He moved wisely and well. Installing Domingo as resident superstar gave out word that the Los Angeles Opera would rise above the city‘s boondocks reputation. A fine mix of repertory and exotic items -- Otello, Butterfly, Fiery Angel, Wozzeck, Mahagonny, Don Giovanni, the complete Les Troyens -- enhanced that reputation. So did some enlightened backstage choices: Goetz Friedrich to stage Otello and Janacek, David Hockney to design Tristan und Isolde, Peter Sellars to move Pelleas et Melisande to a Malibu beachfront, Simon Rattle to conduct Wozzeck. As in the case of any company afflicted with high ambitions, there were duds here and there; we local critics could count on a couple of yearly one-on-one confrontations, over a splendid lunch, to defend (with score sheets and full documentation) this inadequate conductor or that tottering diva.
From the start, Hemmings appended an active Resident Artist apprenticeship program to the company’s operations, out of which several major artists have emerged -- baritone Rodney Gilfry for one, a walk-on in the company‘s first night and now a worldwide star. Hemmings’ final Los Angeles production was a triumphant Billy Budd with Gilfry as Billy. Like that star, the Los Angeles Opera had grown impressively -- from a 22-performance first season to well over 60, most of them sold out, in Hemmings‘ final year.
In 1998 Hemmings was awarded the title of Officer of the Order of the British Empire. He returned to England in the summer of 2000 and, after a brief bout with cancer, died at his home in Dorset, survived by his wife, Jane, and five children.