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BWW Reviews: Big Voices, Not Big Names, Reign at the Met Summer Recital Series Opener in Central Park

BWW Reviews: Big Voices, Not Big Names, Reign at the Met Summer Recital Series Opener in Central Park

I'd call it "love at first sight" (or, more properly, "first hearing"), but this wasn't the first time I'd heard mezzo Jamie Barton. And I certainly hope it won't be the last. Her performances at opening of this year's Summer Recital Series from the Metropolitan Opera at Central Park's SummerStage in New York, on June 23, were sensational. She grabbed the audience by the lapels and refused to let go.

Whether she was performing the Witch's Aria ("Hurr hopp hopp hopp") from Humperdinck's HANSEL UND GRETEL with a mad gleam in her eye and voice or was thoughtful and moving as Adalgisa in the duet "Oh! remembranza!" (aside soprano Amber Wagner), from Bellini's NORMA, she was the star of the evening. The aria of Princess de Bouillon from Cilea's ADRIANA LECOUVREUR was thrilling and there was also love, along with madness, in her duet ("Ai nostri monti") with tenor Russell Thomas from IL TROVATORE.

In all, Barton proved herself a fine artist with a beautiful, lustrous voice and a staggering range. (How many mezzos have the rock-solid high C that she tosses off?) I fondly recall her appearance at the 2012 Richard Tucker Foundation Concert, where she gave a pensive, radiant version of Donizetti's "O mon Fernand" from LA FAVORITE. Her performance proved that the Foundation's Career Grant was supremely justified.

Barton's infectious personality mated with serious art seems to bring out the best in her co-stars, as she proved in her performances of NORMA at the Met last season with soprano Angela Meade and, again, in the duet from that opera with soprano Wagner. Wagner has a cavernous voice that showed off its brilliance in "My Man's Gone Now" from Gershwin's PORGY AND BESS, but somehow seemed less than the sum of its parts elsewhere in the program. Her "Pace, pace mio Dio" only made me think of great singers from the past, like Leontyne Price and Martina Arroyo, who made such indelible impressions in the aria.

Tenor Thomas is another big-voiced singer, as he proved in duets with Barton from TROVATORE and NORMA, but he came off somewhat dramatically stiff. He finished the evening's program, though, with a fine "La donna e mobile" from RIGOLETTO that indicated that the best is yet to come from this young artist.

Ably accompanied by Met Assistant Conductor Dan Saunders on piano, the singers (particularly Barton) proved that the future of opera is assured--if only the Met can get past its labor negotiations and get down to the business of making music.

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Photo: Jamie Barton as Penelope in IL RITORNO D'ULISSE IN PATRIA at Wolf Trap Opera.

Photo by Eric Melear.

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Richard Sasanow Richard Sasanow is a long-time writer on art, music, food, travel and international business for publications including The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), Town & Country and Travel & Leisure, among many others. He also interviewed some of the great singers of the 20th century for the programs at the San Francisco Opera and San Diego Opera and worked on US tours of the Orchestre National de France and Vienna State Opera, conducted by Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein.


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