Susan Graham a Happy Camper as the ‘Duchess’

By Mike Silverman

Ask Susan Graham how she reacted when Santa Fe Opera first offered her the title role in Offenbach’s “The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein.”

“Do I still have the bruises?” she replies, extending her right arm in jest. “I didn’t want to do it. They twisted my arm for two years!”

Eventually she gave in, and this summer she’s headlining a campy new production of the 1867 operetta, which satirizes militaristic war-mongering and political corruption and depicts a royal ruler whose sex drive is in overdrive. Director Lee Blakeley has updated the setting from a fictional 18th century duchy to 20th century America and written new English-language dialogue, filled with mild double entendres (think “privates on parade”).

Graham, one of America’s leading mezzo-sopranos for nearly a quarter-century, has scored some of her greatest triumphs in serious roles (Dido in Berlioz’s “Les Troyens,” Sesto in Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito”), but she has also done light opera, from Lehar’s “The Merry Widow” to Offenbach’s “La Belle Helene.”

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