Susan Graham

Susan Graham at SFS

Susan-Graham-by-Dario_Acosta* Notes *
Susan Graham (pictured left, photograph by Dario Acosta) is singing Berlioz's La Mort de Cléopâtre with San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas this weekend. The piece, a replacement for the previously announced Brahms's Alto Rhapsody, is quite suited to Ms. Graham. Her clear high notes and fully developed sound work well with its descriptive, declamatory nature.

The orchestra supported her in a characteristic glimmering way. The basses were particularly nice at the end. Graham sang "L'île inconnue" from Berlioz's Les nuits d'été song cycle as an encore.

The Berlioz was sandwiched by more 19th century music including Brahms' rather odd Variations on a Theme by Haydn and Schumann's Fourth Symphony. The cello and oboe were lovely in the Schumann, which was recorded for a future release.

* Tattling *
There was light talking during Brahms and even some whispering during Schumann, though we were asked emphatically not to make noise because of the recording.

PBO's 2015-2016 Season

PBO_byRandiBeachOctober 4-10 2015: Scarlatti's La gloria di primavera
November 12-15 2015: Bach's Brandenburgs with Richard Egarr
December 2-6 2015: Händel's Ode for St. Cecilia's Day and "Tra amplessi innocenti" and Purcell's Te Deum and Jubilate in D and Suite from Distressed Innocence
December 19 2015: Händel's Messiah
February 3-7 2016: Mozart's Concerto for Fortepiano No. 23 with Kristian Bezuidenhout, Symphonies No. 27 and 39
February 11 2016: Arias from Ariodante and Xerxes with Susan Graham
March 2-6 2016: Vivaldi's Concerto in D major and Rameau's Suite from Les Fêtes de L'Hymen et de L'Amour
April 27- May 1 2016: Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 3, Elegiac Song, and Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage and Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 2, Hymn of Praise

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra's 2015-2016 season was announced today. The soloists for the Scarlatti are Suzana Ograjensek, Diana Moore, Clint van der Linde, Nicholas Phan, and Douglas Williams. The soloists for Messiah are Amanda Forsythe, Meg Bragle, Isaiah Bell, and Tyler Duncan. PBO will also tour major North American concert halls in Spring 2016 with guest artists Anne-Sofie von Otter and Andreas Scholl.

Official Site

Susan Graham at Cal Performances

Susan_Graham_Credit_Dario_Acosta * 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.

Serse Log

San Francisco Opera's Serse (Michael Sumuel and Heidi Stober pictured in the first image below, Susan Graham and Lisette Oropesa pictured in the second; photographs by Cory Weaver) just finished a run of six performances last Saturday.

31. October 2011: Opening
Media Round-Up

4. November 2011: From Orchestra Standing Room
Opera Tattler Review


8. November 2011: From Balcony Standing Room
* The audience clapped during the overture as the characters were presented in turn.
* The playing was clear.
* Lisette Oropesa got slightly behind during her aria at the end of Act I. Her breath control is incredible and she did not push her high notes.
* The bridge did not collapse before Elviro's Act II arietta, "Del mio caro baco amabile."

11. November 2011: Reading the Score
* The ornamentation is simple and elegant.
* All the repeats, da capos, and dal segnos are taken.
* There were a few times where the orchestra was a bit ahead of the singing.
* A few of Susan Graham's low notes did not float as beautifully as the others, but overall she is just an amazing singer.


16. November 2011: From Box V
* Noted that the President of the San Francisco Opera Association was present.
* There were a couple transitions in Act I that went so quickly that Maestro Summers held his baton in his mouth as he played harpsichord.
* Both Heidi Stober and the flautist sounded especially lovely in "Un cenno leggiadretto."
* The leap that Michael Sumuel before his clicking his heels ("Del mio caro baco amabile") was impressive.
* The box subscribers in U talked at times during the music. Four women (clearly not subscribers) in Box X were even worse, talking, using cellular phones, and moving to Box Z in the middle of Act II. They did not return for Act III.

19. November 2011: Orchestra Level Row P Seat 4
* There was clapping during the overture again, and my companion even joined in out of spite.
* The person in P 124 was ill-behaved. Not only did his cellular phone ring between the recitative and "Ombra ma fui," he very loudly opened a cough drop during Act I. He did not return for Act III.
* Another phone rang during Ariodate's Act I aria, from the north side of the Orchestra Level.
* The couple in R 116 and 118 must have been late, because there was no talking from that area in Act I. They talked for much of the rest of the opera, especially when David Daniels was singing.
* Though the audience was incredibly obnoxious this evening, the singing and playing was a delight. There was a wonderful ease to the proceedings, and it seemed that everyone was having a great time.

Serse at San Francisco Opera

Xerxes-graham-oropesa* Notes *
Händel's Serse (Act III pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) had an impressive second performance last night at San Francisco Opera. The English National Opera production at hand premiered in 1985, yet is still as fresh and comedic as ever. This was helped by the deft, transparent playing from the orchestra. The brass was particularly lucid. Maestro Patrick Summers kept the music moving fluidly, sometimes just a bit faster than the singers. The statue chorus was also charming.

The singing was lovely all around. Michael Sumuel was exceedingly amusing as Elviro, and his warm voice was a welcome contrast with all the high voices in this opera. Wayne Tigges was a pompous, silly Ariodate, but never unsympathetic. Heidi Stober was delightful as the unloved, conniving Atalante. Her voice is bright and rich. Sonia Prina too has pretty resonances in her voice, but could have perhaps sung more smoothly. She did play Amastre with the right amount of bluster. Lisette Oropesa was a restrained and elegant Romilda, her voice is cold and pretty, and she only pushed it too hard during the last note of one aria in Act II. David Daniels (Arsamenes) cut a fine figure, and sang well, with good volume. Susan Graham was most impressive in the title role, sounding clear toned and moving with a beautiful ease.

* Tattling * 
For the most part the audience was silent. There was some talking amidst latecomers and ushers at the beginnings of Acts I and II. At least one watch alarm sounded at 8pm. Someone stood behind me during "Più che penso alle fiamme del core" and jingled the change in his pocket with the music.

A Preview of SF Opera's Serse

Sfopera-xerxes-acti* Notes * 
Händel's Serse (Act I pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) opens this afternoon at San Francisco Opera, and I for one am quite sad not to attend. Instead I offer you a preview, based on attendance of rehearsals. Nicholas Hytner's production, directed here by Michael Walling, originates from English National Opera and was last seen at Houston Grand Opera. The palette employed for the set is pleasingly spring-like, with much white and green. The supernumeraries are white and are wearing bald caps. The chorus is painted grey, and seem to look quite like statues.

Patrick Summers, last seen on the San Francisco Opera podium for Heart of a Soldier, conducts these performances. The cast includes many fine singers, including David Daniels (Arsamene), Lisette Oropesa (Romilda), and most of all, Susan Graham in the title role. The supporting cast is also promising. Heidi Stober was very funny as Atalanta in Houston, as was Sonia Prina (Amastre), and they reprise these roles in San Francisco. Both Wayne Tigges (Ariodate) and Michael Sumuel (Elviro) made their San Francisco Opera debuts in Heart of a Soldier earlier this season. One may have heard Tigges as Donner in Los Angeles Opera's recent Ring cycle. Sumuel sure to be winsome in his comic role.

Iphigénie en Tauride at the Met

Iphigenie-met * Notes * 
The latest revival of the Metropolitan Opera's Iphigénie en Tauride on Saturday seemed under-rehearsed, but still has potential. There were many instances when the singers were not with the orchestra, especially as far as the chorus was concerned. Perhaps the elaborate choreography was to blame. The dancers here were more together than in Seattle Opera's 2007 version. Thomas Lynch's set does look more open from the last row of the Met than in orchestra standing room at McCaw Hall. Thomas Wadsworth's production is cluttered, and one gets the sense that he is worried his audience either does not understand what is going on or is in danger of becoming very bored. In any case, the orchestra sounded fluid under Maestro Patrick Summers.

The main cast had a lot of power, and everyone could be heard. Susan Graham may have had poor start in the title role, but did sound lovely in "Ô malheureuse Iphigénie" at the end of Act II. There were moments of roughness later in the evening, but Graham does have a glowing, beautiful sound. Plácido Domingo was strong as Orest, his reediness as a tenor was not distracting, and he was distinct from Paul Groves (Pylade). Groves sang "Unis dès la plus tendre enfance" particularly well. As Thoas, Gordon Hawkins managed to sing his high notes smoothly, and was robust throughout his range.

* Tattling * 
Standing room in the Family Circle was nearly empty, as most everyone could take a seat in the last few rows, which were far from full.

I am sorely tempted to hear the Met in HD broadcast of this opera on February 26th.

Serse at Houston Grand Opera

Photo by Felix Sanchez, courtesy of Houston Grand Opera * Notes *
Händel's Serse had a strong opening yesterday evening at Houston Grand Opera. The production, from the English National Opera, is entertaining, and features astroturf as a main stage element. The chorus seemed to all be painted grey, and the supernumeraries white. During the overture, the principals are introduced in turn, with the names of the characters projected on a scrim. Though a diversion from the music, one imagines this is quite helpful to the audience, given how convoluted the plot of Serse is.

The orchestra, conducted by William Lacey, played nimbly, the overtures of Act I and III were spirited. "Ombra mai fù" was taken rather slowly. There were some moments when things seemed a bit awry, as in the Sinfonia of Act I, or at the the end of Act II. The chorus, on the other hand, sounded vivid and together.

Before the performance began, it was announced that Susan Graham, who is singing the title role, was feeling unwell, and begged our indulgence. She still sounded pure and clear, and she sang very beautifully. There were a few times her voice was rather quiet, or her low notes were off, but these were minor distractions. Her Act II Scene 10 aria, "Il core spera e teme" was especially fine. Laura Claycomb was convincing as Romilda, her voice is icily lovely, and though she has a lot of vibrato in her high tessitura, it is not unpleasant to the ear. She sang wonderfully with David Daniels (Arsamenes), their duet in Act III was amusing. Daniels also sang his Act II aria superbly. Sonia Prina's rich, warm voice was appropriate for Amastre, and was a nice respite from all the high voices. Heidi Stober was exceedingly funny as Atalante, and she too had a good warmth. Philip Cutlip and Adam Cioffari, in the bass roles of Ariodate and Elviro, respectively, both were hilarious.

* Tattling * 
There was talking and whispering, but it was mostly reserved for when no one was singing. It was more unfortunate that the applause made some of the music inaudible. One cellular phone rang just before Act I, another just before Act II, and yet another at the beginning of the last aria of Act II.

PBO's Dido and Aeneas in Berkeley

Purcell-portrait * Notes * 
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra continued a run of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas in Berkeley last night, along with a full program of other works of this composer. The performance set up was different this time, with the orchestra on stage behind the singers. The acoustics are better in this venue, First Congregational Church, than in Herbst Theatre, and the principals were never overwhelmed. The overall effect was scintillating, the orchestra was clear and the chorale's timing was perfect. Cyndia Sieden (Belinda, First Witch) again sounded lovely, even though her voice is not as hefty Céline Ricci's. Ricci (Second Lady, Second Witch) reined in her acting. Brian Thorsett sang his two roles (Spirit in the likeness of Mercury, First Sailor) with vigor.

Jill Grove gave a consistent performance of the Sorceress, and was appropriately comic, though also a bit frightening. William Berger portrayed Aeneas with strength, his voice is warm and pretty. Of course, Susan Graham was magnificent as Dido. Her last aria, the famous "When I am laid in Earth," was tranfixing in both its beauty and sorrow.

* Tattling * 
There was quite a lot of flipping of pages in programs, whispering during the music, and noise from velcro, zippers, and wrappers. People even had to be hushed during Susan Graham's first notes.

Confess the Flame her Tongue Denyes

Susan_Graham_Credit_Dario_Acosta * Notes * 
Yesterday in San Francisco, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra performed the first of six performances celebrating Henry Purcell. The evening started with his "O Sing Unto the Lord a New Song," Chacony in G minor, "Hear My Prayer, O Lord," and the Suite from Abdelazer, or The Moor's Revenge. Conducted by Music Director Nicholas McGegan, the playing was buoyant. The Philharmonia Chorale, directed by Bruce Lamott, was also in fine form. Most of the soloists featured in the first half are members of the Chorale, with the exceptions of sopranos Cyndia Sieden and Céline Ricci. All sounded lovely, though Ricci did not clearly enunciate the words of "Lucinda is bewitching fair," in the Suite from Abdelazer.

The semi-staged Dido and Aeneas that came after the intermission was entirely gratifying. The orchestra was splendid and together, as was the chorale. Cyndia Sieden was sweet and bird-like as Belinda, and only had the slightest gasp during "Pursue thy Conquest, Love." Céline Ricci was a good vocal foil as the Second Woman, her voice being warmer but her coloratura more effortful. Ricci overacted and moved a great deal, even swaying her hips to the music. It was not very becoming, considering she had only a few lines by herself, but it was easy enough to ignore her. Sieden and Ricci were amusing as the two witches. Tenor Brian Thorsett also had two roles, as the Spirit in the likeness of Mercury at the end of Act II, and the First Sailor at the beginning of Act III. He was able to give very different characterizations for each.

Jill Grove was an imperious Sorceress, her low notes were rich, but there was some strain and lack of smoothness in her higher register. Baritone William Berger (Aeneas) has a pleasant sound, and he held his own against the incredible Susan Graham (Dido). Their exchange in the last act was heartrending. Graham sang with a facile beauty, yet with a stately grace in keeping with the music.

* Tattling * 
They seemed to skip the chorus near the end of Act II, though the text was printed in the program. The audience was well-behaved, though I did hear one watch alarm near the end of the performance.

Rückert Lieder at SFS

Susan-graham * Notes * 
Yesterday evening mezzo-soprano Susan Graham opened San Francisco Symphony's latest Mahler Festival with the Rückert Lieder. Graham sang with a gorgeous ease, her voice sounds both pure and lush. Michael Tilson Thomas conducted the orchestra in a straightforward manner. Some of the brass entrances were harsh, but the playing was fairly clear. The woodwinds did well, especially the English horn in "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen." The violins were split downstage, with cellos next to the first violins, violas next to the seconds, but it seemed that everyone could be heard perfectly fine.

After the intermission, Mahler's Symphony No. 1 was played with great volume and flashiness. Despite this, the performance was a bit slack, the tempi and dynamic changes did not always come through. Also, the celli were buried behind the violins, because of the seating arrangement. There were, of course, moments of beauty nonetheless, particularly in the inner movements.

* Tattling * 
The audience was perfectly silent for the Rückert Lieder, as they were being recorded. People did whisper during the 1st, and someone's iPhone quacked at one point. The woman in Row L Seat 7 of the orchestra got a text message on her iPhone at the end of the second movement and she updated her Facebook page during much of  the following Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen. Naturally she clapped quite heartily at the end and joined in for the standing ovation.

PBO's 2009-2010 Season

September 10-15 2009: Apothesis of the Dance: Haydn Bicentennial  
October 9-17 2009: An Adversarial Friendship: Muffat, Telemann
November 5-14 2009: The Passion of Dido: Purcell's 350th birthday 
December 4-11 2009: Gloria!: Vivaldi, Torelli, Sammartini
February 11-14 2010: An Elegant Romance: Brahms  
March 5-13 2010: The French Suite in Europe: Dumanoir, Lully, Telemann
April 8-13 2010: Orlando's Madness: Händel

Philharmonia Baroque announced their next season today. Susan Graham will be singing Dido in Dido and Aeneas this November. Orlando will be performed next year in April.

Official Site | 2009-2010 Season

San Francisco Symphony's 2009-2010 Season

September 9 2009: Gala with Lang Lang (Liszt, Ravel, Rodgers, Prokofiev)
September 10-12 2009: Liszt, Ravel, Rodgers, Prokofiev
September 16-20 2009: Susan Graham sings Rückert-Lieder, Mahler's 1st
September 23-26 2009: Thomas Hampson sings Mahler
September 30- October 3 2009: Scelsi's Hymnos, Mahler's 5th
October 7-10 2009: Brett Dean, Haydn's 94th, Brahms
October 11 2009: Murray Perahia, piano
October 14-18 2009: Bach's Violin Concerto No. 2, Elgar, Tchaikovsky's 6th
October 22-24 2009: John Adams' Slonimsky's Earbox, Tchaikovsky, Dvořák
October 28-31 2009: Beethoven's 8th
October 31 2009: Nosferatu (1922 film)
November 6-8 2009: Rachmaninoff's The Bells, Rachmaninoff's 2nd
November 12-14 2009: Detlev Glanert, Schumann, Sibelius' 5th
November 18-20 2009: Bach's Brandenburg Concertos 3-5  
November 20-21 2009: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
December 3-5 2009: Holiday Concert
December 9-12 2009: Beethoven's 5th
January 7-10 2010: George Benjamin, Debussy, Mendelssohn's 3rd
January 14-16 2010: Ravel, George Benjamin, Messiaen
January 20-23 2010: Yo-Yo Ma plays Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 2  
January 26 2010: Yo-Yo Ma, cello and Emanuel Ax, piano  
January 27-30 2010: Stravinsky's Pulcinella
February 3-6 2010: Schubert's Mass No. 2, Ives' A Concord Symphony
February 10-13 2010: Walton's Violin Concerto, Holst's The Planets
February 18-20 2010: Haydn's Cello Concerto No. 1, Beethoven's 3rd 
February 21-22 2010: Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig
February 24-26 2010: Mozart's 36th, Bruckner's 6th
March 4-7 2010: Christian Tetzlaff, violin
March 7 2010: Ravel
March 11-14 2010: Mahler's 2nd
March 20 2010: Dawn Upshaw, soprano and Emanuel Ax, piano
March 21-22 2010: Mariinsky Orchestra
April 1-3 2010: Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor, Shostakovich's 8th
April 7-10 2010: Rufus Wainwright's Five Shakespeare Sonnets
April 15-17 2010: The Gold Rush (1925 film)
April 17-18 2010: Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra
April 21-24 2010: Mozart's 35th, 41st, Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 1  
April 25 2010: Emanuel Ax, piano
April 29- May 1 2010: Schumann's 4th, Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony 
May 5-8 2010: Thomas Larcher, Beethoven, Brahms
May 10-11 2010: Los Angeles Philharmonic
May 13-15 2010: Litolff, Chopin, Adam, Bizet
May 19-23 2010: Stravinsky, Ravel
May 27-29 2010: Robin Holloway, Mozart, Schumann
June 10-13 2010: Mozart, Berg, Beethoven
June 17-19 2010: Yuja Wang, piano
June 23-26 2010: Berlioz's Roméo et Juliette  

The San Francisco Symphony announced the 2009-2010 season today. Susan Graham and Thomas Hampson both sing Mahler this September. Guest conductors include Simon Rattle, Gustavo Dudamel, and Valery Gergiev.

Season Highlights | Official Site

Houston Opera's 2009-2010 Season

October 23 - November 7 2009: L'Elisir d'Amore
October 30- November 15 2009: Lohengrin
January 22- February 7 2010: Tosca
January 29- February 13 2010 : Turn of the Screw
April 16- May 1 2010: The Queen of Spades
April 30- May 14 2010: Xerxes

Patricia Racette sings the title role in Tosca opposite of Marcus Haddock. Susan Graham and David Daniels star in Xerxes.

Chronicle Article | Official Site