Artist Profile: Bass-Baritone Thomas Stewart, Herbert von Karajan’s Favorite Wotan

By David Salazar

Not many American artists ever quite get a potent associate with Wagner like bass-baritone Thomas Stewart did.

Born in Texas on August 29, 1928, Stewart went from being a Baylor graduate a Juilliard student under the tutelage of Mack Harrell. In 1954, at the age of 36, he made his professional debut in the American premiere of “Capriccio” before singing intermittently with the New York City Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago.

From there, success around the world followed as he made debuts in Berlin, London, and Bayreuth, where he sang for 12 years in a number of major Wagner roles. He also made his Met debut in 1966, singing there for a decade.

He was also a frequent performer of new opera, creating the role of Dioneo in “The Visitors,” and starring in American premieres for “Cardillac” and “Lear.”

He also frequently performed alongside his wife Evelyn Lear.

He died in 2006 of a heart attack.

Signature Roles

Stewart is a renowned Wagnerian, having performed nearly all of the major bass-baritone roles throughout his career. Ironically, he didn’t feature in Wagner roles in many of his high profile house debuts, though he did appear frequently at the Bayreuth Festival for over 12 years. His Wotan was the one that Herbert von Karajan turned to when recording his Ring Cycle, the conductor calling Stewart’s interpretation his favorite. 

Watch and Listen

Here is an interview with the legendary singer for 1992.

Here is Wotan’s famed monologue at the close of “Die Walküre.”


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