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. A familiar face at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, she also maintains a strong international presence at such key venues as Paris’ Théâtre du Châtelet, the Sydney Opera House, Santa Fe Opera and the Hollywood Bowl. 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, she 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 2017-18 season, Graham sings Berlioz’s La damnation de Faust with the Boston Symphony under Charles Dutoit. After reprising her star turn in the title role of Susan Stroman’s take on Lehár’s The Merry Widow at the Met, she joins Nathan Gunn for Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti at Lyric Opera of Chicago, in a special production to mark the composer’s 100th birthday. To conclude the operatic season, she makes her title role debut opposite James Morris in Marc Blitzstein’s 1948 opera Regina at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Back at the Boston Symphony, she joins Andris Nelsons for Mahler’s Third Symphony, which is also the vehicle for her summer collaborations with the orchestra at Tanglewood and in Europe. Besides reuniting with Dutoit for Ravel’s Shéhérazade at the San Francisco Symphony, she graces a gala concert to celebrate Tulsa Opera’s 70th anniversary and gives solo recitals at Atlanta’s Emory University and the Washington University in St. Louis.
Last season, Graham partnered Renée Fleming for the San Francisco Symphony’s opening-night gala and joined Anna Netrebko, Plácido Domingo, and a host of other luminaries to celebrate the Metropolitan Opera’s five decades at its Lincoln Center home. Having created the role of Sister Helen Prejean in the world premiere production of Dead Man Walking, she starred in Washington National Opera’s revival of the opera, making her triumphant role debut as the convict’s mother. She returned to Santa Fe Opera as Prince Orlofsky in a new production of Johann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus and reprised her signature portrayal of Dido in Berlioz’s Les Troyens at Chicago’s Lyric Opera. Her concert highlights included selections from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn at Carnegie Hall and from Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne with the Philadelphia Orchestra, as well as a star-studded Der Rosenkavalier at the Boston Symphony. She gave U.S. recitals of “Frauenliebe und-leben Variations,” her program inspired by the Schumann song cycle, and expanded her discography with Nonesuch Records’ DVD/Blu-ray release of William Kentridge’s new treatment of Berg’s Lulu, which captures her celebrated role debut as Countess Geschwitz at the Met.
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 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 its 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, as well as proving herself the standout star of the Met’s star-studded revival of Les Troyens, which was broadcast live to cinema audiences worldwide in the company’s celebrated “Live in HD” series. Graham’s affinity for French repertoire has not been limited to the opera stage, also serving 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.
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 numerous honors are Musical America’s Vocalist of the Year and an Opera News Award, while Gramophone magazine has dubbed her “America’s favorite mezzo.”