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Subject: The Gerda Lissner Foundation Presents A Concert & Interview with Mezzo-Soprano Jamie Barton & Pianist Brian Zeger
From: Judy Pantano <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Judy Pantano <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Fri, 17 Feb 2017 21:45:18 -0500

text/plain (124 lines)

The Gerda Lissner Foundation Presents A Concert & Interview with Mezzo-Soprano Jamie 
Barton & Pianist Brian Zeger

A review by Nino Pantano

On Wednesday, February 8th at The Kosciuszko Foundation on East 65th Street in New 
York, acclaimed mezzo-soprano, Jamie Barton and renowned pianist Brian Zeger were 
interviewed by opera manager Ken Benson celebrating their new CD "All Who Wander." 
The Van Alen Mansion is the home of The Kosciuszko Foundation which seats about 100 
people. The reception area with its Steinway piano, makes for an elegant and intimate 
setting. We were welcomed by the personable new event manager Iwona Juszczyk. 

Stephen De Maio, President of The Gerda Lissner Foundation sponsored the event. In his 
absence, the enchanting, Cornelia "Conny" Beigel, Secretary, Michael Fornabaio, Treasurer 
and Trustee Karl Michaelis were tending to his duties. 

Ken Benson, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, is a prominent opera manager and 
host in the opera world. Mr. Benson is often moderator on the Met Opera Quiz radio 
broadcasts on WQXR Saturday afternoons. In the audience were Barry Tucker, son of the 
legendary Metropolitan Opera tenor Richard Tucker and head of the Richard Tucker Music 
Foundation and Sherrill Milnes, the great American (Downers Grove, Illinois) Verdi 
baritone also from the Met Opera whose 30 plus year career thrilled the multitudes. Mr. 
Milnes was accompanied by his wife, the noted soprano Maria Zouves and both head the 
VOICExperience Foundation based in Tampa, Florida. Maestro Eve Queler from the New 
York Opera Orchestra also lent her vibrant presence. 

Ms. Barton was the winner of The Gerda Lissner Award in 2010 and also the prestigious 
Richard Tucker award in 2015. The great Brooklyn born tenor (1913-1975) shook the 
rafters at the Metropolitan Opera for 30 years and was known as "The Brooklyn Caruso." 
Ms. Barton also recently was given the 2017 Beverly Sills Award by the Metropolitan 
Opera. Ms. Sills (1929-2007) was the much loved soprano of The New York City Opera 
and the Met and was called "Bubbles." She was another proud Brooklynite!

Jamie Barton was interviewed by the erudite Ken Benson and talked about her life and 
beginnings of her career. There was no opera in her house, mostly bluegrass music, but 
her family supported her efforts. Her advice to the young singers as she was advised was 
to "take your time." 

With the eloquent and virtuoso piano accompaniment of Brian Zeger, who also serves as 
Artistic Director of the Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts at The Julliard School, the program 
began. There were two songs by Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) from the texts by Friedrich 
Ruckert, "Ich atmet' einen linden Duft" (I breathed a gentle fragrance). The second 
selection "Liebst du um Schonheit,"(If you love for beauty) were sung with richness, some 
melting pianissimi, elegance and a touch of melancholy. Some wonderful tones were 
floated in this dreamy medley, so pure light and soft! Mahler's wife Alma, to whom he 
was devoted, was notorious for her romantic escapades. Perhaps his love songs are 
idealized and his real emotions are on the back burner! The immortal tenor Enrico Caruso 
made a caricature of Mahler circa 1908 when Mahler conducted at both the New York 
Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera.

The next group were from the great Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) and 
texts by Adolf Heyduk. "Ma pisen zas mi laskou zni (My song of love rings out again) was 
sung with flair and elan. The second selection "Kdyz mne stara matka zpivat ucivala" 
(Songs my mother taught me) was sung with poignancy, the melodic intensity gnawing at 
the heartstrings. I cherish a recording by Victoria de Los Angeles of this haunting melody. 
Ms. Barton brought it to new heights with her heartfelt renderings. The third offering was 
"Dejte klec jestrabu ze ziata ryzeho" (Give a hawk a golden cage) and was sung with 
whimsy and depth. Her Czech was masterful. Ms. Barton is singing the witch Jezibaba in 
the Met Opera's splendid new production of Dvorak's Rusalka. 

The third song group was by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) and text by 
Gustaf Froding  "Sav, sav, susa, op.36, No.4" (Rushes, rushes, murmur). Ms. Barton and 
accompanist Brian Zeger caught the despair of a young woman in love who drowned, 
envied by others, covered by ceaseless waves. In Ms. Barton's rich expansive mezzo, one 
heard the intensity and irony of this sad tale.

The final Sibelius selection was "Var det en drom?" (Did I just dream?)Text by J.J. 
Wecksell reflecting on a lost love. It sounded like a tremendous storm, a crack of thunder 
and the last words ended on a soul stirring low note like golden amber lava pouring out of 
a volcano. This was sung with generous power, expansiveness and chilling defiance.

Sibelius's music such as Finlandia and Valse Triste was always profoundly moving to me. 
His violin concerto is among my favorites. Strange that this solitary closeted man who 
stopped composing at age 59 had so much to tell us before he ended his career. The 
combination of Jamie Barton and Brian Zeger was truly the source and soul of these 
wonderful songs by these sublime composers!

A question and answer period with audience and media followed moderated with wit and 
skill by Ken Benson. The insights of accompanist Brian Zeger were fascinating and his 
mention of his visit to Andorra which we visited in the 1960's was of special interest. His 
comments about the composers were refreshing and informative. Ms. Barton advises 
young awardees to "dive into art songs." She herself, born in Rome, Georgia, loves 
bluegrass music. Her sage advice "marry the lyrics to the song!" I thought of cook maven 
Rachel Ray who always advises to "marry the pasta to the sauce!"

Some questions were "If you woke up one day and found that you had no voice, what else 
would you do?" The answer, Ms. Barton gave was "find a raison d'etre, a cause, a reason 
for being." Ms. Barton wears a gold necklace as a symbol of Nelson Mandela's liberation 
from prison. Ms. Barton is an ebullient cheerful person. She currently living in Atlanta, 
stays so by always finding time to savor both friends and solitude, enjoy her cat "River" 
and avoid the hectic voice straining sturm and drang of the computer age. Jamie Barton, 
like Niagara Falls is a natural wonder. Her voice pours forth with the effervescence of 
champagne and ambrosia from the Gods. We are transfixed by its beauty. She has found 
her balance and we are all richer for it!

After the Q and A, we went downstairs where Jamie Barton and Brian Zeger chatted 
amiably with their admirers who lined up to purchase their CD entitled "All Who Wander." 
This splendid sample of their great adventure in song, by two gifted and sublime artists, 
who happily autographed the result of their collaboration.  

The reception afterwards was fun with delectable finger food, wines and desserts. We 
chanced to chat with Murray Rosenthal, Treasurer of Opera Index, Vice 
President/composer Philip Hagemann ("Fruitcake") a popular whimsical choral work, 
Arthur and Susan Stout, she is a French diction teacher and also works with the Martina 
Arroyo Foundation and the industrious caterer-manager Philipp Haberbauer who is also 
affiliated with The Liederkranz Foundation. 

It was a lovely spring like evening. In the snowstorm the very next day, it was nice to 
remember the songs and frolic of that magical soiree and intimate celebration of "All Who 
Wander" with Jamie Barton and Brian Zeger. Many thanks to The Gerda Lissner Foundation 
and The Kosciuszko Foundation for making it all possible! 

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