Grammy Award-winning and international mezzo-soprano star Susan Graham will be making her Kimmel Center recital debut on April 2nd. Graham, known for her interpretations of the Frenchrépertoire (especially Berlioz), has also found much fame performing the works of Mozart and Strauss in almost every major opera house in the world. The American-born singer hails from Midland, Texas, where every 5th of September has been deemed “Susan Graham Day” in her honor. I had the opportunity to ask the down-to-earth diva about her concert in Philadelphia, her upcoming engagements, and what role she’s dying to play.
Ticket: It’s so great to have you here in Philadelphia, Susan. Is this your first time performing here?
Susan Graham: I’ve performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra: once in a Mozart Mass, and more recently in Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust.
T: I know Berlioz is on the program for your Philadelphia engagement, and that his work is a large part of your répertoire. What about Berlioz’s scores attracts you to them as a singer.
SG: Berlioz is the perfect combination of French lyricism and orchestral drama. The female characters are all heroic in a way, and beautifully drawn and fleshed out. Even in the song, “La Mort d’Ophelie,” Berlioz creates an atmosphere of her innocence, and the eerie aftermath of her sad drowning, with effective simple melodic and pianistic effects.
T: Speaking of Berlioz, I saw your performance as Dido in the Francesca Zambello production of Les Troyens at The Met back in 2012, which was fabulous. I know you are scheduled to perform the role again in the David McVicar production in San Francisco in 2015. How do you manage playing the same role but in very different stylized productions?
SG: The music always dictates the essential nature of the character; whatever the physicality or décor of the production is, doesn’t change how she’s expressed musically, for me.
T: When opera makes the news, I’m sure you pay attention. Last week, the Board of the San Diego Opera announced it was shutting the company down, much to the outcry of artists and patrons, alike. What do you think about the San Diego decision, and why is it important to keep opera as a viable art form?
SG: It’s obvious to those of us in this profession that opera is the ultimate art form combining singing, dancing, orchestral playing, visual arts, all of the highest caliber. It’s enriching to the human spirit as the vehicle to express what mere words cannot. More important is trying to make it obvious and integral to the community. How this can be allowed to happen is beyond me, and while I don’t know (nor do most of us) all the inner workings and financial details of this company, I can’t imagine that shutting down the company was the only viable solution. Obviously it makes me very sad, and the outcry of opposition is encouraging.
T: Your répertoire is so wide and varied, but is there one role that you haven’t tackled yet that you’d love to play?
SG: Tosca. Unfortunately it’s a little too high!