Mezzo-Sopranos Specialize in Opera's Meatier, Darker Roles

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Susan Graham and Placido Domingo in a scene from Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride

Mezzo-sopranos role in opera are the witches, bitches and britches. Think Ulrica in A Masked Ball, Eboli in Don Carlo and Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro. They can also be the soprano’s best gal pal, her faithful confident — and sometimes, her competition.

If tenors and sopranos can be demanding and high strung, mezzo-sopranos tend to be more grounded.

Today we ask what makes a mezzo a mezzo, straight from two experts on the subject: Marilyn Horne and her special guest Susan Graham.

But, Parterre Box's James Jorden says when you mix a mezzo with a soprano, the results can be explosive! (“Two divas Faustina Bordoni and Francesca Cuzzoni got into a wig-pulling cat fight right there on stage.”)

From this week's newscast: Are opera and ballet elitist? This Monday, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden and the Telegraph newspaper in London will be hosting a debate, streamed live on the Internet, which will look at this question. The webcast can be viewed here.


Music in the Susan Graham Interview

Ned Rorem (b. 1923)

 “O you whom I often and silently come (Whitman)

Susan Graham, mezzo soprano

Malcolm Martineau, piano

Warner Classics  2564 69879-8


Prokofiev Alexander Nevsky, Op. 78

Kirov Orchestra and Chorus

Valery Gergiev

Olga Borodina, mezzo soprano

Philips 473600


Faure:  “Pleurs d’or. Op. 71

Text:  Albert Samain

Renee Fleming and Susan Graham

Bradley Moore, piano

Carnegie Hall Recital Broadcast


Mozart:  Cosi fan tutte “Ah, guarda, sorella”

Renee Fleming and Susan Graham

Bradley Moore, piano

Carnegie Hall Recital Broadcast


Handel: Alcina

Les Arts Florissants

William Christie

Alcina:  Renée Fleming

Ruggiero: Susan Graham

Bradamante:  Kathleen Kuhlmann

Erato 8573-80233-2


Other Music Featured in this Episode

Verdi:  Oberto Conte di San Bonifacio

“Un giorno dolce nel core . . .  Piu che i vezzi e lo splendore”
Broadcast of December 8, 1952

Symphony Orchestra of Torino of Italian Radio/Television

Oliviero de Fabritiis

Ebe Stignani

Cetra CDMR 5024


Handel:  Rinaldo

“Fermati!  No, crudel!”

Metropolitan Opera Orchestra

James Levine

Leontyne Price

Marilyn Horne

RCA Red Seal RCD24609