Recital Tour with Kathleen Kelly

Carnegie Hall

“A thoughtful and deeply satisfying program. In partnership with the pianist and coach Kathleen Kelly, Ms. Barton devised and presented an evening of works mostly by or about women. Ms. Barton said between numbers that she wanted to 'challenge the idea of sexuality' in music.

'Who can sing what?' she asked.

Such questions are much in the air. The recital opened with strong, unhackneyed songs by women: Elinor Remick Warren, Lili and Nadia Boulanger, and Amy Beach. Ms. Barton and Ms. Kelly then created real drama of love, loss and betrayal with Haydn’s little cantata Arianna a Naxos.

The second half brought wondrous variety, starting with of you, a new cycle of six songs by the British composer Iain Bell, commissioned by Carnegie Hall and set to poems of E.E. Cummings. Mr. Bell’s settings rival the Cummings poems in pointed terseness, and Ms. Barton’s performances matched them in coloristic subtleties. She caught the flavor of 'suddenly a smile, shyly obscene' with a delicious sensuous tinge that served equally well in the first of three songs from Libby Larsen’s Love After 1950: 'A boy’s lips are soft as baby’s skin.' Ms. Barton shifted gears cannily in the sardonicism of the second Larsen song, 'Big Sister Says,' as Ms. Kelly made light work of an ingenious piano part that somehow married honky-tonk with the beastly finale of Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata.

Ms. Barton was delightful as a tipsy Don Quixote in the 'Drinking Song' from Ravel’s Don Quichotte à Dulcinée. Both performers were sheer loveliness in Duparc’s 'Phydylé' and Strauss’s 'Cäcilie.'
–James Oestreich, The New York Times

"Those of us who know the cabaret performances and the speaking voice of Eileen Farrell, but never heard her sing classical repertoire live, probably got some idea of what the classical Farrell was like at Zankel Hall on December 18. Mezzo Jamie Barton, in a wide-ranging program with the fine musician Kathleen Kelly at the piano, gave us a particularly American kind of vocal abundance. The technique is unwavering, whether at the top of the staff in an almost never-ending F in Elinor Renick Warren’s “Heather” or around middle C in Amy Beach’s “Ah love, but a day,” but Barton went for beyond that when she traversed both of those notes in a single line in Haydn’s cantata Arianna a Naxos. Again Farrell-like, every note resonated in the mask to the point when it seemed to be an actual heat source. There was also case in pop idioms, like the blues of Libby Larson’s “Boy’s lips.” Phrases were sustained without a hint of limitations, low notes carried, and, rather than most words being clear, all words were clear. And in a final glimpse of Farrell, Barton showed (in Ravel’s “Chanson à boire”) an unforced sense of humor.

Barton is headed into her vocal prime, but moreover she may also become a truly great singer. That statement is qualified mainly because there was only one truly substantial piece of music on the program by which to judge (the Haydn cantata) but it certainly got a truly substantial interpretation. The long opening recitative was a picture of untroubled contentment, with the calls to Theseus of “Vieni” (“Come”) voiced in total rapture. The final aria offered out-and-out rage, with no self-pity, to which Barton added a searing, brief cadenza. In between came a long and sustained progression from one place to the other rather than a performance made of tiny details. In the first aria she portrayed the festering doubt that underlay her attempt to cheer herself up, all without losing her substantial support in vocal terms. Something similar happened at the beginning of Duparc’s “Phidylé,” where she gave the illusion of mulling over her thoughts while still singing with full technique. 

Throughout the recital Barton was particularly good at finding new layers of meaning whenever text was repeated. This was true from the opening Warren song through the repeated cries of the “Teseo!” in the Haydn (which went from fulfillment to questioning to despair) through the varied repetitions of “Repose” in “Phildyé.” Only three of the five songs in Larsen’s Love After 1950 were given. In these, Barton slyly found subtext where she could turn a statement into a question in “Big Sister Says,” while Kelly, who deserves a review of her own, gave us Jerry Lee Lewis. It was only a brief detour, and a hall full of adoring fans told Barton that she could do no wrong."
–William R. Braun, Opera News

"As predicted, Jamie Barton’s latest performance at Zankel Hall was quite an evening. Barton is a wonderful recitalist, and this was a terrific program, having to do with love and longing and sex, and tacitly asking questions about sexuality and “Who can sing what?” (as Barton put it in a brief summary towards the end) that stuck in the memory long afterwards. Also as predicted, the hit of the evening was the selection of songs from Libby Larsen’s Love After 1950. These are spectacular pieces—carnal, wild, wised-up, happy-sad, sad-happy, angry-rueful, mad as a wet hen and happy to squawk about it—and Barton’s talents aligned perfectly with Larsen’s. Barton doesn’t color text—she embodies it. Her acting is powerful but finely judged: every word is alive and specific, but never floats entirely free of real speech. By the same token, her diction is so magnificent, and her projection of it so finely calibrated to the hall, that after a while you just stop looking at the printed texts.  Her final exploratory “Mmmmm,” in “Boys Lips” was an erotic education all by itself.  Her “But oh, oh, insomniac moonlight,/How unhoneyed is my middle of the night,” in “The Empty Song,” found a balance of voluptuous pain and wry self-mockery that’s precisely right for a song that’s sparked by an empty shampoo-bottle. And anyone who can get seven distinct, hearty laughs out of a mere fourteen lines of text, plus applause and bravos in the middle of a group, as Barton did with “Big Sister Says,” is assuredly cooking with gas."
–Christopher Johnson, ZEALnyc

"I've always wondered what it would be like to swim in a pool of maple syrup – and now I know.
From the minute Ms. Barton opened her mouth, she unleashed a rolling tone that poured over her audience, soaking them in the sugary, maple tones of her delicious mezzo. We were drenched-but in the way an idyllic bite of pancake is drenched. This recital was like eating a bite of flapjacks so perfectly proportioned-soaked in the right amount of syrup, where the butter has mixed with the sweet, gooey, deliciousness to create the perfect balance of fatty substance with sugary indulgence. So perfectly proportioned that, frankly, I may never eat pancakes again.

Proportioned so deftly, that text was never sacrificed for tone and tone never sacrificed for text, particularly in her English offerings. Her handling of English diction was a true masterclass-one to be studied by both green and seasoned singers alike. The choice to program the evening heavily with English repertoire was a strong one, playing to her wide variety of strengths, including, but not limited to, her humor. Ms. Barton has a smile that could light up Times Square during a power outage and she capitalized on this during her hilarious selection of Libby Larsen songs from Love after 1950. These songs, particularly Big Sister Says, 1967, encompassed her humor, personality and thunderously beautiful voice.

However, as much love as I have for her treatment of English song and text, the true star of the evening was Duparc's Phidylé. When she performed-nay, lived-this piece I felt like a voyeur. The audience watched this oppressively intimate, naked moment she was experiencing onstage, and yet, somehow, was transformed with her. See, she was not performing this piece for us, and yet nothing about it was closed off. We were let in completely, but it was clear we weren't invited. She somehow mastered the art of singing for herself AND for us-a marriage so rarely seen. I've always said that, when you start dating someone, you should really get to know who they are when they're brushing their teeth at night. It's the most vulnerable anyone is all day-you have schmutz on your mouth, your guard is down, you're processing your day and getting ready to rest. You're rarely more vulnerable than that, day in and day out. That is what she showed us-the vulnerability of a human alone (except a full recital hall happened to be watching...). It was handled with such expertise that it gave a clear window into the inevitable longevity of her career. A peek into the mountains of mature, insightful interpretations that are on the horizon. This piece was expertly followed by Strauss' Cäcilie, Op. 27, No. 2 where we were shown the power of her instrument and given a further look into her future, this time as an opera legend.

In conclusion: Ms. Barton's 'oo vowel' made me wet, and her incorporation of dynamics without being precious made me weak in the knees. Moreover, her choice to include so many female composers and women on stage, especially at this time in our history, made me fall in love. Take the time to review Ms. Barton's calendar here, you'll want to see her perform before scoring tickets will be impossible."
–Cole Grissom, Broadway World Opera

“The kind of singer that changes the way we think about mezzos in this century…the kind of singer who brings us back to other centuries. The voice itself is, of course, a marvel. Rich and sonorous, but also vulnerable, it seems to emerge from the depths of the lower abdomen, as though lungs could start where legs ended, with tone shooting up from the floor.”
–Joel Rozen, Parterre Box

Celebrity Series of Boston

"It’s easy to hear why Barton has become so popular, for the singer has a voice of remarkable power and depth. In her Celebrity Series debut, Barton brought lyrical grace and zeal to a wide-ranging program of songs by French, German, Austrian, and American composers.

Barton’s singing is dark, yet radiant with a voice that is smooth in all registers. Given her operatic experience, particularly in Wagnerian roles, her singing also has weight and gravity, and her sound easily filled the intimate space of Pickman Hall. Her high notes, too, rang like a bell.

But Barton’s greatest strength lies in her ability to tell stories through music. With searching intensity that found the wide emotional range of each song she sang, Barton performed as if each piece were a miniature drama.

Libby Larsen’s Love After 1950 fuses jazzy writing with stories that humorously depict the everyday struggles of women. “Boy’s Lips” was a smokey blues, with Barton coloring her lines with scoops and slides to soulful, Gershwinesque effect. “Blonde Men,” a laugh-inducing song about how the protagonist hates blondes, took on a swaggering charm.

Barton had a sensitive partner in pianist Kathleen Kelly, who deftly rendered the honky-tonk accompaniment to “Big Sister Says.” In “Empty Song” her Debussyian phrases wafted in the air like perfume. The final song of the set, “I Make My Magic,” unfolded dense cluster chords in hushed dynamics. Barton’s singing through it all had a silvery glow.

Franz Joseph Haydn’s cantata Arianna a Naxos provided another of the evening’s highlights. In Barton’s hands, this anguished tale of lost love pulsed with the emotionally resonant drama of an operatic scene. The recitatives were searchingly sung and played, and Ariadne’s longing for Theseus swelled with a poignant sorrow. The arias ranged from death-haunted grief to passages of explosive rage. Barton found a side of Haydn not often heard in recital programs.

The opening set of songs, all by women, was just as palpable. Elinor Remick Warren’s “Heather” sounded with warm, yet cavernous voice, with Kelly supplying an accompaniment that was pearly and deep. Lili Boulanger’s “Attente” was a scene of enveloping warmth, while the lines of Nadia Boulanger’s “S’il arrive jamais” rolled like waves. In Amy Beach’s “Love, but a day!” Barton’s singing took on a bright tone to capture the immediacy of newfound love.

A final set of French and German songs filled the evening with alternating repose and turbulent emotions. Ravel’s “Chanson à boire” from Don Quichotte à Dulcinée offered a bit of fun as Barton found the drunken humor of the song. Henri Duparc’s “Phidylé” was a moment of solace. And Richard Strauss’ “Cäcilie” churned with roiling energy, Barton’s voice taking on a Wagnerian breadth to evoke Strauss’ stirring, heaven-bound journey. Stories, it was revealed, are best told through song."
–Aaron Keebaugh, Boston Classical Review

"Along with the extraordinary power of her voice, Barton’s luminous smile won me over before she sang a note. Barton’s radiant joy in performing was obvious. as was the special synergy she shared with her excellent pianist, Kathleen Kelly. The other surprising thing was the originality of the program, which included music very few in the audience had either known of or had heard. The truth is, even without Barton’s keen musical intelligence – and that radiant voice – this song recital would have been worth hearing because of her wonderfully imaginative choice of music.

Songs by four women composers began the program: the first, “Heather,” by Elinor Rick Warren (1900-1991), text by Marguerite Wilkinson (1883-1928) was lovely, although I had never heard of either the composer or poet. In the next song,” Attente” by Lili Boulanger (1893-1918), text by Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1918), Barton’s voice opened up, becoming deeper, more lustrous, marked by a vocal majesty that characterized all of her French selections. Amy Beach’s (1867-1889) “Ah, love, but a day!” (text: Robert Browning) served up a relatively unknown song by a composer who is receiving well deserved attention this year. Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979), one of the great composition teachers of the twentieth century (text by Emile Verhaeren 1855-1916), was represented by “S’il arrive jamais,” which gave us an opportunity to hear the full, gorgeous power of Barton’s voice.

The first half closed with a piano arrangement of Franz Haydn’s (1732-1809) cantata “Arianna a Naxos.”  (It’s sometimes performed with a chamber orchestra.) Here Barton alternated between recitatives and arias, singing ever more imploringly “Theseus, my beloved, where are you?” Barton turns out to be quite a good actress; she expressed anger, disappointment, and heartbreak. By the time she sang “Chi tango amai s’invola, barbarous ed infidel” (“The man I loved so much flees from me, cruel and faithless.”) our hearts were breaking, as well.

Barton greeted us with “Hi!” after intermission, her fabulous smile on full display. “This is the first time we’re doing this in front of people!” She was palpably excited about the program because it featured women composers and poets that are important to her. Barton’s next performance choice invited us see her in a more playful mood: “Love after 1950,” a song cycle by American composer Libby Larsen (b. 1952). Rita Dove’s poem “Boy’s Lips” is deeply bluesy. “A boy’s lips are soft as baby’s skin, Mmm, soft as baby’s skin,” Barton crooned. “I think I ought to warn you that I hate blonde men before you break your heart,” runs a line in “Blond Men,” a strikingly sassy poem by Julie Kane (b. 1952). Other fun songs in the cycle include the honky-tonk “Big Sister Says, 1967 ” and “The Empty Song,” (text by Liz Lochead, born 1947) in which a woman bids adieu to the last of her Spanish shampoo, my favorite song of the evening — until the encore.

Barton had a ball with Maurice Ravel’s (1875-1937) drinking song, “Chanson a` boire” from “Don Quichotte a` Dulcinée” (text by Paul Morand (1888-1976). She was amusingly mischievous at the end of the tune, proclaiming “I drink to joy! Joy is the one aim To which I go straight… When I am drunk!” At this point she cheekily descended to a very low contralto.

Two other songs ended the program: Henri Duparc’s (1848-1833) peaceful “Phidylé” (poem by Leconte de Lisle, 1818-1894) and a fabulous performance of Richard Strauss’s (1864-1949) “Cäcilie” (text by Heinrich Hart, 1855-1906). Listeners bounded to their feet, as they would for any deserving opera star. The singer and her pianist hugged and kissed each other, celebrating their very successful collaboration. Barton, who seems to be far from a diva, told us that the first song she ever sang was “Tender Shepherd” from Peter Pan when she was five years old. She then treated her adoring audience to another gem from the same musical, “Never, Neverland.” As I listened to her sing “And that’s my home where dreams are born, And time is never planned. Just think of lovely things. And your heart will fly on wings” I suspected I was enjoying the loveliest thing I’ll hear this holiday season."
–Susan Miron, The Arts Fuse

Matinée Musicale Cincinnati

"'Beauty hurts,' crooned the mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, exaggerating the words as she half-danced her way through Libby Larsen’s humorous honky-tonk, “Big Sister Says, 1967.” Performed as part of Barton’s recital on Jan. 26 in Cincinnati, the song offered a raucous and fun side of the rapidly rising opera singer. Her exuberant performance brought down the house, one of many times during the evening.

Memorial Hall’s intimate, 550-seat theater was packed to the rafters [for] Barton’s Cincinnati recital debut. Her program was a journey of discovery – with many unexpectedly delicious moments. That was partly because, in a rare occurrence on concert stages today, fully half of her program consisted of music by women. The singer told the audience that, in choosing her recital selections, she had been moved by “stories of people who normally don’t get heard. We were inspired to give those composers a voice.”

What a treat it was to hear… Barton’s stirring vocal lines soared over rippling arpeggios in the piano. Each word was inflected with meaning, and the piano’s lush harmonies were a perfect match to Barton’s voluptuous voice. Barton communicated the deep power of the romantic words… At the piano, Kelly’s playing was both transparent and richly supportive.

Haydn’s exquisite little scena, Arianna a Naxos…was a fine vehicle for Barton’s expressive powers and considerable dramatic gifts. The emotion that she summoned, ranging from doubt over a lover’s faithfulness to the impassioned anger of betrayal, drew the listener in. As the music climaxed, the sheer power of her voice was thrilling, and she flung out a defiant flourish in its final bars.

After intermission, Barton gave the local premiere of British composer Iain Bell’s Of You, a cycle of six songs to texts by e.e. cummings commissioned by Carnegie Hall. [Barton] brought an infinite variety of interpretive color to her phrases, particularly the animated “i like my body when it is with your.”

Henri Duparc’s “Phidylé” provided a breathtaking contrast, the picture of effortless, nuanced phrasing, impeccable control, and beautiful line. The set concluded with Richard Strauss’ “Cäcilie,” and one could only revel in the artistry of both musicians.

Her encore…of “Never Never Land” connected with listeners, as if she were singing to each of them: “Just think of lovely things, and your heart will fly on wings.” With singing such as this, Barton seems destined to fly on wings for some time to come."
–Janelle Gelfand, Classical Voice North America

Wright Center

"The renowned mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton brought a clear message to her recital Friday in Samford University’s Brock Recital Hall: A gender gap has persisted for centuries among classical composers, and it’s high time to close it.

Barton and pianist Kathleen Kelly may not have spawned the movement toward gender equality in music composition, but their collaboration is giving it full credence – not only by including five female composers in this recital tour, but by running the gamut of these works from gripping intensity to soft reflection, all with flawless execution.

Best known for effortlessly filling gargantuan opera houses such as the Metropolitan Opera, Chicago Lyric Opera and London’s Covent Garden, Barton’s appearance in the 300-seat hall came with some apprehension. Artists with big voices such as hers can sometimes blast small spaces with sound. Barton did so only when called for, as in her second encore, Licea’s “Acerba voluttà.” Elsewhere, she united securely with the hall’s acoustics, conveying texts in English, French, Italian and German with clarity and eloquence. Her singing is a model of vocal performance – a balance of drama, reserve strength, hushed introspection and seamless technique.

“Heather,” by Elinor Remick Warren, wafted like a warm breeze. Lili Boulanger’s “Attente” rested in near meditation, even as Barton’s mezzo rose to a high G sharp. Amy Beach’s visceral “Ah, Love But a Day” set the stage for Nadia Boulanger’s post-romantic “S’il arrive jamais.”

Among the recital’s many high points, Libby Larsen‘s five-song cycle, “Love After 1950,” stood out. Larsen is often hailed as one of America’s finest composers. Her language ranges from atonal to ethereal, but is uniformly expressive whether channeling light humor or dark emotions. Barton centered on key lines such as “a boy’s lips are soft as baby’s skin,” “I hate blonde men,” and the honky-tonk influenced “Beauty hurts.” Kelly’s inspired accompaniment, here and throughout the recital, brought further depth to the playfulness and pathos of the texts with rhythmic drive and pianistic color.

More conventional fare further cemented Barton’s savvy stage presence. Haydn’s declamatory cantata, “Arianna a Naxos,” was expressively performed, though it was much less of a challenge for the duo. A song by Ravel extolled the dubious pleasures of drinking. “Phidyle,” Henri Duparc’s ode to repose, nature and love, played out in deep beauty, the singer’s pianissimo finding a sweet spot in the hall’s acoustic space before elevating to full volume in Richard Strauss’ “Cäcilie.”

Two encores followed, the first an ebullient, nostalgic rendition of “Never Never Land” from the musical “Peter Pan.” “Acerba voluttà” allowed Barton to “sing high, sing low and everything loud,” as she described it,” and despite the enclosed space it gave the nearly full house a hint of what they might hear at the Met."
–Michael Huebner, artsBHAM

Beth Stewart