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Last Night of the Proms review: How Jamie Barton went over the rainbow in a night of LGBT+ pride and diversity

Josh Milton September 15, 2019
Bisexual opera singer Jamie Barton, waving a Pride flag during her rendition of 'Rule Brittania' (Screenshot/BBC)

Bisexual opera singer Jamie Barton, waving a Pride flag during her rendition of 'Rule Brittania' (Screenshot/BBC)

Four flags were hoisted up by a Last Night of the Proms audience member yesterday: the bisexual Pride flag, the LGBT+ Pride flag, the US flag, and the flag of English King Edward III.

People going to the Last Prom–the final night of a 58-day-long classical musical festival–have a way of knowing what to expect.

In the Royal Albert Hall, images of Prom-goers rising from their plush red swivel seats to wave their Union Jack flags and belt out ‘Rule Britannia’ has, well, ruled what the final night was all about.

A space carved from concrete to celebrate a certain kind of British patriotism.

This year, things were different. Looking out from the grand circle seating, the auditorium was a constellation of EU flag stars scattered on flags, berets and clothing. Nudging into the red, white and blue stripes.

But it wasn’t just shades of blue that flooded the space, it was the all colours of the rainbow. LGBT+ opera fans came out in troves for the final night of the festival to see Jamie Barton.

The American bisexual mezzo-soprano greeted bow-tie wearing audience members in a bisexual Pride flag dress after belting out ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ last night.

And her array of outfit-changes throughout the night reflected the four flags waved by the man in the standing arena – a night where a laundry bag of ideas were thrown into one. And for once, it almost appeared harmonious.

58 days, 85 concerts, 191 conductors and 83 orchestras, choirs and ensembles.

Barton’s performance rounded-off eight weeks of world-class music-making at the BBC Proms, an atavistic season of classical music concerts.

Barton performed alongside the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Chorus, and the BBC Singers, under Sakari Oramo.

Her slot came alongside an array of acts designed to bring the contemporary to prom promenaders’ cultural calendars.

Before her debut on-stage, programmers penciled in a work entitled ‘Woke’ as the first number.

Composer Daniel Kidane channeled optimism for the future through music, bringing a buoyant and bright tone-poem that set the tone of the evening.

What unfolded onstage was a parade of politically empowering performances on a stage that has been criticised for, at times, being nationalistic and even racist.

Barton, who grew up in the rural town of Rome, Georgia, is a rising star among classical singers.

Her scoring the big ending slot saw her syrupy voice and sparkling eyes dominate a room of foot-stomping, head-bopping, flag-tugging audience members.

When she first stepped onto the stage, the man with four flags raised his first; the bisexual Pride flag. The audience roared.

Barton came out as bi on Twitter on National Coming Out Day in 2014. Last night, she came out onto the stage in a jewel-encrusted fringed cape and glimmering black gown to sing a sensuous reading of Bizet’s ‘Habañera’.

‘Saint-Saëns’ ‘Mon Cooeur s’ouvre a ta voix’ from Samson et Dalila was up next, which showed the raging versatility of her voice.

She sings like she’s putting a jigsaw together – meticulous about how much she wants to reveal.

While mischief licked when Barton dipped into ‘Carmen’. Barton’s sinfully rich voice and charisma makes each song – even for those who haven’t quite mastered French on Duolingo yet – a resonating experience.

But it was a winsome ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ rendition that likely remained with audience members even after ducking out of the hall to catch cabs and trains home.

A night of diverse and dazzling entertainment 

“Judy Garland songs are so much part of my heart,” Barton said before her performance to the BBC.

“I’ve never gotten to sing ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ before so I’m so excited… The Wizard Of Oz captured me from the time I was a kid.

“The story of a girl coming from an ordinary place and literally stepping into a technicolour life. It’s a beautiful story of learning to love who you are, where you come from and being proud of all of that.”

Barton told no lie about stepping into technicolour.

For her third outfit change in the second half, the singer strutted out in a flurry of gold confetti in a black dress with a Bisexual Pride flag draping out, designed by Jessica Jahn and built by Donna Langman.

Jamie Barton in the Royal Albert Hall, London, for the Last Night of the Proms. (Twitter)

When the hall erupted into ‘Rule Britannia’, conductor Greg Beardsell slipped a wry smile as Barton kneeled down and unfurled a Pride flag. She smiled

The cornerstones of the Proms remained. The audience bobbed to the ‘Hornpipe’ and linked arms to ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

The programme was pensive, too.

Laura Mvula’s ‘Sing To The Moon – which marked the 50th anniversary of the lunar landings – jetted the audience away. BBC Singers served up the astronomical a capella in version that was specially arranged by Mvula herself.

A winner of the New York City’s Met National Council Auditions in 2007, the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition in 2013 and the Richard Tucker Award in April, ending the legendary Proms is just another achievement in a golden-lined résumé for Barton.

Amid an ocean of stars, Barton was the one who shined brightest that night.

 

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