Opera San Jose's Three Decembers
Susan Graham – hailed as “an artist to treasure” by the New York Times – rose to the highest echelon of international performers within just a few years of her professional debut, mastering an astonishing range of repertoire and genres along the way. Her operatic roles span four centuries, from Monteverdi’s Poppea to Sister Helen Prejean in Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, which was written especially for her. A familiar face at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, she also maintains a strong international presence at such key venues as Paris’s Théâtre du Châtelet, Santa Fe Opera and the Hollywood Bowl. She won a Grammy Award for her collection of Ives songs, and has also been recognized throughout her career as one of the foremost exponents of French vocal music. Although a native of Texas, she was awarded the French government’s prestigious “Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur,” both for her popularity as a performer in France and in honor of her commitment to French music. She currently serves as the Artistic Advisor to LA Opera’s young artist program.
Graham’s earliest operatic successes were in such trouser roles as Cherubino in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Her technical expertise soon brought mastery of Mozart’s more virtuosic roles, like Sesto in La clemenza di Tito, Idamante in Idomeneo and Cecilio in Lucio Silla, as well as the title roles of Handel’s Ariodante and Xerxes. She went on to triumph in two iconic Richard Strauss mezzo roles, Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier and the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos. These brought her to prominence on all the world’s major opera stages, including the Met, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, Covent Garden, Paris Opera, La Scala, Bavarian State Opera, Vienna State Opera and the Salzburg Festival, among many others. In addition to creating the role of Sister Helen Prejean at San Francisco Opera, she starred in Washington National Opera’s recent revival of Dead Man Walking, making her triumphant role debut as the convict’s mother. She also sang the leading ladies in the Met’s world premieres of John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby and Tobias Picker’s An American Tragedy, and made her Dallas Opera debut as Tina in a new production of The Aspern Papers by Dominick Argento. As Houston Grand Opera’s Lynn Wyatt Great Artist, she starred as Prince Orlofsky in the company’s first staging of Die Fledermaus in 30 years, before heading an all-star cast as Sycorax in the Met’s Baroque pastiche The Enchanted Island and making her rapturously received musical theater debut in a new production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.
It was in an early Lyon production of Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict that Graham scored particular raves from the international press, and a triumph in the title role of Massenet’s Chérubin at Covent Garden sealed her operatic stardom. Further invitations to collaborate on French music were forthcoming from many of its preeminent conductors, including Sir Colin Davis, Charles Dutoit, James Levine and Seiji Ozawa. New productions of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride, Berlioz’s La damnation de Faust and Massenet’s Werther were mounted for the mezzo in New York, London, Paris, Chicago, San Francisco and beyond. More recently, she made title role debuts in Offenbach’s comic masterpieces La belle Hélène and The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein at Santa Fe Opera, as well as proving herself the standout star of the Met’s star-studded revival of Les Troyens, which was broadcast live to cinema audiences worldwide in the company’s celebrated “Live in HD” series. Graham’s affinity for French repertoire has not been limited to the opera stage, also serving as the foundation for her extensive concert and recital career. Such great cantatas and symphonic song cycles as Berlioz’s La mort de Cléopâtre and Les nuits d’été, Ravel’s Shéhérazade and Chausson’s Poème de l’amour et de la mer provide opportunities for collaborations with the world’s leading orchestras, and she makes regular appearances with the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Orchestre de Paris and London Symphony Orchestra.
Graham recently expanded her distinguished discography with Nonesuch Records’ DVD/Blu-ray release of William Kentridge’s new treatment of Berg’s Lulu, which captures her celebrated role debut as Countess Geschwitz at the Met. She has also recorded all the works described above, as well as appearing on a series of lauded solo albums, including Virgins, Vixens & Viragos on the Onyx label, featuring songs and arias by composers from Purcell to Sondheim; Un frisson français, a program of French song recorded with pianist Malcolm Martineau, also for Onyx; C’est ça la vie, c’est ça l’amour!, an album of 20th-century operetta rarities on Erato; and La Belle Époque, an award-winning collection of songs by Reynaldo Hahn with pianist Roger Vignoles, from Sony Classical. Among the mezzo’s numerous honors are Musical America’s Vocalist of the Year and an Opera News Award, while Gramophone magazine has dubbed her “America’s favorite mezzo.”
Indian-American soprano Maya Kherani has been lauded for her vibrant voice and exciting characterizations in repertoire from the Baroque to the modern. Upcoming projects include a debut at the Festival d'Aix-en- Provence as DRUSILLA/FORTUNA for L’incoronazione di Poppea with Mo. Alarcon, Messiah with Mo. Pearlman Boston Baroque, SUSANNA Le Nozze di Figaro Opera San Jose, as well as PAMINA Die Zauberflöte and GILDA Rigoletto Opera Modesto.
This past season's engagements included POLLY PEACHUM The Threepenny Opera West Edge Opera, ROSINA Cinnabar Theater, Laura Kaminsky’s Today It Rains Opera Parallèle, the title role of PARTENOPE Opera NEO, MUSETTA La Bohème West Bay Opera and her European debut with the Fondazione Giorgio Cini – Seminari di Musica Antica singing the modern-world première of French Baroque works from Caribbean. She then returned this past February to sing in a follow-up program, directed by Mr. Memelsdorff and Vivica Genaux.
Recent seasons featured Kherani’s mainstage company debut as DESPINA in Così fan tutte Opera San Jose, where she also sang LISETTE in La Rondine, ALTISIDORE in Boismortier’s Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse at Central City Opera, her debut in the role of MEERA in the world première of Jack Perla’s River of Light Houston Grand Opera (HGOco), BRITOMARTE in Martín y Soler’s L’arbore di Diana (The Chastity Tree) West Edge Opera, JILL in the world première of Jack and Jill and the Happening Hill Salt Marsh Opera, the title role of SEMELE Pocket Opera, and FRASQUITA Carmen West Bay Opera. Other premières include Neil Rolnick’s Anosmia, released by Innova Records in 2013, and Dante de Silva’s “graphic opera” Gesualdo with Opera Parallèle. A passionate interpreter of early music, Kherani has been featured with the American Bach Soloists, the San Francisco Bach Choir, the Amherst Early Music Festival, Early Music Vancouver, and the American Handel Society Festival.
Kherani’s numerous awards include semi-finalist in the 2020 Glyndebourne Cup, the 2015 McGlone Award from Central City Opera, 1st Place and Audience Favorite at the James Toland Vocal Competition, 2nd Place at the Peter Elvins Vocal Competition the Kalvelage Award at West Bay Opera’s Holt Competition, two Encouragement Awards from the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and the top overall Barlow Award at the San Francisco Bay Area NATS competition, where she also won 1st Place in both the Professional Art Song and Aria categories.
Kherani graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University with a B.S.E. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and certificates (minors) in Music Performance, Materials Science, and Robotics and Intelligent Systems. At Princeton, she received the Isidore and Helen Sacks Award for excellence in Music Performance and was a dancer and choreographer for Naacho South Asian Dance Company and a member and soloist in the Princeton University Glee Club. She holds a Master of Music degree with honors from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and a Professional Certificate from the Boston University Opera Institute.
The San Francisco Chronicle exclaims, “For theatrical charisma and musical bravado, it would be hard to top the performance of baritone Efraín Solís.” He is a recent graduate of the San Francisco Opera Adler Fellowship and while with the company, sang his first performances of Papageno in Die Zauberflöte, Dandini in La cenerentola, Schaunard in La Bohème, Silvano in Un ballo in maschera, Sciarrone in Tosca, and Prince Yamadori in Madama Butterfly. In the 2020/21 Season, he joins Opera San Jose as Figaro in Le nozze di Figaro and Charlie in Heggie’s Three Decembers. Future engagements include a return to Opera Southwest, originally scheduled for this season. Last season, he returned to Utah Opera as Lieutenant Audebert in Puts’ Silent Night and Virginia Opera as Di Cosimo in Catán’s Il postino in joining the Cincinnati Song Initiative for a program of songs by Granados and Turina. His debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic as the Peasant in Schönberg’s Gurrelieder and return to the role of Schaunard in La Bohème with Fort Worth Opera were unfortunately cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic.
He joined Houston Grand Opera’s HGOCo, New York City Opera, and El Paso Opera as Mark in Martinez’s Cruzar la cara de la luna. Other recent performances for the baritone include Mercutio in Roméo et Juliette with Utah Opera, Opera Carolina, Virginia Opera, and Toledo Opera; Figaro in Le nozze di Figaro with Opera Memphis and Livermore Valley Opera; Slook in La cambiale di matrimonio with Nicholas McGegan conducting Philharmonia Baroque; El Payador in Piazzola’s Maria de Buenos Aires with Opera Southwest, Golaud in Pelléas et Mélisande and Glass’ Hydrogen Jukebox with West Edge Opera; Fiesque in Maria di Rohan with Washington Concert Opera, Gaspar in Rita with the New Century Chamber Orchestra, and Dick in Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock with Opera Saratoga. He joined both Opera Delaware and Baltimore Concert Opera for concerts of opera favorites.
Solis sang his first performances of Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen with the Palo Alto Philharmonic and Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem as a guest artist at Concordia College. He joined the Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra for Britten’s War Requiem and both Las Vegas Philharmonic and New Choral Society for Handel’s Messiah. An active recitalist, he has previous joined the New York Festival of Song for multiple programs of Spanish repertoire and has been presented in a Schwabacher Debut Recital in San Francisco and offered an additional recital program at the El Camino College Center for the Arts.
He is an alumnus of the prestigious Merola Opera Program in association with San Francisco Opera, at which he sang Junius in The Rape of Lucretia and covered Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro. He is also a former member of Opera Santa Barbara’s Studio Artist Program. In 2013, he was a Grand Finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and sang arias from Rodelinda and Le nozze di Figaro on the famed company’s stage with Marco Armilianto conducting. He was also a finalist in Houston Grand Opera's Eleanor McCollum Competition and the Loren L. Zachary Society for the Performing Arts National Vocal Competition. He holds a Master of Music from San Francisco Conservatory of Music, at which he sang Guglielmo in Così fan tutte and Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and while at Chapman University, his performances included Beethoven’s Mass in C and Puccini’s Messa di Gloria.
Tara Branham is a director and producer in Chicago. Currently, Tara is the Resident Director with Opera San Jose and the National New Play Network Producer-in-Residence with Prop Thtr in Chicago. Most recently, she assistant directed the world premiere of Freedom Ride under Tazewell Thompson at Chicago Opera Theatre. An avid supporter of the development of new work in theatre and opera, Tara assisted James Robinson on the world premiere of Terrance Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis which will be the first opera composed by a Black person produced by the Met. Branham was also the assistant director for internationally renowned soprano Patricia Racette on her directing premiere of La Traviata at OTSL. Her direction of the US premiere production of OCTAGON starring Kiki Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk, The Old Guard) at Jackalope Theatre received a sold out extension. This was a culmination of three years of development and collaboration with playwright Kristiana Rae Colón where it was presented and won Polarity Ensemble’s Dionysus Cup Festival and received a staged reading at the National New Play Network annual conference. She also directed and co-produced the world premiere of GOOD FRIDAY by Kristiana Rae Colón with Oracle Productions. She submitted this play and directed it for Stage Left Theatre’s developmental workshop Leapfest and the play has also received an Honorable Mention for the Kilroys list. She received the Puffin Ltd grant for her commitment to sponsor the development and production of underproduced work. The play has gone on to be produced at colleges across America to raise awareness of the complex intersection of gun violence and rape culture. Tara is a teacher and creator of the Unbridled Sound - a physical/vocal technique for actors. She graduated cum laude from Ball State University and is a student of Black Box Acting Studio. www.tarabranham.com.
Christopher James Ray is a conductor with a diverse background in both traditional and contemporary operatic works. He is currently Resident Conductor at Opera San José and an assistant with the San Francisco Symphony. In 2017, Christopher joined the music staff of the renowned Bayreuth Festival where he worked on productions of Der Fliegende Holländer, Lohengrin, Götterdämmerung, Tristan und Isolde, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and Parsifal.
In the 2020/21 Season, Christopher will conduct performances of Opera San José’s Le Nozze di Figaro, Carmen, Salome, and West Side Story. Recent performances at Opera San José have included Il trovatore, Hansel and Gretel, Die Fledermaus, Heggie/Scheer’s Moby Dick, and Pagliacci.
Christopher made his professional conducting debut leading a double bill of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci with the Mississippi Opera in 2014. Later that year he conducted performances of Cosi fan tutte, Suor Angelica, and Gianni Schicchi with Opera in the Ozarks. Additional conducting credits include Copland’s The Tender Land, Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte Handel’s Alcina, Nico Muhly’s Dark Sisters, Heggie's Three Decembers, Glass's In the Penal Colony, and Britten's The Beggar's Opera.
As assistant conductor, Christopher has worked with the Salzburg State Theater (Brokeback Mountain), North Carolina Opera (La Bohème, Così fan tutte, Le nozze di Figaro), Sarasota Opera (Le nozze di Figaro, Don Carlos), Opera on the James (Carmen), Opera on the Avalon (Die Zauberflöte), Syracuse Opera (Die Fledermaus) as well as the Memphis Symphony and Portland (ME) Symphony.
A protege of American composer Carlisle Floyd, Christopher is a sought-after interpreter of Floyd's works. In addition to serving as the assistant to the composer, Christopher recorded an album of Floyd’s songs with the celebrated mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer. It is available through GPR Records on the Naxos label.
Christopher is native of Sumrall, Mississippi and is a graduate of Florida State University where he studied with Douglas Fisher and Carlisle Floyd.