Susan Graham – hailed as “an artist to treasure” by the New York Times – rose to the highest echelon of international performers within just a few years of her professional debut, mastering an astonishing range of repertoire and genres along the way. Her operatic roles span four centuries, from Monteverdi’s Poppea to Sister Helen Prejean in Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, which was written especially for her. She won a Grammy Award for her collection of Ives songs, and her recital repertoire is so broad that 14 composers from Purcell to Sondheim are represented on her most recent Onyx album, Virgins, Vixens & Viragos. This distinctly American artist has also been recognized throughout her career as one of the foremost exponents of French vocal music. Although a native of Texas, Graham was awarded the French government’s prestigious “Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur,” both for her popularity as a performer in France and in honor of her commitment to French music.
To launch the 2016-17 season, Graham joins Renée Fleming and Michael Tilson Thomas at the San Francisco Symphony’s opening-night gala. Having created the role of Sister Helen Prejean in the world premiere production of Dead Man Walking, she stars in Washington National Opera’s revival of the opera, now making her role debut as the convict’s mother. She returns to Santa Fe Opera in the plum “trouser” role of Prince Orlofsky, in the company’s first new production of Johann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus in 25 years, and sings Erika in Samuel Barber’s Vanessa with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. Also in concert, she joins the MET Orchestra and Esa-Pekka Salonen at Carnegie Hall for selections from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn; sings Octavian to Renée Fleming’s Marschallin in Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier with the Boston Symphony and Andris Nelsons; performs selections from Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin; reprises Berlioz’s La mort de Cléopâtre with the San Antonio Symphony; and sings Ravel’s Shéhérazade and Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 with the Sydney Symphony under David Robertson. In recital, she reunites with regular partner Malcolm Martineau for accounts of “Frauenliebe und -leben Variations,” her wide-ranging program inspired by Schumann’s iconic song cycle, in Santa Barbara, Baltimore, and Portland, Oregon.
Last season, Graham made her role debut as Countess Geschwitz in William Kentridge’s new production of Berg’s Lulu at the Metropolitan Opera, where she also starred in Die Fledermaus under James Levine. In concert, she celebrated New Year’s Eve in a Parisian-themed program with the New York Philharmonic, joined the Orchestra of St. Luke’s for Purcell at Carnegie Hall, and sang Berlioz with the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas. To cap the 2015-16 season, she premiered her “Frauenliebe und -leben Variations” program in recitals with Bradley Moore in Boston’s Celebrity Series and at London’s Wigmore Hall, before giving her role debut as Clarion in Richard Strauss’s Capriccio at Santa Fe Opera.
Graham’s earliest operatic successes were in such trouser roles as Cherubino in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Her technical expertise soon brought mastery of Mozart’s more virtuosic roles, like Sesto in La clemenza di Tito, Idamante in Idomeneo and Cecilio in Lucio Silla, as well as the title roles of Handel’s Ariodante and Xerxes. She went on to triumph in two iconic Richard Strauss mezzo roles, Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier and the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos. These brought her to prominence on all the world’s major opera stages, including the Met, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, Covent Garden, Paris Opera, La Scala, Bavarian State Opera, Vienna State Opera and the Salzburg Festival, among many others. In addition to creating the role of Sister Helen Prejean in the world-premiere production of Dead Man Walking at San Francisco Opera, she sang the leading ladies in the Met’s world premieres of John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby and Tobias Picker’s An American Tragedy, and made her Dallas Opera debut as Tina in a new production of The Aspern Papers by Dominick Argento. As Houston Grand Opera’s Lynn Wyatt Great Artist, she starred as Prince Orlofsky in the company’s first staging of Die Fledermaus in 30 years, before heading an all-star cast as Sycorax in the Met’s Baroque pastiche The Enchanted Island and making her rapturously received musical theater debut in a new production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.
It was in an early Lyon production of Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict that Graham scored particular raves from the international press, and a triumph in the title role of Massenet’s Chérubin at Covent Garden sealed her operatic stardom. Further invitations to collaborate on French music were forthcoming from many of that repertoire’s preeminent conductors, including Sir Colin Davis, Charles Dutoit, James Levine and Seiji Ozawa. New productions of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride, Berlioz’s La damnation de Faust and Massenet’s Werther were mounted for the mezzo in New York, London, Paris, Chicago, San Francisco and beyond. She recently made title role debuts in Offenbach’s comic masterpieces La belle Hélène and The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein at Santa Fe Opera, along with proving herself the standout star of the Met’s star-studded revival of Berlioz’s Les Troyens, which was broadcast live to cinema audiences worldwide in the company’s celebrated “Live in HD” series. She also returned to the Met in the title role of Susan Stroman’s new production of Lehár’s The Merry Widow, before closing the season opposite Bryan Hymel in a new staging of Les Troyens by David McVicar at San Francisco Opera. She also headlined gala concerts at Los Angeles Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago, where she joined Jane Lynch, Renée Fleming, Ramsey Lewis and others to celebrate the company’s 60th anniversary.
Graham’s affinity for French repertoire has not been limited to the opera stage; it also serves as the foundation for her extensive concert and recital career. Such great cantatas and symphonic song cycles as Berlioz’s La mort de Cléopâtre and Les nuits d’été, Ravel’s Shéhérazade and Chausson’s Poème de l’amour et de la mer provide opportunities for collaborations with the world’s leading orchestras, and she makes regular appearances with the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Orchestre de Paris and London Symphony Orchestra. In 2013-14 Graham joined Bernard Haitink and the Boston Symphony for Shéhérazade in Boston and at Carnegie Hall. In the 2014-15 season she sang Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été with John Eliot Gardiner’s Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, and later joined the Royal Flemish Philharmonic for La mort de Cléopâtre. Finally she reunited with regular recital partner Malcolm Martineau for a West Coast tour and a season-closing recital in Classical Action’s Michael Palm Series.
Graham’s distinguished discography features all the works described above, as well as a series of lauded solo albums, including Un frisson français, a program of French song recorded with pianist Malcolm Martineau for Onyx; C’est ça la vie, c’est ça l’amour!, an album of 20th-century operetta rarities on Erato; and La Belle Époque, an award-winning collection of songs by Reynaldo Hahn with pianist Roger Vignoles, from Sony Classical. Among the mezzo’s additional honors are Musical America’s Vocalist of the Year and an Opera News Award. Gramophone magazine has dubbed her “America’s favorite mezzo.”