The New Jersey-born soprano Barbara Bonney has garnered international praise as one of the world’s most accomplished concert artists. She began her professional singing career in the late 1970s when she secured a repertory position with Germany’s Darmstadt City Opera. Since then, Bonney has gone on to perform in the major world opera houses, gaining special acclaim for her roles in works by Strauss and Mozart. But all along, Bonney has had a passion for performing “lieder,” or European classical songs.
Most popular in the 19th century, lieders were traditionally performed in an intimate setting — such as a salon or living room — to a small group of people. According to Bonney, only recently has the art of song recital been developed for the big stage. In lieder recitals, there are no sets, costumes or orchestras, so the singer can achieve a more immediate connection with an audience through song alone. Bonney enjoys being on stage with only her piano accompanist, to tell her audience a story. She calls these songs “little jewels.”
Despite her packed performance schedule, Bonney still finds time to teach classes in many of the cities she visits to share her love of singing. Whereas most master classes cater to students with professional dreams, Bonney gears hers toward amateurs. Following her 2006 recital for San Francisco Performances, Spark sat in on one of Bonney’s master classes, in which each student was given the chance to sing a song of his or her choice on the Herbst Theatre stage.
Barbara Bonney estimates her lieder repertoire now includes more than 460 songs. Over her career she has made 90 recordings, spanning Baroque to 20th-century music, by such artists as Schubert, Mozart and Sibelius. She has performed with the Vienna Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the Berlin Radio Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony. Bonney, who lives in London, has been a regular presenter for the Cardiff Singer of the World competition and has hosted “Masterclasses for Amateurs” for the BBC.