The “higher, leaner” sound of a soprano, with weight to spare – The Vacaville Reporter

While packing her suitcase on Monday, Othalie Graham neither sang nor hummed the words to several Wagner arias she will perform Saturday at the Empress Theater in Vallejo. She spoke the German text aloud or passed the words, including “Dich teure Halle” (You, dear hall) and “Du bist der Lenz” (You are the spring), in her mind.

By all accounts, the Philadelphia-area soprano, who will sing four Wagner tunes at the “Greatest Wagner Concert Ever!” from the Vallejo Center for the Arts! goes to his many recitals or opera productions in the United States or abroad well-prepared and with an open mind to “find new things” about a particular song or role.

“It will be a new conductor (Thomas Conlin) and a new orchestra (The Vallejo Festival Orchestra),” she said in a telephone interview Monday morning. “And every time I get on stage and sing Wagner, it’s going to be the biggest Wagner concert ever. I’ve been training with my (voice) coach. I’ll be ready when I get there.

Graham, married with one son, is a dramatic soprano. In the world of opera, this means that it is suited to the music of Wagner, who most often requires his soprano leaders to sing with jolts of power, with voices that tend to be heavy, dark and less agile but with a lot of weight, thrust and ballast.

“It’s definitely powerful,” she said of her vocal range, which is also a perfect fit for one of her signature roles, as the lead in Puccini’s “Turandot.” “I don’t have one of the darkest big voices. Mine is a higher pitched and lighter sound.

She likens her sound to that of her operatic heroine, Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson, whose voice of unparalleled power is still widely considered the gold standard for dramatic operatic roles.

Internationally acclaimed dramatic soprano Othalie Graham of Philadelphia, seen as Minnie in a production of Puccini’s “Girl of the Golden West,” with tenor Roy Cornelius Smith as Dick Johnson, will perform several Wagner arias on Saturday at the ” Greatest Best” from the Vallejo Center for the Arts. Wagner concert forever! at the Empress Theater in Vallejo. (Photo by Reed Hummel)

“My voice is definitely rich and beautiful, but I’m not trying to make it something it’s not,” added Graham, who is from Toronto, Canada, the daughter of a Jamaican father and a Canadian mother.

Calling herself a “playing singer”, she said audiences should not expect the thunder of a spear-carrying Brunnhilde from Wagner’s famous opera “Die Walkure” in the four-opera cycle “Ring”, but , in collaboration with Conlin, arias that highlight “a shimmering and higher sound”, such as “Dich teure Halle”, Elizabeth’s melody in “Tannhauser”, the “Liebestod” (Dead Love) from “Tristan and Isolde “, “Du bist der Lenz” and “Der Manner Sippe” (my husband’s parents), the songs of Sieglinde’s character in “Die Walkure”.

While Wagner remains a controversial composer in terms of his personal life and socio-political views, the 19th-century German composer “changed the way opera was done,” Graham said of his appeal, adding that his operas tend to be “composed,” without noticeable pauses and often seem to lack a tonal center. one of the world’s greatest cultural achievements.

Wagnerian singers spend “hours and hours on stage,” demanding that performers be “vocal athletes,” Graham said, adding, “You have to do that in (Verdi’s) ‘Turandot’ and ‘Aida’ too. “

As the United States begins to emerge from a two-year pandemic that included shutdowns and slowdowns, she said her work life was “incredibly difficult” during this time.

“I didn’t have a job,” said Graham, who performed this year in “Cavalleria Rusticana” with Vancouver Opera; sang Verdi and Strauss with the Traverse (Mich.) Symphony; sang the role of Freia in “Das Rheingold” with the Nashville Opera; and sang lead in a concert version of “Turandot” with the Evansville (Ind.) Symphony Orchestra, among others.

In the early months of the pandemic, she cared for her cancer-stricken mother and recalled “refrigerated trucks” housing dead COVID patients in New York and Philadelphia. “Not having a job was a disaster,” she said.

Like many opera singers, Graham continues to work with a vocal coach “who has good ears”.

“You’re going to see a trainer who knows the repertoires,” she added. “Sometimes more than one”, to keep your voice in shape week after week, month after month, year after year.

Addressing the issue of placing black singers in traditional roles for white singers, Graham believes “things are looking up” for minority singers, but “we don’t want people to be color blind”.

Citing her work with companies in Michigan, Ohio and North Carolina, she said: “Yes, things are improving, but we still have a long way to go.”

Yet she said “nibbles” from major opera companies, including San Francisco, The Met, Houston Grand and Chicago Lyric, were non-existent, which is somewhat surprising since Graham is known for her commitment to the repertoire. Wagnerian. A Boston Globe reviewer, reviewing one of his performances, noted that “his timbre and power were thrilling – with a ring of steel from top to bottom”.

Graham (Contributing photo - Othalie Graham)
Graham (Contributing photo – Othalie Graham)

Reflecting on her finest moment as an opera singer, in a particular performance, on a particular night, Graham said, “I think it’s probably singing in Sicily”, with Italian tenor Marcello Giordani in a staging of “Aida” in an ancient Greek amphitheater that has seated thousands.

“The public really wants you to do well,” she recalled. “You have to feel the public. It was 10,000 degrees. I was in puddles of sweat, but the humidity is great for your voice. Everything worked. The high C. There was dead silence when I finished “O patria mia” (Oh, my homeland). I thought, ‘Uh, oh!’ Then they burst into bravas. I could have fainted. At the very end of the opera, we went out together. I burst into tears because it was so emotionally overwhelming. I felt really good. These are moments that we do not forget. »

In addition to Graham’s tunes, the concert will also include excerpts from “Lohengrin”, “The Flying Dutchman” and “Die Meistersinger von Nuremberg”.

Conlin has conducted symphonic and operatic performances on five continents. His recording of American composer George Crumb’s orchestral masterpiece, “Star-Child”, with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, choir and soloists won a Grammy Award, and his recordings of the Brazilian composer’s piano concertos Camargo Guarnieri have been praised in American and international publications. .

The Vallejo Festival Orchestra made its 2020 debut at the Vallejo Center for the Arts’ presentation at the Empress Theater of “Three Tenors! – the next generation.”

Vallejo Center for the Arts
“The greatest Wagner concert of all time!”
7:30 p.m. Saturday
Empress Theater
330 Virginia Street, Vallejo
Tickets: $25 to $113.40
Reserved seats only, at
(707) 552-2400

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