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Barbara Bonney Returns to Concert Stage After Year-Long Hiatus

By Matthew Westphal
23 Jul 2007

Barbara Bonney
photo by Decca Classics

[updated 25 July]

American soprano Barbara Bonney, who last summer abruptly and mysteriously cancelled all of her engagements, has returned to performing.

Last night at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland, she sang the soprano solos in a star-studded Mozart Requiem (her fellow soloists were Anne Sofie von Otter, Kenneth Tarver and René Pape) following Renée Fleming's withdrawal due to ill health. (James Levine was to have conducted, but he pulled out for health reasons as well; Pittsburgh Symphony music director designate Manfred Honeck filled in.)

News that Bonney was planning to resume her career first came out in Germany this past March, when the Rheingau Music Festival announced that she would take over an August 16 recital date that baritone Thomas Hampson had been obliged to cancel.

Last summer Bonney unexpectedly withdrew from all of her future concert and opera dates, including a run in the Salzburg Festival production of Mozart's La clemenza di Tito that was just about to begin and a December 2006 duo recital tour of the U.S. with mezzo Angelika Kirchschlager.

A brief statement dated August 1, 2006 on the website of IMG Artists, the firm which had managed Bonney's career, said only that "due to personal circumstances, she will not be performing for the foreseeable future" and that "Ms. Bonney is no longer represented by IMG Artists."

Concern about Bonney's health couldn't help but arise in the wake of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's death that July and the cancer diagnoses earlier in the year of Luciano Pavarotti and Marilyn Horne. In subsequent weeks and months, sopranos Sylvia McNair, Ruth Ann Swenson and Dawn Upshaw all revealed battles with the disease as well.

Happily, worries about Bonney's health now seem to have been unfounded.

"I am very happy to be performing again," the soprano told Playbill Arts by e-mail. "It was necessary for me to take some time off in order to cope with a difficult divorce, and I took the opportunity to give my voice a much-needed rest. I have taken a position as Professor at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria, but will also sing concerts and Lied recitals."

Bonney has a new management firm as well: Michael Storrs Music Ltd., based in London. What's more, she has a new and rather unusual recording out. Welcome to the Voice, released in May on the Deutsche Grammophon label, has Bonney co-starring with rockers Sting and Elvis Costello and opera colleagues Amanda Roocroft and Sara Fulgoni, with the Brodsky String Quartet joining in as well, in what Amazon.com describes as a "Singspiel/dramatic oratorio" by composer Steve Nieve (Costello's longtime keyboardist) and librettist Muriel Teodori.

For contractual reasons Bonney was unable to tell Playbill Arts anything about future engagements. (That means, of course, that there are some, which is good news.) So, for now, her next scheduled concert is the August 16 Rheingau recital, at which she will perform art songs by both Robert and Clara Schumann as well as Edvard Grieg and Richard Strauss. But — as the Mozart Requiem at Verbier demonstrated — circumstances could bring her back to the concert stage even sooner.




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