How Jamie Barton Is Making The Last Night of The Proms Woke

The Times
September 2019

At her high school prom Jamie Barton didn’t have a date. Even her gay best friend wriggled out of it. Yet her parents in Rome, Georgia, were keen for her to join in. “So I went with a group of friends, but they were all split into couples,” the American mezzo-soprano explains. “I was literally the seventh person in a six-person limo, which means I got to sit up front with the driver.” The overall experience was “not great, but I got a pretty dress out of it”.

Fast-forward a couple of decades and Barton has found a Prom, a BBC Prom, where she will be the centre of attention — and where her dress has been designed to make headlines. On Saturday evening she joins a short list of American singers who have led the flag-waving frolics of the Last Night of the Proms, a roster including Joyce DiDonato and Renée Fleming. Barton will sing some chestnuts from opera, including snippets from Bizet’s Carmen — a role on her hit list — Verdi’s Don Carlos and Saint-Saëns’s Samson et Dalila. And, yes, she’s happy to sing Rule, Britannia! “It’s an honour. It’s also completely out of my wheelhouse,” she says, which I think is a Southern way of saying “comfort zone”.

However, after thinking about what she really wanted to project to an audience of millions, she came to the conclusion that exhorting Britain’s naval hegemony wasn’t the only interesting message she could broadcast. “When I sat down with the BBC in October I told them, ‘You know, I can think of a flag that I can get behind. I’d really like to carry the Pride flag.’ ” It is 50 years since the Stonewall riots, and Barton, who came out as bisexual on Twitter on National Coming Out Day in 2014, wants to mark the moment as vividly as possible.

Read the full profile in The Times!

Beth Stewart