Blog / Larger Than Life: Susan Graham

Larger Than Life: Susan Graham

Posted on 23 Jun 2015 by Leo Messias


“Most opera divas don’t do their errands on bikes, especially in New York City. Nor do they scuba-dive off the coast of Thailand. But to creamy-voiced Susan Graham, one of America’s top mezzo-sopranos, such activities come as naturally as recording the music of composer Ned Rorem, performing Kurt Weill’s Broadway songs or taking on the so-called trouser roles in Mozart, Handel and Strauss operas…” Town & Country

Almost everything about Susan Graham, the feistiest mezzo-soprano on the world scene today, is larger than life: her talent, her laugh, her heart and, of course, the woman herself. Just shy of six feet tall, the down-to-earth and super-friendly Graham is the people’s diva and is also one of the most engaging musicians in classical music. Graham has sung at inaugurations for Presidents, picked up a Grammy, been a delegate for UNESCO, and had a day named after her in home state of Texas – a sure sign of the effect that she’s had, and the affection in which she is held by audiences, composers, musicians and fellow Texans!

For a country girl, growing up in rural Texas, 300 miles from the nearest opera house, Susan Graham calls herself the oddity in the family. Graham says, “I didn’t grow up knowing that these kinds of careers existed. I became an opera singer because it seemed impossible and I loved music.”


Susan Graham as Marguerite in Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust. Photo: Ken Howard

She has gone on to become not only “America’s favourite mezzo”, but also revered around the world as a compelling and versatile singing actress. Graham first came to prominence in the so-called ‘trouser’ roles, her performances sealing her operatic stardom, while at the same time mastering an astonishing range of repertoire and formats. From recitals to title roles on the world’s great opera stages, Graham is a singer universally loved for her expressive tone and heartfelt performances. She’s sung at the Met, Milan’s La Scala, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Opéra National de Paris, performing some of the great tragediennes in Gluck, Handel and Berlioz operas.

Susan Graham has been influential in the creation of new American opera too. She created the role of Sister Helen Prejean in Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking for the San Francisco Opera, and created leading roles in two Metropolitan Opera world premieres, An American Tragedy by Tobias Picker and The Great Gatsby by John Harbison.

Graham says “My choices of repertoire have all been governed by whether or not the role and the music speak to me. If I don’t love it, I can’t commit myself to it. The main thread is musical integrity and if it has a musical lyricism and a singability. I’m a sucker for a nice melody – I love a good tune!”


Graham in one of her ‘trouser roles’ – the title role of Handel’s Ariodante Mezzo.

Graham has a love of all things French, and her affinity for French repertoire has not been limited to the opera stage, and serves as the foundation for her extensive concert and recital career. For her performance of, and commitment to French music, Graham was made a Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur, dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, one of France’s most prestigious awards, an honour she has in common with Rudolph Nureyev, Philip Glass and Cate Blanchett. The French simply love Susan Graham and her interpretation of French music.

Susan Graham arrives in Australia fresh from a string of phenomenal successes, most recently having conquered that ‘Mount Everest’ of a role, Didon, in Berlioz’ Les Troyens at the San Francisco Opera.

In this intimate concert with musicians from the ACO, Graham appears as vocal soloist in a program of personal favourites from La Belle Époque. She sings Ravel’s settings of three poems by Stéphane Mallarmé, whom he considered to be France’s greatest Symbolist French poet, along with Respighi’s setting of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s lyric poem, The Sunset.

11-22 July

America’s favourite mezzo-soprano joins the ACO in a delightful concert featuring French classics.

RAVEL Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé
RAVEL Piano Trio in A minor
RESPIGHI Il tramonto
FRANCK Piano Quintet in F minor