Jamie Barton in Recital

Toronto Summer Music continued their tradition of featuring a female vocalist.  In 2014 it was Sondra Radvanovsky, while in 2015 it was Karita Mattila.  Each of those two concerts represented a coup, and was a highlight of that year, nevermind of the summer.

Young Jamie Barton brought her considerable resume and vocal gifts to the 2016 Festival.  Having sung just a couple of days ago at Glimmerglass, perhaps she needed the first half of the concert to loosen up, kicking off her shoes when she came to the last items on the program.


Recitals are sometimes the place where the real person collides with who they are being pressured to be, either by the artform, the industry or their upbringing, and I think we saw that again tonight.  There were two very different sorts of repertoire that could be understood as a microcosm of Barton’s life.  She told us she’s from Georgia, that she used to sing in church.  I can’t help noticing that some of the rep seems completely natural for her, a perfect fit:

  • the Joaquin Turina songs to begin the evening
  • the Dvorak gypsy melodies sung after intermission
  • her encores

For those, she was completely in her body, happily letting her voice rip without restraint.

And then there was a more aspirational kind of music, perhaps representing what her teachers have told her to do rather than who she really is, the result of a girl from the south going to a conservatory where they told her to sing more quietly, rather than honouring the big honest voice she has.  (and I suspect that, to quote one of my favourite lines from Moonstruck, that she’d be quick to tell me to kiss her aspirations)

  • Chausson songs
  • Schubert songs
  • Three spirituals: but in artsy arrangements that seemed designed to turn the melodies into something very rarefied, like art-song. I couldn’t help thinking that when Leontyne Price –who surely had a similar background—did her recitals, she sang her spirituals to proudly show her roots, telling us who she was and where she came from.  I wish Barton would considering doing the same with pride.

Barton is young.  At some point she will have the life experience to make something wonderful of the Schubert songs, but right now, it seems very abstract.  With the exception of “Gretchen am Spinnrade”, which she sang with a great deal more voice in a very operatic reading, the artistry seemed like a poor fit.  It wasn’t bad but just didn’t have the same spark as the more direct singing i alluded to. But maybe that’s because she was singing on the weekend, and needed to warm up. The second half of the concert was a wonderful contrast.

In addition to the Dvorak songs – presented with a great deal more commitment and physicality (where she’s been standing relatively still through the first half), let alone pure power & volume—we had two wonderful encores (and hopefully I have identified them correctly):

  •  Var det en dröm”  by Sibelius, an art song that Barton sang with a great deal of commitment
  • Acerba voluttà from Adriana Lecouvreur, a fabulous aria rising to a high note that I think is a B-flat at the end.

Bradley Moore accompanied from the piano, a crisp supportive musician that followed well.

Barton has a great future ahead of her, particularly if we get to hear the big powerful notes she sometimes offers.  I wonder if she might someday sing Sieglinde or Ortrud.  Her range is remarkable, considering that we also heard some fabulous low notes too.

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