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Graham’s Songs of Life and Love


Susan-GrahamOrganized as hypothetical responses by Grieg, Strauss, Fauré, Mahler, Ravel, Poulenc, and Granados to the songs in Schumann’s Frauenlibe und -Leben, mezzo Susan Graham’s April 29th recital at Jordan Hall with pianist Bradley Moore will be her fourth appearance for the Celebrity Series. “America’s favorite mezzo” (Gramophone) achieved international stardom within a few years of her professional debut. Her operatic roles span four centuries, from Monteverdi’s Poppea to Jake Heggie’s Sister Helen Prejean (Dead Man Walking), which was written for Graham, and her other repertoire is equally wide-ranging. She was last seen here with soprano Renée Fleming in February 2013.

BMInt found her engaging.

Did most women of the 1830s see themselves as subservient to men as the poet Chamiso imagined them to be, or was this an insecure man’s fantasy?

I’m sure some women did, and I’m sure society did as well. However, in Chamiso’s poems, this woman was actually a governess in the man’s house. So her “subservient” references (“I’m a lowly maid,” “I’ll serve him and curtsy to him”) are more a reflection of her job status.

Did you break up the cycle with other composers’ songs perhaps to ease up on the sentimentality?

Not intentionally. We just wanted to show contrasts and similarities of how other composers, eras, cultures, could express some of the same ideas and events.

The program appears much more thoughtful that the typical diva assortment of composers, languages, and styles. Tell us how the pieces fit together.

The program is a coherent story arc, defined by Schumann’s song cycle Frauenliebe und -leben, which tells the story, in eight installments, of a woman’s love and life. Each group is based on each Schumann song, in sequence, so that the other languages (eight in all!) and composers serve to further illustrate the story.

In some of the Schumann set, the piano parts are more interesting than the songs. Are you lucky in your partner?

Always. It’s important for pianist and singer to be telling the same story, but as you point out, sometimes the composer gives an added dimension to the piano part. A perfect example is the final postlude to the last song, which wistfully and sometimes painfully evokes the first blush of love, since it echos the introduction to the first song.

It’s easier for mezzos to put words across in general than it is for higher sopranos. Is that why you’re singing only one song in English?

There are actually two (three, if you count the one that we add that isn’t on the program, a Rorem gem). But no, it just so happens that there were so many songs in so many great languages that there was room for only a couple in English.

You sing many trouser roles in opera; do you ever sing cycles intended for men? Vaughan Williams’s Songs of Travel can work really well, for instance, and that would be different from Cherubino. And what about Winterreise? Too serious?

Too serious—no. I’ve been known to sing some serious stuff in my time. :-) And while I haven’t sung an entire cycle from a male standpoint, many art songs use male-oriented pronouns, to suggest that the “speaking voice” of the poet is male. It really doesn’t matter to me; the emotion, message, and music are what matter to me.

In singing lieder, do you shift gears in a major way from your opera persona? Can we expect conversational asides and lots of quiet singing?

Hmm, conversational asides … there’s a little speaking at the beginning of the recital, and usually a little at the end. As for the performance aspect of lieder vs opera, I would certainly say that there is a level of intimacy and connection that is much more achievable in the recital experience. I’m much closer physically to the audience (those in the front, anyway), and without having to sing over a powerful orchestra, I can more easily convey subtleties in music and text. I always say that, in a recital, one is much more naked, no costumes, sets, colleagues, characters, to hide behind.

Do you expect a different audience for lieder from one you would get in an aria recital? You show complete commitment to whatever you’re doing.

I think that fans of vocal music will enjoy this concert, whether arias are involved or not. Some people like aria concerts because there are a lot of familiar tunes, but they might be surprised that they’d recognize some tunes on this program as well. There are songs from 1600 to 1961, in eight different languages, so we pretty much have something for everyone!

Friday April 29, 8pm at Jordan Hall
Susan Graham, mezzo; Bradley Moore, piano

Frauenliebe und -Leben Variations

Click here for full program.

See related review here.

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  1. Having attended two of Susan Graham’s previous four recitals in Boston, I can only say that anyone lucky enough to attend this upcoming concert is likely in for a memorable night. In my experience, Susan Graham is the real deal. The question is, will we hear “Sexy Lady”?

    Comment by Mogulmeister — April 20, 2016 at 12:58 pm

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