They're baaaack -- finally! After dazzling Asia during their 2012 fall tour, Maestro Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony will resume their places on the Davies Hall stage with an enticing set of French-themed concerts featuring two great American singers -- soprano Renee Fleming and mezzo-soprano Susan Graham.
Fleming will serve as soloist for four concerts focused on the music of Debussy, the highlight of which will be the world premiere of a San Francisco Symphony commissioned reorchestration by composer Robin Holloway of 10 songs Claude Debussy set to poems by 19th-century symbolist poet Paul Verlaine. Titled "C'est l'extase" after one of the songs, the set includes the six that Debussy entitled "Ariettes oubliées." Fleming will also sing selections from Marie-Joseph Canteloube's "Chants d'Auvergne." Completing this lush all-French program will be the orchestral renditions of Debussy's "Jeux" and "La Mer."
Performances are at 8 p.m. on Jan. 10-12 and at 2 p.m. Jan. 13. Tickets range from $15 to $150. Call 415-864-6000 or go to www.sfsymphony.org.
Fortunately, for those of us who just can't seem to get enough of superlative singing, there's more: At 7 p.m. Jan. 16, Graham, who just happens to be one of Fleming's best friends, will join Fleming and pianist Bradley Moore on the Davies stage for a recital featuring more French songs. Among the evening's Gallic jewels will be Berlioz' "La mort d'Ophélie"; Messager's "Blanche-Marie et Marie-Blanche" from his "Les p'tites Michu"; Offenbach's lovely lady duet, the "Barcarolle" from his "Les contes d'Hoffmann" and the magical-sounding "Duo des fleurs" from Delibes' opera, "Lakme." Additional works on the program will be songs by Chausson, Debussy, Saint-Saens, Faure and more.
Tickets range from $15 to $118. Call 415-864-600 or go to www.sfsymphony.org.
Fleming, who was born in Pennsylvania and reared in Rochester, N.Y., is remarkably versatile as a musician and a human being. She is blessed with a creamy, lyric soprano voice that can handle chanson, cabaret and bel canto with ample flexibility to sail through the latter genre's coloratura trills. Her repertoire ranges through a variety of operatic styles to jazz and all the way to indie rock.
In person, she is elegantly gracious yet down-to-earth and approachable. As such, she is often tapped to host television and radio broadcasts. She was also a featured singer at international events from a Nobel Peace Prize ceremony to the Beijing Olympic Games or on the Buckingham Palace balcony during Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee celebrations. She is also a three-time Grammy winner and has recently been nominated for a 2013 Grammy award for best classical vocal solo. She has even provided the vocals for a number of film soundtracks, including "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" and Steven Spielberg's animated "The Adventures of Tintin." In addition to being a dedicated mom to two daughters from a former marriage, she has recently married corporate lawyer Tim Jessell. She also has a knack for lasting friendships, including one with Graham. The two are no strangers onstage, either, having performed together in Strauss' opera "Der Rosenkavalier" twice in New York, first in 2000 and then again in a 2009 revival production.
The statuesque Graham, who looks like the quintessential all-American girl with her bright eyes and broad smile, was born in Roswell, N.M., and raised in Midland, Texas. After graduating from Texas Tech University and the Manhattan School of Music, she entered San Francisco Opera's Merola Program and ultimately won its Schwabacher Award, as well as the Metropolitan Opera's National Council Auditions.
During an interview at Davies Symphony Hall a few years back, she said that all the women in her family are musical -- her mother played the piano and her older sister was the first person to give her piano lessons. Her only brother is more athletic, like her late father.
"I got my musical ability from my mother and my lung power from my dad," she said. "He was a coach for a team and could holler so loud that he could be heard across a big field." Graham, too, has won many international honors, including the French Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2001. She has also won Musical America's 2004 Vocalist of the Year award, a 2004 Grammy Award, and in 2005, the Opera News Award, and she's in demand by most of the world's major symphony orchestras and opera companies. Yet, in typical all-American-girl fashion, she expressed absolute delight in telling me that Midland, Texas, had designated Sept. 5 annually as Susan Graham Day.
Contact Cheryl North at email@example.com.