Susanna Phillips Stars in Lucia at Lyric Opera of Chicago and Minnesota Opera, Plus Musetta in Met’s La Bohème

Susanna Phillips, winner of the Metropolitan Opera’s 2010 Beverly Sills Artist Award, has launched the 2011-12 season with a bang, winning glowing reviews for her “beautiful, velvety tone and dignified, carefully shaped phrasing” (New York Times) in the New York premiere of Juraj Filas’s 9/11-themed requiem Oratio Spei, and, at Lyric Opera of Chicago’s annual outdoor concert, proving herself a “full-fledged international star” (Chicago Tribune) with her “passion and elegant singing” as Donizetti’s Lucia (Chicago Classical Review). Having given Chicago audiences this sneak preview, the Alabama-born soprano returns to Lyric Opera of Chicago to undertake the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor in earnest this month, before reprising it with Minnesota Opera in March 2012. Other highlights of her new season include Musetta in La bohème at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in November; Pamina in Die Zauberflöte at the Gran Teatro del Liceu Barcelona in April; and the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro with the Grand Théatre de Bordeaux in June. She also performs in concert with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s at Carnegie Hall in December, and with the St. Louis Symphony in the coming spring. As the Financial Times counseled this past August: “Susanna Phillips. Remember the name.”

The title role of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor demands extraordinary vocal technique and acting ability. When Phillips gave her first staged Lucia with Opera Birmingham last March, she “performed with musical assurance and dramatic confidence, filling Samford’s Wright Center with huge sound and bigger-than-life presence. …That was followed by 17 minutes of riveting drama from Phillips, driven by silences and pauses, erratic fluctuation from terror to tenderness, drunken-in-love hallucinations and plenty of impressive coloratura.” As the Birmingham News review concluded: “This is a remarkable singer, supple, evenly resonant at all ranges, capable of effortless power or a touching sotto voce.”

Opening on October 10 and running until November 5, the Lyric Opera of Chicago production also features tenor Giuseppe Filianoti as Edgardo, baritones Quinn Kelsey and Brian Mulligan sharing the role of Enrico, and bass-baritone Christian van Horn as Raimondo, under Catherine Malfitano’s direction, and conducted by Massimo Zanetti in his Lyric debut. When Phillips reprises Donizetti’s heroine at Minnesota Opera next spring, her Edgardo will be sung by Michael Spyres, Enrico by James Westman, and Raimondo by Ben Wager. Leonardo Vordoni will conduct the production, which runs from March 3–10, 2012 in James Robinson’s staging.

It was as a sassy Musetta in Puccini’s La bohème that Phillips made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 2008, when she “sashayed confidently through the cavorting hordes, singing with flair” (New York Times); it was partly on the strength of this portrayal that she won the company’s coveted fifth annual Beverly Sills Artist Award, the largest of its kind made in the States. Phillips’s success in the role ensured that she was invited back to reprise Musetta on the Met’s tour of Japan last season. The Met’s upcoming revival of Franco Zeffirelli’s classic production, which opens on November 18, will be conducted by Louis Langrée, and Phillips’s co-stars will include sopranos Hibla Gerzmava and Hei-Kyung Hong as Mimì, tenor Dimitri Pittas as Rodolfo, and baritone Alexei Markov as Marcello.

The second of the Met roles for which Phillips won the Beverly Sills Artist Award was Mozart’s Pamina in Die Zauberflöte; according to the New York Times, in the company’s September 2009 production she “offered a charming portrayal of Pamina, singing with a clear, bright, and elegant soprano and affecting sadness in the aria ‘Ach, ich fühl’s’.” Phillips undertakes Pamina once again next year, at the Gran Teatro del Liceu Barcelona in a production that opens on April 24; there she heads a strong cast conducted by Pablo González and directed by Joan Font.

Also in continental Europe, Phillips revisits the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro, another of Mozart’s roles in which she has won tributes. After witnessing her in the part at the Dallas Opera, the Dallas Morning News reported: “The Countess’ wounded dignity is admirably realized by Susanna Phillips, whose warm, ample tone fills even the Music Hall’s vast reaches. Her achingly gorgeous ‘Dove sono’ would melt the hardest heart.” Phillips looks forward to closing the season as the Countess in an Opéra National de Bordeaux production directed by Laurent Laffargue and conducted by Mikhail Tatarnikov, opening on June 14.

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