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Music review: Susan Graham at the Valley Performing Arts Center

January 19, 2012 | 12:15 pm

Kent Nagano Susan Graham Montreal Concert Review

Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham inhabited many fascinating women, from the Virgin Mary to Lady Macbeth, in her splendid recital Wednesday at the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge. She drew all vividly and credibly, singing with vocal poise and silvery tone, and interpreting the texts with detailed, knowing emphasis.

But Graham got most personal in Ben Moore’s “Sexy Lady.” Composed for her, this jazzy song, with witty wordplay and musical quotations, bemoans the cross-dressing roles that mezzos such as Graham often take on. (Who would have expected anyone to rhyme “David Daniels” with “cocker spaniel”?) Even the role Jake Heggie wrote for her, she joked from the stage, Sister Helen Prejean in the opera “Dead Man Walking,” was “a sexless nun.”

Well, she wants the world to know that there’s lots of fire within.

But first came the “good girls” — the Virgin, Ophelia and Goethe’s Mignon in settings by six different composers, all presented in a svelte white gown. She sang Purcell’s “The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation” with restrained grace. Berlioz’s delicate “La Mort d’Ophélie” was poignant. The settings of Mignon by Schubert, Schumann, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Duparc and Wolf grew increasingly dramatic and expansive.

Switching to an off-the-shoulder, black, spangled gown for Part 2, Graham turned to the bad girls and “girls with questionable morals.” Worst of the lot: Shakespeare’s Lady, in an intense, declamatory setting by British composer Joseph Horowitz. But relief came in varied, ingenious character etchings in Poulenc’s “Whimsical Betrothal.” Three lighter pieces, including Cole Porter’s “The Physician,” ended with Moore’s sexy portrait in a very sexy delivery. Point made.

Throughout, pianist Malcolm Martineau was an inspired collaborator.                                                    

Encores included Mary Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim’s “The Boy From ...,” a parody of “The Girl From Ipanema,” and her favorite song, Reynaldo Hahn’s “À Chloris.”


More classical music reviews from the Los Angeles Times

— Chris Pasles

Photo: Susan Graham. Credit: Dario Acosta