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This Opera Star Is Tired of Texas Stereotypes

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Susan Graham, 2010.

The Midland Odessa Symphony and Chorale begins its 52nd season on Saturday, Sept. 13, with an opera performance by mezzo-soprano Susan Graham. Tom Michael reports on this West Texas connection to the wide world of opera.

Susan Graham is known as "America’s Favorite Mezzo." She’s won a Grammy Award and she’s sung at every major opera house in the world.
“You know when I was young, part of what attracted me to be an opera singer was that it seemed impossible."
That impossible dream began in West Texas. Today Graham is known as an expert in the French repertoire. France even awarded her with the Legion of Honor.
“You know when you’re a kid and you dream of things very far away from West Texas. Mine always seemed to have an Eiffel Tower in it."
Graham gets back to her hometown of Midland when she can. Her mother lives there. In 2006, the mayor proclaimed the 5th of September as Susan Graham Day.
“I have my background in Midland to thank for, really, for the life I have now, because I go all over the world to sing opera. Everyday is a pinch-me moment."
Doug Brown was Graham’s high school choir director. He recently retired as a Professor of Music at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. As a student, Graham impressed Brown as the leader of the soprano section and the choir accompanist.
 “I taught at music at Lee High School in Midland from 1974 to 1979. We had a very strong program. She’s my claim to fame. If I have anyone, it's her."
Graham agreed:
“The incredible Doug Brown was an enormous mentor and shaped my desire and my ambition to become a professional musician."
But, in the world of opera, West Texas doesn’t always get respect.
“I’ve done so many interviews where people say well how in the world did you even know to aim for an operatic career coming from a place like Midland, Texas."
She has an answer for that.
“Do you know what the city’s motto is? The sky’s the limit. And in West Texas, there's nothing but sky."
And it’s not just journalists who question her. Even members of royalty have examined her Texas roots.
“I was introduced to Prince Charles backstage at the Convent Garden in London. He asked me where I was from. I said I was from Texas. Oh, he responded, one would never had guessed."
And another stereotype that Susan Graham wants to puncture is that opera is phony or silly.
 “It’s so funny because you think of it as an art form of artifice, because everything is sung and nobody speaks. However, because of that, it's much more raw."

Former KRTS/KXWT News Director