by Verena Dobnik
The prize dubbed the Heisman Trophy for singers is going to a Georgia native with an earth-shattering voice — and an earthy style.
Announced Sunday, the winner of the 2015 Richard Tucker Award is mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton. The opera star recently appeared barefoot in jeans, giggling and cradling a glass of Oregon wine — offstage, chatting with a friend on YouTube.
Onstage in costume, she's being compared to the past century's finest vocalists.
The $50,000 prize goes to a major young American singer. It's named after Tucker, the late tenor and Brooklyn native who started out as a cantor in synagogues.
Barton said she started out listening to bluegrass, the Grateful Dead and The Beatles "in the middle of nowhere" — a small farmhouse near Rome, Georgia, at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. "My parents were hippies."
Her teenage rebellion was to dip into opera — and discover she had a voice. But she said half her iPod is still filled with bluegrass.
"There are many stigmas attached to opera: that it's only for people who have a lot of money, that it's more boring than church," she said with a laugh.
Not true, insisted Barton, speaking by phone from Houston, Texas, where she's singing in a production of Wagner's "Die Walkure." She said it's as exciting as "going to a Pink Floyd concert; it's an experience."
Of the people she's convinced to see their first opera, "I have a 90 percent survival rate; they return," she said. "But the hardest thing is to get their butt in the seats."