SANTA FE, N.M. — Robert Schumann’s dramatic song cycle forms the scaffolding of a Santa Fe recital by internationally known mezzo-soprano Susan Graham.
Sometimes deemed the greatest of its genre, “Frauenliebe und Leben” (“A Woman’s Love and Life”) leads the listener from the first flush of attraction through marriage, childbirth and the death of a husband. Graham has augmented the performance with related music by a small galaxy of composers and cultures.
The singer will be at the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Thursday, March 12. Santa Fe is the last stop on a tour that has led her through three California dates, Graham said.
“It’s an opportunity to sing in an intimate relationship with an audience,” she said in a telephone interview from Berkeley, Calif. “They get drawn into a world of art songs.”
Schumann wrote his song cycle set to the poetry of German botanist and poet Adelbert von Chamisso in 1840. It was a wedding gift to his new wife, the pianist Clara Wieck.
When the protagonist meets her future love, she fears he could never want her.
“She was a governess in this guy’s house,” Graham said. “He was the Lord of the Manor. It’s like ‘Downton Abbey;’ she was the maid.”
Graham has deconstructed the eight songs, pairing them with music by Strauss, Fauré, Grieg and Ravel, among others. A Tchaikovsky lullaby embellishes Schumann’s childbirth song “At My Heart, At My Breast.”
The program requires Graham to sing 30 songs in eight languages, including English, French, German, Spanish, Russian and three Scandinavian tongues; Norwegian, Swedish and Danish.
When death comes, Spanish composer Enrique Granados’ “O muerte cruel” backflips the relatively staid German response to death with some over-the-top grief.
As if to tattoo the bittersweetness of memory, the cycle closes with the same prelude Schumann used at the lovers’ first meeting.
Post-Santa Fe, Graham will fly to New York to start rehearsals for “The Merry Widow” at the Metropolitan Opera, which opens in April. In June, she will headline Berlioz’s “The Trojans.”
Graham has performed with the Santa Fe Opera for eight seasons. Born in Roswell, she maintains a home in Santa Fe, returning whenever she can.
“They’re carrying me out of there feet first,” she said.