Susan Graham in Debut as Handel’s Xerxes at Houston Grand Opera
So far this season, Susan Graham has triumphed in Berlioz’s Damnation de Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago, in Strauss’s Rosenkavalier at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, in Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder with the San Francisco Symphony, and in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas on a West Coast tour. Now the Grammy Award-winning mezzo returns to her native Texas for a climactic challenge: singing the tyrannical, flamboyant title role of Handel’s Xerxes at Houston Grand Opera, from April 30 to May 14.
A renowned Handelian, Graham enjoyed tremendous success in her 2008 performances of Handel’s Ariodante in San Francisco. The Wall Street Journal wrote of her Ariodante: “There can be few living singers who can do such spellbinding justice both to Handel’s stark emotions and his heavenly music as Susan Graham… . She was totally compelling both in romantic ecstasy and in abject dismay.” The San Francisco Chronicle joined in the praise, adding that her performance “was marked by nobility and technical bravura. Her coloratura execution was flawless, and the expressive depth of her ‘Scherza infida’ was, if anything, even more astonishing.”
For Xerxes at Houston Grand Opera, Graham will star in Nicholas Hytner’s Laurence Olivier Award-winning production – lauded during its original English National Opera run as “London’s most successful Handel staging ever” (Guardian, U.K). The Times of London called the production “a revelation.” Graham will portray the Persian “king of kings”, the love-struck Xerxes (Serse in the Italian), who opens the opera with what is probably the most famous non-religious aria in Handel’s vast output. Sometimes known as a love song to a tree, “Ombra mai fù” is the melody long referred to in instrumental arrangements as Handel’s “Largo”.
The performances at the Brown Theater of Houston’s Wortham Theater Center will feature an all-star cast, which also includes countertenor David Daniels as Xerxes’s brother and romantic rival, Arsamene. Soprano Laura Claycomb will play the dual love interest, Romilda. The rest of the Xerxes cast includes Sonia Prina, Heidi Stober, Philip Cutlip, and Adam Cioffari, with William Lacey conducting and stage direction by Michael Walling the stage director.
Singing Chausson with the New York Philharmonic
Graham closes her 2010 season with the New York Philharmonic under Sir Andrew Davis, performing Chausson’s lush Poème de l’amour et de la mer on June 3-5 at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall. She recorded the half-hour orchestral song sequence with the BBC Symphony and Yan Pascal Tortelier, as part of her 2005 Warner Classics album, Poèmes de l’Amour. James Jolly, when selecting the disc as a monthly “Editor’s Choice” in Gramophone magazine, wrote: “Chausson’s Poème de l’amour is one of those overwhelmingly Romantic outpourings that is seldom heard in the concert hall and not frequently enough on record. But with a version of such sumptuous color, …Chausson’s work receives a performance that some of us have only dreamed of.” In its glowing review, BBC Music magazine added: “In his song sequence, Chausson became the ultimate musical poet of adolescent splendors and miseries. Susan Graham charts the progress from hope to quietly desperate loss with merciless emotional truth and fine sensitivity to nuances of language, darkening her timbre as anticipation turns to dismay, and intensifying at the approaching ‘inexprimable horreur’.”