As one promising young singer after another parlays classical training into pop fame and fortune, it's refreshing to see an up-and-comer like Susan Graham keeping her sights set on opera. Graham, one of the finest lyric mezzo-sopranos to emerge in the past two decades, belongs in the company of tenor Thomas Hampson, soprano Dawn Upshaw, and other such robustly confident American classical vocalists. She started singing in church while growing up in Texas; in the mid-80s she attended the Manhattan School of Music. She won her first Metropolitan Opera audition ten years ago, and by the early 90s she was singing major roles there to glowing reviews. She's sung Mozart and Richard Strauss--at the Lyric this fall she'll be playing the Composer in the latter's Ariadne auf Naxos--but as heard on her debut solo CD, a valentine to Berlioz, her heart's in French music. Along with his famous arias, Graham takes on Berlioz's song cycle Les nuits d'ete; the six tunes, with texts by Theophile Gaultier (a poet as morbid as Berlioz himself), epitomize the overarching grandeur and opiate sensuality of the Romantic style. Graham's rich, supple voice and elegant phrasing convey with easy conviction the mix of sweet and sultry, rapture and melancholy. The CD was recorded with the Royal Opera House orchestra under John Nelson; Graham will reprise Les nuits d'ete this weekend with the even more talented but considerably less Francophile Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under Dutch maestro Edo de Waart. Saturday, 8 PM, pavilion, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 847-266-5100. TED SHEN
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Lisa Kohler.