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Susan Graham Performs with Philadelphia Orchestra This Winter, Makes Role Debut in New Dead Man Walking in Washington DC

Fresh from a triumphant turn as Didon in Chicago Lyric’s production of Berlioz’s Les Troyens, Grammy Award-winning mezzo-soprano Susan Graham takes the concert stage this winter, performing selections from Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin. She then turns to Washington National Opera’s revival of Dead Man Walking, making her role debut as the convict’s mother. In the spring she joins a cast of the world’s greatest opera luminaries to celebrate the Metropolitan Opera House’s 50 Years at Lincoln Center in an Anniversary Gala; performs selections from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn with the Met Orchestra and Esa-Pekka Salonen in Carnegie Hall; and sings Berlioz’s La mort de Cléopâtre with the San Antonio Symphony. In recital, she reunites with regular partner Malcolm Martineau for accounts of “Frauenliebe und -leben: Variations,” her wide-ranging program inspired by and centered on Schumann’s iconic song cycle.  The duo will perform the program in Santa Barbara, Baltimore, and Portland, Oregon. And looking ahead to the summer, Graham returns to Santa Fe Opera in the plum “trouser” role of Prince Orlofsky, in the company’s first new production in 25 years of Johann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus, which she also sang at the Met last season.

Graham joins the Philadelphia Orchestra and Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin for an all-French concert during the orchestra’s “Paris Festival,” the centerpiece of which is her performance of selections from Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne. Nézet-Séguin is one of her favorite longtime collaborators, and was recently named the new Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera, to begin in 2020. The mezzo is world-renowned as one of the foremost exponents of French vocal music, and has been awarded the French government’s prestigious “Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur”; as San Jose’s Mercury News put it, “There’s no one better in this repertoire.” In the spring she will perform in another all-French program, including Berlioz’s La mort de Cléopâtre, with Sebastian Lang-Lessing leading the San Antonio Symphony.

At Washington National Opera this winter, Graham makes a role debut as Mrs. De Rocher in a new production of Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking. The mezzo created the role of Sister Helen Prejean in the world premiere production at San Francisco Opera in 2000, when the Los Angeles Times reported that she “brought not just the ravishing beauty of her mezzo-soprano to Sister Helen but seemed to glow onstage.” As Graham says:

Dead Man Walking has been in my DNA since its inception … I’m sure we’ll plumb new depths and bring this amazing piece to new life yet again.”

When the Metropolitan Opera celebrates its 50th anniversary at Lincoln Center in May, Graham will be on hand amongst the greatest stars of the genre from around the world, including Anna Netrebko, Joyce DiDonato, Diana Damrau, Piotr Beczała, Javier Camarena, Placido Domingo, René Pape, James Morris, and many others. The house opened in its Lincoln Center home on September 16, 1966, with Leontyne Price and Justino Díaz starring in the world premiere of Samuel Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra, in what the New York Times called a “crescendo of splendor.” The 50th Anniversary Gala follows Graham’s triumph at the Met last fall, when she inspired an outpouring of positive press in her role debut as Countess Geschwitz in William Kentridge’s hit new production of Berg’s modernist masterpiece Lulu. As the New York Observer concluded, she “sang so radiantly [she] made Berg’s spiky music sound downright romantic.”

Also in the spring, Graham joins tenor Matthew Polenzani, the Met Orchestra, and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen to sing excerpts from Mahler’s song cycle Des Knaben Wunderhorn in Carnegie Hall. Graham is a noted interpreter of Mahler’s vocal works, and her live performance of the Rückert-Lieder with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony was captured on their 2010 recording of the German master’s orchestral songs. San Francisco Classical Voice described Graham as “characteristically poised and radiant,” singing with “full, lustrous tone, regal bearing, and keen sensitivity,” while the album review on AllMusic found the songs to be “sung almost to perfection.”

Last season Graham put together a themed, eight-part recital program that she premiered at Wigmore Hall in London, before taking it to Boston’s Celebrity Series, Michigan’s Gilmore Keyboard Festival, and venues in Bordeaux and Madrid. With Schumann’s iconic song cycle Frauenliebe und -leben as its basis, the program also includes diverse songs by German, French, Scandinavian, Spanish, Russian and English composers from a variety of eras on the theme of women in love. The mezzo drew raves for the Wigmore Hall debut, with The Telegraph declaring that “Graham exudes an infectious joy in her art.” Her pianist in London was Malcolm Martineau, who rejoins her this season for accounts of “Frauenliebe und –leben: Variations” on the West Coast and in Baltimore. As the Financial Times said of the program: “Ecstatically applauded by her fans and superbly partnered at the piano by Malcolm Martineau … one had to admire [Graham’s] sophistication, her impeccable diction, her subtle dynamic scale, her exquisite top notes.”

These engagements come on the heels of a fall season filled with resounding successes for the mezzo. Graham was honored along with Deborah Voigt and Ben Heppner at the Metropolitan Opera Guild’s 82nd Annual Luncheon, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of their respective Met debuts. She joined Renée Fleming for the San Francisco Symphony’s opening night gala led by Michael Tilson Thomas, and they reunited at the Boston Symphony under the baton of Andris Nelsons, with Graham singing Octavian to Fleming’s Marschallin in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. Finally, stepping in to the signature role of Didon as a late replacement, Graham wowed audiences and critics alike in the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s premiere production of Berlioz’s Les Troyens. As the Chicago Tribune raved: “It’s hard to imagine a more rounded portrayal, musically or dramatically. … It was good to have this cherishable artist back in Chicago.” Chicago Classical Review was similarly enraptured by the performance:

“Graham’s sense of Gallic style and dramatic incisiveness were apparent with inspired singing from first to last. She sang gloriously in the Act IV love duet (“Nuit d’ivresse”), and conveyed daunting fury at Aeneas when he tells her he must leave her and depart to Italy. In the somber ritual of the final scene, the mezzo rose to the score’s tragic heights, singing with power yet bringing a fragile human dimension to the devastated queen.”

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Susan Graham: upcoming engagements

Jan 12, 13, 14
Philadelphia, PA
Philadelphia Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor
Canteloube: Selections from Chants d’Auvergne

Feb 25, 27; March 3, 5, 8, 11
Washington, DC
Washington National Opera
Michael Christie, conductor
Jake Heggie: Dead Man Walking (Mrs. De Rocher)

April 6-23
Spring recital tour with Malcolm Martineau, piano

“Frauenliebe und –leben: Variations”
April 6: Santa Barbara, CA (Lobero Theater, Community Arts Music Association of Santa Barbara)
April 9: Portland, OR (Lincoln Recital Hall, Friends of Chamber Music)
April 23: Baltimore, MD (Shriver Hall)

May 7
New York, NY
Metropolitan Opera
50 Years at Lincoln Center: a gala celebration
Met Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Selections from Porgy and BessSamson et DalilaLes TroyensI Lombardi, & Antony and Cleopatra

May 12, 13
San Antonio, TX
San Antonio Symphony
Sebastian Lang-Lessing, conductor
Berlioz: La mort de Cléopâtre
Selections from French operetta and American musical theater

May 31
New York, NY
Carnegie Hall
Met Opera Orchestra
Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor
Mahler: Selections from Des Knaben Wunderhorn

June 30; July 5, 8, 14; Aug 1, 7, 14, 19, 26
Santa Fe, NM
Santa Fe Opera
Rory Macdonald, conductor
Strauss: Die Fledermaus (Prince Orlofsky)

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© 21C Media Group, Jan 2017

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