Faculty Spotlight: Director of Opera Hank Hammett on Collaboration, Being Bold, and How He Got to SMU

SMU Opera Director
Scene from Meadows Opera’s ‘Elixir of Love’

Professor Hank Hammett is the Director of Opera at Meadows School of the Arts. Having received his Bachelor’s and Master’s of Music at the University of Texas at Austin as well as having studied at Music Academy of the West, Britten-Pears School for Advanced Musical Studies, and New York’s MTB Studio; he is no stranger to the entertainment industry. He has performed both on and off broadway, in television, film, and of course opera.

Professor Hammett has worked at the The Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, The Glimmerglass Festival, Boston Lyric Opera,  L’Opéra de Montréal, Gran Teatre del Liceu (Barcelona) and De Nederlandse Opera (Amsterdam) just to name a few. His recognitions include First Prize in the Liederkranz Competition in New York and the Grand Prix in the Concours International d’Oratorio et de Lied in France. In addition to the stage, Hammett has acted as an artistic director, stage director, music director, vocal coach, and also maintained a privately owned studio. More recently, Professor Hank directed Meadows Arts’ opera “Elixir of Love.”

What brought you to SMU?

In 2003 we moved from New York City to Austin.  One day at the beginning of the summer, I got a phone call from our good friend Virginia Dupuy asking if I’d be interested in filling in for one year for the vocal coach position, which had suddenly been vacated.

Although I had never thought about working in academia, I took the interim job, and commuted for that year from Austin to Dallas. One thing lead to another, and Dale and I both ended up joining the faculty on a permanent basis and moving to Dallas in 2005.  Three years into my time at Meadows, our opera director left suddenly. I was asked to be the Director of Opera. I’m a big believer in taking risks and walking through the doors that open right in front of you–even if you’re scared to death!

You have performed all around the world, where is your favorite place to perform?

The best opera companies, at least in my experience, are the ones where you feel like you’re a part of a wonderful, fun-loving, supportive group of friends and family:  The Met, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Barcelona are a few of them.  I love any working environment where people are caring, thoughtful, have a great sense of humor and are kind to everyone.

How has your extensive performance career influenced your directing and teaching career?

I learned that there isn’t any one approach to singing or one approach to acting that brings any given result or success. Everyone has a different path, a unique way of processing and of working and that this is something to embrace and celebrate! I learned the joys of collaborating with other artists to get a product that will surely be so much more beautiful and fantastic that anything any of us could create on our own. I learned the importance of balancing the artistic with the practical and just getting down to the bottom line of what I need to do to make something work.

Do you have a personal favorite performance you have worked on and why?

I can’t pick out just one, but my favorite performances are those given by our students. They continue to amaze me, particularly with the remarkable level of commitment, imagination, specificity and organic storytelling that they bring to the stage. The singing actors from the Division of Music, and the incredibly gifted young designers from the Division of Theatre are awesome and inspiring!

What should a student signing up for one of your classes anticipate?

Our Meadows Opera Theatre motto is Be bold, be fearless, be joyful, be yourself!  This continues to be my ongoing challenge to each of my students.  And, above all, to be caring, encouraging, respectful and immensely kind to each other and very thankful for each other.  We’re awfully fortunate.

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