Susanna Phillips to Sing at Aspen, Vail, Ravinia, Verbier and Bordeaux; World Premiere at Twickenham
Susanna Phillips heads straight from her European debut at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona into a busy and wide-ranging summer that takes her from France to the Aspen, Vail, Ravinia, and Verbier festivals, as well as to the soprano’s own Twickenham Fest in her native Alabama. Mozart looms large in Phillips’s summer schedule: she tackles the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro at France’s Opéra National de Bordeaux (June) and Switzerland’s Verbier Festival (July), and takes on Ilia in Mozart’s Idomeneo at Chicago’s Ravinia Festival (Aug 17, 19). Also on tap are chamber concerts at Colorado’s Bravo Vail Valley Music Festival of Brahms and Mendelssohn (July 9), plus a “Gypsy Affair” soirée (July 10); and Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 at the Aspen Festival (July 13). One of the summer’s most thought-provoking performances will surely be the world premiere of a song cycle by American composer William Harvey based on poetry by Afghan women at Twickenham Fest in August.
Phillips, winner of the Metropolitan Opera’s 2010 Beverly Sills Artist Award, continues to win praise for her performances in coloratura roles such as Lucia di Lammermoor. Of her latest outing as Lucia, at Minnesota Opera in March, the Star Tribune wrote, “Possessing an opulent instrument, Phillips has all the agility her role requires. But she is no wind-up nightingale: her coloratura is about communication, not display. Her quiet singing, with its floated, otherworldly high notes, is exquisite; her acting, lit with intelligence, is charismatic enough to hold the audience’s gaze through her quarter-hour mad scene.” After she sang the same role in October, the Chicago Tribune’s John von Rhein observed, “Such technical aplomb allied to such radiant sound is a precious commodity.”
The summer gets into full swing for Phillips in June as she heads for France to sing five performances as the Countess in Laurent Laffargue’s new production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro at the Opéra National de Bordeaux, conducted by Mikhail Tatarnikov. In July, she heads for Colorado’s Bravo Vail Valley Music Festival, where she will sing songs by Mendelssohn and Brahms on a chamber program with violist Paul Neubauer, pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, and members of the Philadelphia Orchestra (July 9). Neubauer and McDermott will rejoin the soprano on the following evening at Vail for a soirée entitled “A Gypsy Affair” (July 10). Phillips will anchor a program at Aspen Music Festival (July 13), performing Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 with the Aspen Chamber Symphony led by Robert Spano. She sings a single performance as the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro at the Verbier Festival (July 21) where her colleagues will include Sylvia Schwartz (Susanna), Gábor Bretz (Figaro), Joshua Hopkins (Almaviva), and Daniela Mack (Cherubino), with Paul McCreesh on the podium.
In August, Phillips returns to the U.S. for more Mozart, when she takes on the role of Ilia in two performances of Mozart’s Idomeneo at the Ravinia Festival (Aug 17, 19), with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus led by James Conlon. Among her Ravinia colleagues will be Richard Croft in the title role, Tamara Wilson (Elettra), Ruxandra Donose (Idamante), Morris Robinson (Voice of the Oracle), Brian Mulligan (High Priest of Neptune), and Rodell Rosel (Arbace).
Later in August, Phillips returns to her hometown of Huntsville, Alabama to perform at Twickenham Fest, the festival she co-founded and runs there. On August 24 and 26, she will perform the world premiere of a new song cycle commissioned by Phillips and written for her by William Harvey, a violinist and composer who moved to Kabul in late 2009 to teach music in a program run by the Ministry of Education of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The song cycle, tentatively titled “Speaking for the Afghan Woman,” is believed to be the first Western classical song cycle written in Pashto or Dari and explores the question: who can really claim to speak for the Afghan woman? As Harvey describes it,
“The prelude takes its text not from a poem, but from a note given to me by the cousin of a former student (Marina). Marina studied violin with me when I first arrived in Afghanistan in 2010. She disappeared suddenly one day, without saying goodbye, and I heard that she had been removed from school to be engaged. She was 15 years old at the time. Many months later, her little cousin Farhad gave me a piece of paper on which Marina had done some strange drawings (a pierced heart, a candle) and written, in English and in Dari, the words ‘Love is Not a Sin’ (in Dari, ‘Ishq Gonah Neest’). I remain haunted by this, and puzzled by the message. What was Marina trying to tell me? I still don’t know, but her simple expression is very powerful in a country where romantic love is nearly always considered to be a sin.”
For the main body of the song cycle, each poem written in Dari by a famous Afghan female poet will be paired with a lundaye, a genre of folk poetry in Pashto. Harvey explains that although the lundaye “almost certainly” were written by men, many are about women or purport to be from the perspective of a woman. “By carefully selecting the lundaye,” Harvey explains, “I can comment on the disconnect between what men believe women should be and what they should feel, and what women actually are and what they actually feel.” In addition to performing the world premiere of Harvey’s song cycle, Phillips also features in her program Schumann’s Frauneliebe und -leben.
More Mozart is in the offing for Phillips in the 2012-13 season, when the soprano sings Donna Anna in Don Giovanni at the Metropolitan Opera (Nov-Dec), three performances of the Requiem with the Baltimore Symphony (Feb-March), as well as the Countess in Figaro (summer 2013).
Phillips will release two recordings in the coming months: a new CD of Poul Ruders’s opera A Handmaid’s Tale (Bridge Records) and a disc featuring music by Philip Lasser (Delos). The latter recording, with Margo Garrett as pianist, will include In Colors of Feelings, which Phillips sang at Alice Tully Hall in 2009, and Nicolette et Aucassin, a duet cycle with soprano Elizabeth Futral. She will record an album of Mozart arias in the coming months, also on the Bridge label.
Susanna Phillips – summer 2012 engagements and beyond
June 14, 17, 19, 21 & 23
Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro (Countess)
Opéra National de Bordeaux
Brahms and Mendelssohn songs
Bravo Vail Valley Music Festival
Paul Neubauer, viola; Anne-Marie McDermott, piano; members of the Philadelphia Orchestra
“A Gypsy Affair” soirée
Bravo Vail Valley Music Festival
Paul Neubauer, viola; Anne-Marie McDermott, piano
Barber: Knoxville: Summer of 1915
Edgar Meyer: Concerto for Violin and Double Bass
Schumann: Symphony No. 4
Aspen Music Festival
Aspen Chamber Symphony / Robert Spano
Edgar Meyer, bass; Joshua Bell, violin
Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro (Countess)*
Verbier Festival / Paul McCreesh
*Also broadcast live on medici.tv
Aug 17, 19
Highland Park, IL
Mozart: Idomeneo (Ilia)
Ravinia Festival / James Conlon
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
William Harvey (world premiere): “Speaking for the Afghan Woman” song cycle
Schumann: Frauenliebe und -leben
Nov 28, Dec 1, 5, 8, 11, 15 & 20
New York, NY
Mozart: Don Giovanni (Donna Anna)
Metropolitan Opera / Edward Gardner
Feb 28, March 2, 3 (2013)
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra / Marin Alsop
March 26, 29, April 3 & 6 (2013)
Previn: A Streetcar Named Desire (Stella)
Lyric Opera of Chicago / Evan Rogister