Renowned mezzo-soprano Susan Graham made her Santa Barbara debut at the Lobero last Thursday, in the final installment of CAMA’s Masterseries for the 2016-17 season. Accompanied by pianist Malcolm Martineau, the program’s primary focus was Robert Schumann’s eight-song cycle Frauenliebe und -leben (“A Woman’s Love and Life”), with lyrics by Adelbert von Chamisso, a love story sung from a woman’s perspective. Graham designed the evening’s program, supplementing Schumann’s work with songs of similar content from various composers around the world, with eight languages represented overall.
Graham not only sang with absolute divinity but also demonstrated a theatrical influence that can come with vocal performance, using her body to enhance each piece. Schumann’s song cycle was sung to perfection, but highlights included French composer Henri Duparc’s lovesick Phidylé and John Dankworth’s musical rendition of Shakespeare’s classic “Sonnet 18.” From the music of Mahler to Debussy and words of Walt Whitman to Hans Christian Andersen, the program’s diversity in terms of languages, composers, and texts provided a unique perspective on the impact love has on music and its universality across cultures. Martineau’s refined playing style complemented Graham’s masterful voice, but the truest praise goes to Graham’s innovation in featuring music both relatable and timeless.