jueves, 25 de diciembre de 2014

Susan Graham (mezzosoprano) Tucson Desert Song Festival, UA Presents - Arizona

Photo: B. Ealovega
James Reel - Tucson Desert Song Festival

Susan Graham is on the road this season with Berlioz. Graham’s schedule features his Roméo et Juliette in Los Angeles, Les Troyens in San Francisco, Les Nuits d’été in London and Mexico City, La Mort de Cléopatre in Brussels, and La Mort d’Ophélie nearly everywhere else—including in Tucson Arizona, during her Tucson Desert Song Festival recital for UA presents in January (01/29/2015).
Graham is hardly a one-composer mezzo—she’s taking time out this season for Mahler and The Merry Widow, and dots her song recitals with plenty of other material—but she is very closely associated with Berlioz and other French opera and art song composers. French is not the first language you’d expect a woman born in Roswell, N.M. and educated as an undergraduate in Texas to wrap her mouth around, but it seems to come naturally to Graham, who thinks it stands up perfectly well as a sung language to Italian, German or English. “French is my favorite language to sing in,” she declares. “It has a fluidity and capacity for expression, and is very liquid and romantic. As a little kid I used to dream about far-away, elegant, exotic places, and those dreams were always French-themed. French is my vocal happy place. Plus, the tessitura of most French music is comfortable for me, because it tends to fall into a high lyric mezzo range. Berlioz is my touchstone in that repertoire, because his heroines are written exactly for my voice.” As a Berlioz heroine, Shakespeare’s Ophelia may not be the first tragic figure who comes to mind, but she is the character with whom Graham enters her Tucson recital. “We chose La Mort d’Ophélie because the theme of the first half of the program is innocents and naives; Ophelia was the poor, sort of innocent, deranged girl who drowns. So we thought she fit in the first half as a sympathetic character. The text talks about Ophelia wandering along the riverside, singing, and she falls into the river but continues to sing, and ultimately her song is silenced.” Graham does not sing in character, but as narrator of the sad events. “It’s rather lyrical storytelling for Berlioz, without a lot of his usual dramatic orchestral outbursts, so it’s more about setting the tone for the death of this innocent young girl.” Graham devotes another part of her recital to music by a substantially different French composer: Francis Poulenc’s Fiançailles pour rire. Here, the texts mainly have to do with reflection and mood—the singer is thinking, rather than doing, but for Graham, her approach is the same. “Always, I am telling a story,” she says. “Each of those Poulenc songs is a little opera to me. The whole second half of the program is a reflection on a lot of the different kinds of love a woman can experience or observe and everything related to it, from sarcasm to drunken revelry to death, and most of that is right there in the Poulenc songs.” Returning to the subject of the concert’s first half—innocents and naives—Graham points out that she will offer a group of songs by six composers in three languages, all settings of texts about Mignon, the character in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship who is rescued from a brutal abductor and languishes with unrequited love for her rescuer. Mignon’s “songs“—poems scattered throughout the novel—have been set by several composers, most prominently Franz Schubert. Says Graham, “Those six songs concerned with one character make a fascinating mini-opera with a beginning, middle and end, and like any opera it’s taxing dramatically, psychologically and vocally. And that’s just the end of the first half.” What leads off the second half—what Graham calls “the bad girls portion of the concert“—is the scena Lady Macbeth written in 1970 by the British composer Joseph Horovitz, who wrote hardly anything else for voice; his catalog is dominated by ballet scores, orchestral and band pieces, chamber works, and music for a Tarzan movie. “Lady Macbeth is a riveting piece that encompasses three different scenes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth,” Graham says. “There’s the letter scene, and the part where she orders her husband him to go and kill the king, and her descent into madness. It’s dramatic and gripping and spooky and creepy.” The rest of the second half is lighter fare, including songs by the likes of Cole Porter and Vernon Duke—composers not really so different from Poulenc. Graham certainly doesn’t think she’s slumming by riffling through the Anglo-American pop songbook. “The only difference in my approach is that I put my comedy hat on; there’s not much comedy in Schubert,” she laughs. “I relax a little bit and tell the story more pointedly, and take more liberties with the rhythms. I can interact with the audience more directly. With the Mignon songs I’m inviting the audience into my world, but in the English and American songs it’s more like I’m coming out into the audience and sitting with them—figuratively—with a lot of winking and gossiping. Vocally, it’s more talky, there’s less vibrato, more of a pop style.” Graham began this season following a long stint in The King and I, and ends it with The Merry Widow. It might seem like more frivolous fare than Berlioz and Schubert, but it’s hardly a vacation for the mezzo. “The King and I is 10 times harder than any opera I’ve ever done, physically,” Graham declares. For her, musical theater and operetta is something she has long enjoyed, and she anticipates continuing to enjoy it long after her heavier classical repertoire is behind her. “The Merry Widow is something that could accompany me into the golden years of my career, along with things like [Offenbach’s] Grand Duchess of Gerolstein, when I’m not jumping on the furniture as Cherubino and Octavian anymore.” That said, Graham is not easing off anytime soon; this season includes Les Troyens, “which is Mount Everest for me,” she says, as well as touring with her Tucson recital. “It’s such a great program to sing,” she says. “It has everything: vocal challenges, and wonderful characters. And the characters who aren’t so well-defined, I make them up in my head, and I have very clear images of who they are and what each one is singing about. Each one is a different person with a different goal and message.” Graham herself approaches the material—and her career—with just one goal: “It’s all about communication, communicating an idea or a feeling not just vocally but any way I can. If I have to tap-dance to get the message across, I’ll do that, too.”


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