A Fitting Tribute to Thomas Stewart

Monday, October 23, 2006

There is no finer tribute to a teacher than the success of his students. The richness and depth of the Wagner performances at the German Embassy on Friday night showed that bass-baritone Thomas Stewart was clearly an inspirational teacher.

The concert was a memorial to Stewart, who died last month, and a tribute to his wife of 51 years, Evelyn Lear, who sat front and center and presided with remarkable poise.

Five singers from the Lear-Stewart Emerging Singers Program presented a succession of marvels. Stewart -- Herbert von Karajan's favorite Wotan -- trained a worthy successor in Jason Stearns, whose handling of the conclusion of "Die Walkure" was beautifully sung and sensitively acted. Soprano Deidra Gorton was a remarkable Brunnhilde, by turns mercurial, dignified and devastated.

Scarcely less remarkable was the conclusion of "Parsifal." Stearns as Amfortas and tenor Jeffrey Springer in the title role made this highly rarefied music both powerful and intensely mystical.

Stearns also excelled in the "Entry Into Valhalla" from "Das Rheingold" and in Wolfram's "Song to the Evening Star" from "Tannhauser." Springer offered a light, lyrical "Prize Song" from "Die Meistersinger" and a passionately evocative "In Fernem Land" from "Lohengrin."

Soprano Kara Harman was a wonder as well. Her finale from "Tristan und Isolde" played like a mad scene, ethereal at the end. Harman also brought poise and sensitivity to "Dich, teure Halle" from "Tannhauser" and tremendous passion to "Du bist der Lenz" from "Die Walkure."

Pianist Betty Bullock was a strong, sensitive accompanist in a concert that brought tears to more than a few eyes.

-- Mark J. Estren

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