Jamie Barton made international audiences sit up when she won the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, claiming both the Main Prize and the Song Prize. Her operatic engagements have taken her around the globe, from The Met and San Francisco to Covent Garden and Deutsche Oper Berlin. Verdi is firmly in her repertoire, with Fenena and Eboli among her engagements in recent years. Last month, she sang Azucena at Bayerisches Staatsoper, a role she now sings at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Ahead of opening night, she curated a special playlist for us of her favourite Verdi mezzos of all time. There are some big voices here, so crank up your speakers and strap in for a thrilling ride! 

Jamie Barton © Fay Fox
Jamie Barton
© Fay Fox

1Marilyn Horne: Azucena in Il trovatore

This scene encapsulates why I love hearing Horne sing this role. The stillness she establishes at the top of the scene is so lulling that when her wave of anxiety crests a few pages later, the effect is utterly visceral. And that chest voice on “Parola orrenda” = #chestvoicegoals!!

Readers in North America will need the following link:

2Fedora Barbieri: Azucena in Il trovatore

I came across this video of Fedora Barbieri singing Azucena’s first two arias (“Stride la vampa” and “Condotta ell’era in ceppi”) when I was first starting to look at the role, and what stuck with me at first were her eyes. They were absolutely raving mad in both of her arias! Barbieri’s take on this character is a bit more exaggerated than I prefer, but I love and respect the strength and contrast she brings to the role. 

 

3Fiorenza Cossotto: Amneris in Aida

The Legend herself… the Grand Dame of Chest Voice! I’ve been endlessly fascinated with how Cossotto’s voice can have so much “chiaro-“ (light) and also so much “-scuro” (dark) at the same time! How she moves between those balances is wonderfully displayed here in the duet between Aida and Amneris… there is a sweet lightness when she’s trying to woo the truth out of Aida about her feelings for Radamès, but as soon as Amneris knows that Aida is her rival, that darkness in timbre is terrifying!

 

4Dolora Zajick: Amneris in Aida

Dolora Zajick is, of course, an iconic Verdi mezzo, and we all know and love her for her thrilling high notes and plunging chest voice. However, what amazes me most about her is how she utilizes the middle voice. The Judgement Scene from Aida is notoriously difficult for the woman singing Amneris. Chest voice is much easier to project in a theater than the middle of the voice, and this scene has some seriously challenging moments where Amneris has to cut through thick orchestration with the middle voice. Zajick cuts through like a hot knife into butter… a true technical feat!

 

5Giulietta Simionato: Mistress Quickly in Falstaff

For a woman who mainly recorded the ultra dramatic mezzo roles (Azucena, Carmen, Amneris and Santuzza, to name a few), I absolutely delight in hearing how Simionato wields the hilarious Mistress Quickly. Not only is this recording an utter vocal masterclass (the balance of chest voice into a headier mix is divine!!), but the way she uses the language to flavor the storytelling is just brilliant.

 

6Tatyana Troyanos: Eboli in Don Carlo

I remember the first time I saw this clip of Tatyana Troyanos singing “O don fatale” from Don Carlo… the anger and vulnerability she spun from the first note, all the way until she rips the eye patch from her face? Iconic! It's a lesson in how to be a fabulous storyteller, and how to advocate for your character on stage. 

 

7Olga Borodina: Eboli in Don Carlo

Olga Borodina singing Eboli’s entrance aria, “Nel giardin del bello” (commonly known as the Veil Song) has long been my favorite interpretation of this florid piece. I love how she weaves the story with the repeated cadenza… the first verse is the Queen singing to woo and fool her King; the second run of the cadenza is the King, understanding he’s been caught trying to have an affair! Borodina’s storytelling is just so clear and charming… I just love it!

 

8Ewa Podles: Ulrica in Un ballo in maschera

In my very first year as a member of the Houston Grand Opera Studio, I had the great pleasure to witness Ewa Podles sing Ulrica. Every detail of this scene is seared into my memory… the shocking first chords (which Verdi totally stole from Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux!), and the mounting terror of the screaming orchestra, and then Ewa’s contralto emerging like a beacon of light from the darkness. It cut straight through my ears to my heart… I’ve never experienced something like that since then, and genuinely hope to come upon a thrill like that again at some point in my life.

 

9Luciana D'Intino: Requiem

I heard Luciana D’Intino sing Eboli at Tanglewood in the summer of 2007, and it was the first time I’d heard a true Verdi mezzo live. I hoped that one day I might be able to sing this sort of music – music that seemed both impossible and addicting. I’ve long loved this clip of Ms D’Intino singing the Liber scriptus from Verdi’s Requiem. While her chest voice is so commanding and nearly overwhelming, her higher notes (particularly the one on “Judex”) just thrill me to the core! Her voice is seamless and endless… I just adore her!

 

10Elena Obraztsova: Requiem

This may be one of the slower renditions of Recordare on record, but it’s just stunning. Elena Obraztsova’s legato is just like spun sugar, and she provides a beautiful and solid foundation for her soprano (sometimes-mezzo-soprano) Shirley Verrett! They build to such a beautiful climax just before the end of the duet… true and beautiful artistry.

 

Follow Jamie Barton's Instagram feed – @jbartonmezzo – to find out more about her favourite Azucenas!