What Do Salmon Ladders and Opera Have in Common? Thomas Hampson Explains

Aug 12, 2013

Thomas Hampson argues that opera is still applicable. He is in Salzburg Festival this month as Rodrigo in the production of Don Carlo.
Credit Dario Acosta

You don’t have to have roots in Walla Walla to become the world’s favorite defender of the art form known as opera, but the Grammy-winning opera star Thomas Hampson does, and he knows how to use them. In a surprisingly buzzworthy confrontation on a BBC show called Hardtalk, Hampson (raised in Spokane; studied at Eastern Washington; endowed a scholarship at Walla Walla U.) faced down a hostile interviewer’s accusation that opera is only for elitist rich people.

Is it? This spring, I saw the world premiere of an opera about salmon, heron, and Northwest watersheds, surrounded by a diverse crowd of little kids.

But you don’t have to be talking about Seattle Opera’s “Our Earth” to call on Pacific Northwest imagery in the thoughtful assessment of opera as a living art, or as Hampson describes it, an “industry.” Just fast forward to 20:49 in Hampson’s 24:40-long BBC interview, and there you have it: the salmon ladder as metaphor for the labor of opera workers in our time: