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Jamie Barton brings nuances of identity to her Lyric Opera 'Aida' performance
by Carrie Maxwell
2024-03-18

This article shared 10624 times since Mon Mar 18, 2024
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Chicago's Lyric Opera is currently featuring a production of Giuseppe Verdi's Aida starring Michelle Bradley as Aida, Jamie Barton as Amneris and Russell Thomas as Radamès.

The opera runs through April 7, 2024, with Francesca Zambello directing and Enrique Mazzola and Francesco Milioto serving as the music directors.

Barton, who is bisexual, called Aida "a tragic love story about two star-crossed lovers whose countries are currently at war, set to some of the greatest music ever composed."

Barton has been interested in Aida, and specifically the Amneris role, since her mid-20's, when a very influential maestro gave her the Aida/Amneris duet to learn. At that moment, "It was love at first sight. Singing this role is like being in the drivers seat of a roller coaster. This score holds just about every emotion a human could sing about."

Barton spent hours strategically planning and delving into who Amneris was, since that character is very different from her. She said it is more important to do this work before a production begins, especially when the character is unsavory so the performance, is not perceived to be a "caricature" of a human.

A Lyric Opera veteran, Barton has worked off for the Chicago company in a variety of roles since 2011. Barton told Windy City Times that one of her favorite productions was the winter 2012/2013 season's Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, where she played Magdalena alongside "legendary Wagnerian singers Johan Botha and James Morris, and also several of my friends and contemporaries, Amanda Majeski and David Portillo. It was a stunning production, and still lives in my memory as one of my favorite performing experiences."

Barton came out as a bisexual person on National Coming Out day in 2014. She told Windy City Times that she knows "from personal experience how empowering it is to see LGBTQIA+ people living out and proud. I was a late bloomer in understanding my own sexuality for many reasons, but one of the biggest reasons was because I grew up being told that bisexuality was a myth.

"Even within the queer community, there was this notion that people who said they were bisexual were only claiming that because they were sexually promiscuous, or because they were actually gay but weren't ready to let go of their heteronormative connections. … Many of the stories I tell onstage are hetero-romantic stories, but it does not stop audience members from getting curious about the artist and looking us up. I would not be living my truth if I were not living it out loud."

Barton's bisexual identity informs her own "curiosity about the nuances of sexuality in my characters. Truthfully, I think Amneris' first and greatest love is that of power. I am not sure that her love of Radames has much more to do with anything other than it being a union that would secure her and her country a lot of power. But any question that helps me sift through the options of who the characters I play are welcome, and considering queerness in historically straight-categorized characters is exactly the sort of clarifying question I like to consider."

Performing has been a part of Barton's life since she was six years old, when she sang Tender Shepard from Peter Pan at her very rural north Georgia elementary school talent show. Barton said she has always loved storytelling through music. She added that, until she was a teen, her exposure to music consisted of bluegrass, classic rock and country tunes from the '80s.

"When I heard opera for the first time on my local NPR station, it blew my mind," said Barton. "I had never heard anything like it, and had never even imagined the human voice being capable of producing that sound. Thus began my lifelong rabbit-hole dive of storytelling through classical music. It is like the never-ending puzzle that keeps on giving."

She received her bachelor's degree from Shorter College in Rome, Georgia and master's degree from Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, both in voice performance. Barton was also the Gerdine Young Artist at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis and Fellow in Vocal Studies at the Tanglewood Music Center during the summers of 2006 and 2007, respectively. In 2007 she was one of five people to win the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

Among her many other opera house performances were leading roles at the Met in New York City, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Teatro Real Madrid, Houston Grand Opera, Washington National Opera, Los Angeles Opera, San Francisco Opera, Deutche Oper Berlin, Bayerische Staatsoper, Santa Fe Opera and Festival d'Aix-en Provence.

Barton has also appeared in concert with the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra and Rotterdam Philharmonic and with the Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Iceland, London, Prague, Czech Republic, Oulu, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Valencia, Spain symphony orchestras.

Among the accolades she has received were the 2020 BBC Music Magazine Awards Personality of the Year and the 2021 International Opera Awards Opera Magazine Readers' Award and Beverly Sills Artist Award. Her album Unexpected was nominated for a 2022 Grammy for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album as well.

Barton also lends her talents to Turn the Spotlight, an organization that, according to its website, "was created to identify, nurture, and empower leaders — and in turn, to illuminate the path to a more equitable future in the arts."

She became a mentor to help inspire systemic change in performing spaces that would "empower voices of creators from marginalized backgrounds through its one-on-one micro mentoring program." She looks at her role as both a "sounding board and guide for the mentee" and someone who can open doors for that person so "these brilliant young creative minds to greater heights. It's truly a privilege and inspiration to get to do this sort of work."

Barton's message to operagoers is to "come join us and see our Aida if any of this sparks interest. I think I speak for everyone on stage when I saw that we would be absolutely delighted to have you along."

To purchase tickets, visit lyricopera.org/aida. See jamiebartonmezzo.com/ and turnthespotlight.org/ .


This article shared 10624 times since Mon Mar 18, 2024
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