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: