“I had no idea what to expect,” said soprano Susanna Phillips about the launch of her career. But now, the wildly successful, in-demand artist can expect only great things.
Phillips, a Huntsville, Ala., native and Juilliard alumna (B.M. ’03, M.M. ’04), is the winner of the 13th Annual Alice Tully Vocal Arts Debut Recital. This season, she sings with, to name a few, the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Fort Worth Opera, and the Baltimore and Alabama Symphonies. But Phillips, in a recent interview, earnestly expressed that this month’s Alice Tully recital is the project she is most excited about.
“I am very personally rewarded when I do a recital because you get to make it a very personal and intimate statement,” she explained. “The pieces that we’re doing on this program are especially interesting to me because they are very tailored to what Craig Terry, my pianist, and I do well and what we want to do, as opposed to what we have to do.”
Phillips’s handpicked program will open with songs by Felix Mendelssohn as a nod to the 200th anniversary of his birth, allowing a “fresh and bright, happy, and welcoming” feel to the program. She then moves to a set of her favorite Gabriel Fauré songs, followed by four selections from Olivier Messiaen’s Poèmes Pour Mi.
In addition to a set of songs by Richard Strauss to close the program, the second half of the recital will feature the premiere of a commission from Juilliard faculty member Phillip Lasser, a song cycle based on poetry by the late Wynelle Ann Carson (who was Craig Terry’s cousin). Phillips is looking forward to the collaboration with Lasser, her theory professor during her graduate studies. She also emphasized that she loves “working with composers and performing new music. I think it is so important to do it in conjunction with older music. I try to incorporate it on every program that I do.”
Phillips also feels strongly about Terry, her pianist, whom she has known for about 10 years. After meeting at a summer program in Urbana, Italy, the pair worked together at the Lyric Opera of Chicago (where Phillips was in the Ryan Opera Center until 2007). Phillips said that she and Terry—who is also a former Southerner, from Tennessee—“got each other very quickly. I like working with him very much. He has a very soulful style of playing which I respond well to.”
In addition to her current collaborations, Phillips has appeared with the Santa Fe Opera, Dallas Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, Opera Birmingham, Huntsville Symphony, Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra, and the Louisiana Philharmonic, among others, as well as in numerous recitals throughout the United States. In 2005, she was the winner of four major vocal competitions—Operalia, Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, the MacAllister Awards, and the George London Foundation.
Until recently Phillips tried to keep Huntsville as her home base, but she moved back to New York permanently this fall. With all of her traveling, “going all of the way back there between things was getting too difficult. However, I love the South, and I would love to live there again. I don’t know how I could do that right now, but who knows. Maybe a tall, dark, and handsome Southern gentleman will sweep me off my feet and take me back.”
It could happen. More than 400 people flew from Alabama to hear her Metropolitan Opera debut last season. “I come from an awesome place where people are unbelievably supportive,” she said.
Expressing gratitude that her career is so multifaceted—full of recitals, opera engagements, and solo appearances with orchestras—Phillips said, “There are so many great things about all different kinds of singing. I really want to do a bit of it all.”
And yet, she returns to her elation about the November 19 Alice Tully recital. “You know, I love doing opera, and it is something that I really treasure. When you’re singing an opera, you are playing another character. In one way, that’s a big relief, because you can explore a different person and a different world. But in recital work, you really represent yourself, and you are able to create your own stories and your own characters. I am really pumped!”