerts across Canada,
in New York and in London, England. Hamilton is founder, former
producer, and Artistic Director
in Concert, the acclaimed concert series based in Toronto.
He was also the first artistic director for the Canadian Opera Company
Hamilton has a recently-published
autobiography entitled Opening
Windows: Confessions of a Canadian Vocal Coach, soon to
be available from Dundurn
Books, and Amazon.com.
Born in Regina, Saskatchewan in the city's General Hospital, Hamilton grew up in a house on 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 (later renamed Central Collegiate Institute, and now defunct).
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 while 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. To help support his studies, he worked for $2.00 per night as a uniformed usher at Eaton Auditorium, Canada's premier concert stage in 1948. 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).
It was at this period of piano instruction when 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, in spite of the fact that he would later be diagnosed as having Dupuytren's contracture, eventually resulting in an operation to straighten one of his forefingers, while another forefinger still remains bent. Nonetheless, he still continues to play piano recreationally.
Hamilton spent much of his time in the 1950s orbiting around 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 took an offer from soprano June Kowalchuck, founder of Opera Hamilton, to become their chorus director, rehearsal pianist, and occasional conductor over a period of 5 years. His connection to the city of Hamilton was further confirmed with his first position as voice teacher of the local Music Conservatory, which required two full days in "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 for 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 rising 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.
At age 38 in 1967, he took up a significant technical and musical challenge by accepting the role of pianist and singer made famous in England by Dudley Moore in a production of Beyond the Fringe. The show was performed in Buffalo, New York, for six weeks, in Toronto for six months, and 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 music scene.
Hamilton initiated in 1974 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 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 Artistic Director of Opera in Concert, though he continues 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:
Hamilton was also the first Music Director of the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble. In 1981 he relinquished his position as musical director of the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble program, to act as Lois Marshall's accompanist on her farewell recital tour.
Hamilton also had a cameo film role with his sister Patricia Hamilton as "Mme. Selitsky's Accompanist" in the film Anne of Green Gables in 1985.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Hamilton was in regular demand as a judge 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.
In 2008 Hamilton served as guest judge for Bathroom Divas for seasons 1 and 2.
Hamilton continues to teach opera repertoire and diction at the University of Toronto.. He also maintains a full coaching schedule and devotes time to master classes across Canada.
Hamilton has a recently-published
autobiography entitled Opening Windows soon to be available from Dundurn
Books, and Amazon.com.
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 other 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) is a volunteer for the Canadian Opera Company Archive Library.. Patricia Hamilton continues working in theatre after 12 years at the Shaw Festival. Patricia's son (Hamilton's nephew) is actor Ben Carlson.
Hamilton has identified as openly gay since his arrival in Toronto in the 50's.
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.
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