* Notes *
Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham (pictured left, photograph by Dario Acosta) is in the midst of a recital tour through 8 North American cities, starting in Quebec and ending in Washington, DC. The recitals are accompanied by pianist Malcolm Martineau and program is thematic, "inspired by iconic female characters." Her Berkeley performance last night, presented by Cal Performances, was winsome. The evening began with Purcell's "Tell me, some pitying angel" (The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation). Graham's breathing was rather audible, but her singing was never breathy, and her high notes had a bell-like quality. In the Berlioz that came next, La mort d'Ophélie, her dynamics were clear, her singing smooth. Martineau's accomplished playing was supportive and never overwhemlming. Before the intermission we heard 6 songs based on Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, each from a different composer. One was able to compare Liszt's setting of "Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn" with Wolf's. Perhaps most beautiful was "Нет, только тот, кто знал" ("None but the Lonely Heart") by Tchaikovsky. The piece is set to Lev Aleksandrovich Mei's "Песнь Арфиста" ("Harpist's Song"), based on Goethe's "Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt."
The second half of the show started again with a song in English, Joseph Horowitz's Lady Macbeth, with a text adapted from Shakespeare. Hearing the familiar words sung was chilling, and Graham delivered the words clearly. Poulenc's Fiançailles pour rire, 6 songs based on poems by Louise de Vilmorin, were similarly dark, but, at times, more humorous. The last three songs of the program were announced from the stage, the "spontaneous" part of the recital, as Graham explained. She went on to say that the first songs had been about good girls, and the second set about bad ones, "ladies of a questionable moral compass." She sang Messager's "J'ai deux amants," first asking the audience for a translation of the title, and noting it was "I have two lovers, not I have two almonds." Graham followed this with Cole Porter's "The Physician" from Nymph Errant, which was jaunty and rather funny. Even more amusing was the Ben Moore song written for Graham, "Sexy Lady," in which she pokes fun at her repertoire, including her many trouser roles. There was much merriment, and Martineau played the Mozart, Strauss, and Händel references with exuberance.
The three encores were "Connais-tu le pays" by Thomas, "The Boy from..." by Sondheim, and "À Chloris" by Hahn. Graham made the most of the tongue twisting place names in the Sondheim, whether fictional or otherwise.
* Tattling *
The audience was fairly quiet, some light murmuring was noted, but no electronic noise. The woman in Row L Seat 11 whispered a few times to her companion in Seat 13. After intermission they moved over toward the center. A man in Row K, who happened to be in front of this couple after they switched seats, put on his sweater during the last encore. This incited the woman to complain fiercely (but at least quietly and only for a moment), as he was blocking her view.