Susan Graham – hailed as “an artist to treasure” by the New York Times – rose to the highest echelon of international performers within just a few years of her professional debut, mastering an astonishing range of repertoire and genres along the way. Her operatic roles span four centuries, from Monteverdi’s Poppea to Sister Helen Prejean in Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, which was written especially for her. She won a Grammy Award for her collection of Ives songs, and her recital repertoire is so broad that 14 composers from Purcell to Sondheim are represented on her most recent Onyx album, Virgins, Vixens & Viragos. This distinctly American artist has also been recognized throughout her career as one of the foremost exponents of French vocal music. Although a native of Texas, she was awarded the French government’s prestigious “Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur,” both for her popularity as a performer in France and in honor of her commitment to French music.
To launch the 2017-18 season, Ms. Graham will reprise her star turn in the title role of Susan Stroman’s production of Lehár’s The Merry Widow at the MET, then she joins Nathan Gunn for Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti at Lyric Opera of Chicago, in a special concert to mark the composer’s 100th birthday. To conclude the operatic season, she returns to Opera Theatre of Saint Louis opposite James Morris in Marc Blitzstein’s 1948 opera Regina. At the Boston Symphony, she joins Charles Dutoit for Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust and Andris Nelsons for Mahler’s Third Symphony, which is also the vehicle for her summer collaborations at the Tanglewood Festival and later on tour in Europe. Besides reuniting with Dutoit for Ravel’s Shéhérazade at the San Francisco Symphony, she headlines a gala concert to celebrate Tulsa Opera’s 70th anniversary. She also gives solo recitals at Emory University and Washington University, and rounds out the season with a night of cabaret at the Park Avenue Armory in New York.
Last season, Graham partnered with Renée Fleming for the San Francisco Symphony’s opening-night gala, and joined Anna Netrebko, Plácido Domingo, and a host of other stars to celebrate the Metropolitan Opera’s five decades at Lincoln Center. Having created the role of Sister Helen Prejean in the world premiere production of Dead Man Walking at San Francisco Opera, she reprised her role in Washington National Opera’s revival of the piece. She returned to Santa Fe Opera as Prince Orlofsky in a new production of Johann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus, and reprised her signature portrayal of Dido in Berlioz’s Les Troyens at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Concert highlights included selections from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn at Carnegie Hall and Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne with the Philadelphia Orchestra, as well as a star-studded Der Rosenkavalier at the Boston Symphony. She gave U.S. recitals of “Frauenliebe und -leben Variations,” her program inspired by the Schumann song cycle, and expanded her discography with Nonesuch Records’ DVD/Blu-ray release of William Kentridge’s new treatment of Berg’s Lulu, which captured her role debut as Countess Geschwitz at the Met.
Graham’s earliest operatic successes were in such trouser roles as Cherubino in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Her technical expertise soon brought mastery of Mozart’s more virtuosic roles, like Sesto in La clemenza di Tito, Idamante in Idomeneo and Cecilio in Lucio Silla, as well as the title roles of Handel’s Ariodante and Xerxes. She went on to triumph in two iconic Richard Strauss mezzo roles, Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier and the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos. These brought her to prominence on all the world’s major opera stages, including the Met, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, Covent Garden, Paris Opera, La Scala, Bavarian State Opera, Vienna State Opera and the Salzburg Festival, among many others. She performed the leading ladies in the MET world premieres of John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby and Tobias Picker’s An American Tragedy, and made her Dallas Opera debut as Tina in a new production of The Aspern Papers by Dominick Argento. As Houston Grand Opera’s Lynn Wyatt Great Artist, she starred as Prince Orlofsky in the company’s first staging of Die Fledermaus in 30 years, before heading an all-star cast as Sycorax in the Met’s Baroque pastiche The Enchanted Island and making her rapturously received musical theater debut in a new production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.
It was in an early Lyon production of Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict that Graham scored particular raves from the international press, and a triumph in the title role of Massenet’s Chérubin at Covent Garden sealed her operatic stardom. Further invitations to collaborate on French music were forthcoming from many preeminent conductors, including Sir Colin Davis, Charles Dutoit, James Levine and Seiji Ozawa. New productions of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride, Berlioz’s La damnation de Faust and Massenet’s Werther were mounted for the mezzo in New York, London, Paris, Chicago, San Francisco and beyond. She recently made title role debuts in Offenbach’s comic masterpieces La belle Hélène and The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein at Santa Fe Opera, as well as proving herself the standout star of the Met’s star-studded revival of Les Troyens, which was broadcast live to cinema audiences worldwide in the company’s celebrated “Live in HD” series. Graham’s affinity for French repertoire has not been limited to the opera stage, having also served as the foundation for her extensive concert and recital career. Such great cantatas and symphonic song cycles as Berlioz’s La mort de Cléopâtre and Les nuits d’été, Ravel’s Shéhérazade and Chausson’s Poème de l’amour et de la mer provide opportunities for collaborations with the world’s leading orchestras, and she makes regular appearances with the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Orchestre de Paris and London Symphony Orchestra.
Graham’s distinguished discography features all the works described above, as well as a series of lauded solo albums, including Un frisson français, a program of French song recorded with pianist Malcolm Martineau for Onyx; C’est ça la vie, c’est ça l’amour!, an album of 20th-century operetta rarities on Erato; and La Belle Époque, an award-winning collection of songs by Reynaldo Hahn with pianist Roger Vignoles, from Sony Classical. Among the mezzo’s numerous honors are Musical America’s Vocalist of the Year and an Opera News Award; Gramophone magazine has dubbed her “America’s favorite mezzo.”
© 21C Media Group, March 2017
“Susan Graham was a joy to watch and to hear: she delivered her lines with boldness, majesty and precision, highlighting both the most delicate and the most tyrannical aspects of the Persian king. Her performance was practically flawless: hearing her delivering such complex ornamentation for over three hours made her seem super-human.”
“This show also has a star, singing one of her signature roles: Susan Graham, an American mezzo who has virtually taken over a part that used to be sung mainly by sopranos. The richness and detail of her singing was such that when she moved from recitative to aria, it seemed that the flow of melody merely changed its form, not its intensity. She gave the rather amiable, major-key music of Iphigénie’s big Act II lament a melancholic serenity that was perfect for the scene, the score and the moment. But I didn’t entirely buy the show’s well-articulated view of the heroine as a naïve girl-woman; she has already cut a lot of throats by the time we meet her.”
“After Thursday night, I prefer to exult in the fact that I have seen Susan Graham play Iphigenia, a performance that evokes the same awe as any natural or man-made wonder. The exquisite Graham not only is totally believable as the driven-to-madness Iphigenia, but the way she gives voice to those feelings is almost frightening. Like the giant sword she brandishes, her voice can catch the light one moment and cut through your heart the next ”
“Friday’s main draw was mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, tapped here to open the program with music from one of her signature roles, as Iphigénie (from Gluck’s “Iphigénie en Tauride’’). Supported by a fine quartet of Tanglewood Music Center sopranos, Graham was in splendid voice and brought the music across with a luxurious, well-focused tone and plenty of dramatic conviction. She returned on the second half with two excerpts to savor, from Handel’s “Alcina’’ and “Ariodante.’’”
“…a fine cast headed by mezzo-soprano Susan Graham&’s handsome, ardent young Octavian… Octavian is one of Graham&’s signature roles, and on Saturday night she was everything a worldly Marschallin or a naive Sophie, fresh from convent school, could have wanted. Tall and good-looking, her Octavian was an impetuous lover and a wicked comic. Disguised as the Marschallin’s maid, fending off the advances of the boorish Baron Ochs, she was a sparkling blend of self-reliant working girl and flustered sexual prey… Succulent, with a golden warmth and purity of tone, it was an ideal instrument for her ardent but singularly thoughtful Octavian.”
“There&’s no finer Octavian in any theater today than Graham, who delivered the mezzo’s music with typical beauty and firmness of sound, making the Marschalli’s teenage paramour coltish and vulnerable. Never before has a Lyric production given Graham&#39;s impeccable comic timing such a free hand, and she proved absolutely hilarious in her disguise as the gawky chambermaid Mariandel, whom the baron also lusts after.”
“Susan Graham was in top form as the anguished prince Idamante. Her gorgeous mezzo timbre and marvelous technique shone in arias such as ‘Non ho colpa’ and ‘Il padre adorato’; her signature restraint and superb dignity were right in line with the aims of the production.”
“Mezzo Susan Graham in the role of Sondra has the second-best vocal music, and she decorates the ornate arching lines with the charm and confidence of a young woman who, as Clyde says in the novel, is constantly the center of attention.”
“Susan Graham was well cast as wealthy Sondra Finchley; her throbbing mezzo has recently gained in sensuality and allure.”
“[Playing the Composer,] she dashes about in fine vocal fettle, firm and strong, but gives herself plenty of room to melt and catch the vulnerability of someone feeling love where least expected.”
“Ecstatically applauded by her fans and superbly partnered at the piano by Malcolm Martineau, she brought uncommon sensitivity and restraint to Brahms’ Zigeunerleider, elegant repose to Debussy’s Proses lyriques and muted nostalgia to Berg’s Sieben frühe Lieder. One had to admire her sophistication, her impeccable diction, her subtle dynamic scale, her exquisite top tones.”
“…one of opera’s favorite funny girls is back…”