by Andrew Alexander
It’s not often that the words “down-to-earth” and “opera star” are spoken in the same breath, but both terms fit mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton perfectly. The Rome native and Atlanta resident has kept her winningly level-headed and humble outlook, even as the past few years have brought her dazzling success.
“I feel like the same person, but I feel like the same person operating in a new set of circumstances,” said Barton in a phone call from Houston, where she was preparing for a recital with the renowned Ars Lyrica ensemble. The singer will perform a recital at Atlanta’s All Saints’ Episcopal Church on Sept. 21.
“I have my family and friends in Georgia as well as around the world who really help me stay grounded in terms of keeping calm and making good decisions. This career can be overwhelming in so many ways, and in the past year or two, it’s certainly had its overwhelming moments.”
That’s putting it mildly. In 2013, Barton, already a rising star in the opera world, was awarded the Main and Song prizes at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, a double-win that’s been extremely rare in the prestigious concert’s 30-year history. In 2014, she received the Kennedy Center’s Marian Anderson Award, and this year, she was honored with the Richard Tucker Award, often referred to as the ‘Heisman Trophy of Opera.’ It came with a $50,000 cash prize.
In between accepting awards, she’s had a breathtakingly busy schedule appearing on the world’s great stages in a diverse range of opera roles; and in recital, earning effusive praise for her lush voice and warm stage presence.
Atlanta fans will have the chance to hear Barton’s powerful voice and range at her All Saints’ recital, which includes a broad sampling from her repertoire. The concert’s opener is a group of Spanish songs — new to the singer this year — that includes “Homenaje a Lope de Vega” by composer Joaquin Turina and Antonín Dvořák’s “Gypsy Songs.”
“It’s quite honestly the group I really based this recital around,” Barton said. “It’s just seven delicious songs. I adore them.”
After her appearance at All Saints’, Barton makes her role debut [sic] on Sept. 26 at the Met as Giovanna Seymour in performances of “Anna Bolena,” a part she sang to great acclaim at the Lyric Opera of Chicago earlier this year.
The very next day, she zips back to Georgia for a performance at a fund-raising recital for the restoration of Rome’s historic DeSoto Theatre.
“The DeSoto was the first place I ever saw live theater,” said Barton. “My school took us on a field trip to see ‘Pinocchio’ when I was in the first grade. I remember it really vividly. It left an indelible mark on me.”
Barton grew up on a farm near Rome. As a student, she often performed in local music theater productions at the DeSoto and elsewhere. She studied voice at Rome’s Shorter College then earned a master’s degree from Indiana University. Her singing career began to take off when she was named the 2009 [sic] winner at the Met’s National Council Auditions.
During the rare opportunities when she has down time, she loves exploring her new neighborhood of Cabbagetown, where she recently purchased a condo.
“I certainly have been focusing lately every day keeping the core of me in my work,” she said. “I’m not really letting it change me, just putting in the work and seeing what happens. So far, that’s worked well for me.”