Mezzo-soprano Suzanne Lommler’s recent performances in Chicago with Haymarket Opera garnered great critical acclaim. The Chicago Tribune described her voice as “dark and alluring” in the role of the sorceress Melissa (Handel’s Amadigi) and wrote that “Lommler’s assured technique allowed her to turn on a dime from fury to pathos and back again. Her sorceress all but burned up the stage…” And as Silvia in Haydn’s L’Isola Disabitata, …“displaying beautiful voice and clear projection of the Italian text”…“Lommler conveyed Silvia’s ingenuous charm through a perky stage manner and a warm, focused tone that was equal to the role’s wide vocal compass.
2018 brings her debuts in the title roles of both Carmen for Opera Kelowna, and Xerxes for Haymarket Opera, Chicago. Other recent engagements were with the University of British Columbia’s Minds and Music concert series; Orchestra Iowa for Bach’s Mass in B minor; Grammy-nominated harpsichordist Jory Vinikour in recital at Great Lakes Baroque Festival (Milwaukee); the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony in a Mozart Soirée (review: “Her crystal-clear voice is ideal for highly dramatic operatic scores, and is wonderfully supple as she easily conveys her characters’ moods.”); Orchestra Iowa in Bach’s St. John Passion; Indianapolis Symphonic Choir and Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra in Bach’s Magnificat; and she sang in the woodcut motion picture Kharmen, by Jay Bolotin.
Suzanne sang the roles of Melide in Cavalli’s Ormindo (Pittsburgh Opera); Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro; Second Lady in Die Zauberflöte; and Dorabella in Così fan tutte (Hamburger Kammeroper- Germany). Her New York City debut was as Annio in La Clemenza di Tito, conducted by Julius Rudel.
She sang in recital at the Handel House Museum in London; in Hamburg’s Opernsalon series; and on tour in Scotland with the Edinburgh Quartet. She has appeared with the Kansas City Symphony, Cincinnati May Festival, Bloomington Early Music Festival, Spoleto Festival (Italy), Cincinnati Opera, Portland Opera Repertory Theatre, Florida Grand Opera, Utah Festival Opera, Garsington Opera, the Glyndebourne Festival Opera, and Glyndebourne on Tour. She has been a member of the Ravinia Festival’s Steans Institute and the Tanglewood Institute. She received her Master’s degree in Vocal Performance from the Manhattan School of Music and Bachelor’s degree in Vocal Performance from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
Hear Suzanne as Serse in Serse by George Frideric Handel - Get your tickets now!
What is the story of how you first came to love music and opera?
I saw a production of Cats when I was 5 and decided I wanted to become a Broadway star; then I turned 6 and wanted to be a concert pianist and dreamed of having a Steinway grand; later I sang in choruses and occasionally would put on my “operatic” voice to make my friends laugh. At age 14 I found a wonderful voice teacher in Maine named Ann Mills who informed me that the “operatic” voice was not in fact a party trick, but something I was born for. ; ) She introduced me to Lieder, Art Song, and opera and encouraged me to apply to Tanglewood, which I attended for two summers and which changed my life--I had found my people. My parents were not musicians but were always very supportive and encouraging in my love for music. I took dance classes from the age of 6, piano lessons from the age of 8, voice lessons from age 14, played leading roles in plays and musicals at my high school including Peter Pan, The Sound of Music, Oliver, Fiddler on the Roof, Wizard of Oz, and The Hobbit: The Musical(!) My high school theater director, Jerry Walker, was another wonderful teacher. I sang in choirs, played horn in the band, and went to college for music degrees.
What is the biggest challenge you face as an artist?
Time management and work/life balance, staying healthy, convincing America that the arts are vital, fighting the stereotype that opera is only for the elite…
Do you have a favorite performer?
Two favorites- Anne Sofie Von Otter for her stunning technique, beautiful projection of text in any language, fierce commitment on stage, and her musicality. Sarah Connolly for the same! Her Giulio Cesare at Glyndebourne in 2005 knocked my socks off! My husband was chorus master at the time, and I think I saw 11 out of the 14 performances- from a box at the front! I learned so much. She is a wonderful singing actress, and I particularly love the way she takes her head voice all the way down to her lower vocal register. Her elegant technique allows her to access such a huge range of colors. Oh!- and I think my musical soul sister is probably Cecilia Bartoli- when I watch her perform, I can see the wheels turning- I believe she hears Baroque music the way I do- like rock music!!
Do you have a favorite role? Aria? Opera?
Too many favorites, but I love both Sesto and Vitellia from Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito, Ariodante from Handel’s Ariodante, Dejanira from Hercules; I also love the lead character in Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins (Die Sieben Todsünden) and have always wanted to perform it. I love the high drama of the piece, the mixing of operatic and cabaret styles for which Kurt Weill was so masterfully known- banjos, saxophones, orchestra, oh my! And of course a dancer- a singer- fishnets…
Favorite aria? “There In Myrtle Shades Reclined” (from Handel’s Hercules)- understated and soul-stirring. It’s the best song I’ve heard yet about making love under a tree!
Opera? Mozart’s Idomeneo. It has everything.
Do you have any favorite books about music?
Currently enjoying the Cambridge Opera Handbook to Carmen (by Susan McClary) and have just started dipping into The Rest Is Noise (by Alex Ross). Also, Mozart’s Operas (by Daniel Heartz) has been a favorite for many years.
What else are you reading?
At this very moment, just musical scores and texts related to the pieces I’m studying, but I love fiction. Richard Russo’s Bridge of Sighs. I also recently read the beautiful book Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks.
Who are your favorite 17th- and 18th-century composers?
Monteverdi, Barbara Strozzi, J. S. Bach, Handel, and Mozart
If you were stranded on a desert island, is there one piece of music you would like to have with you?
I'm not into islands and isolation in general, so let's hope not. But to answer the question: Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. I can both dance and meditate.
What do you love about HOC?
So many things. People getting along!- and all for the same goal: commitment to collaboration and high standards for the entire product. There is so much respect, appreciation, and fun!
Do you have a favorite memory from a past HOC event?
That time I had those beautiful dancing furies following me around everywhere when I played the sorceress Melissa in Handel’s Amadigi- particularly being carried offstage by Joe Caruana after I died. Ha, ha!
What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not making music?
Having a good meal with friends, my husband, and our kids. I also love sitting around a campfire with our kids (without the camping), swimming in a fresh lake, visiting my family in Maine and Scotland, watching comedy, trying new recipes on my kids- who eat everything with relish!, reading, listening to the birds, and dancing.
What is the first thing you think about in the morning?
toast …and the little chickadee outside my bedroom window
Do you have any heroes/heroines?
My parents. They both grew up in poverty- and my dad without a father from the age of 13. My dad went to college and medical school and became a doctor. My mom dropped everything to support my dad in his pursuit, opening a diner to put him through medical school, then managing his office and raising 3 children. That takes creativity. And they were both supportive of us in our own pursuits.
What music do you listen to most often?
Bach instrumental music, especially …but I also love Björk, Prince, Michael Jackson, Joni Mitchell, Ella Fitzgerald, Taj Mahal, Cuban music, and whatever I’m studying. I love good voices, a good tune, good text, and anything that compels me to dance.
If you had not entered into your current career what do you think you would have done instead?
fashion design or translator (I love languages)
What is your superhero power?
flying, so I wouldn’t have to deal with airline travel. I would do it faster and would encounter less turbulence. Actually, I’d rather just be “beamed” to my location…
How can we make opera more inclusive, accessible, or diverse?
No dumbing down. Take every audience seriously. If something is done well, people who are new to the art form, for example, can recognize its quality… No snobbery. Love that spontaneous applause even if at the “wrong time.”…Bill it as a great date night- the 20/30-somethings in particular seem to be eager to try something “new” and special, if it promises to be a good date!… Opera is really for all. Good stories about the human condition (or sometimes just ridiculous or funny ones to take us away from our woes) with great music and spectacle are timeless. …Also, I think bringing opera into schools (hook them early on) and public spaces to interest people who wouldn’t otherwise think of coming to a show is a good one.