American mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer has established herself not only as an international singer but also as a writer, teacher and arts advocate.
Susanne continues to perform concert, chamber music most recently commissioning 21 songs from a diverse group of composers for a project called Standing Still: Still Standing, on poems written during the pandemic by her life-partner Reg Huston.
With fifty operatic roles performed, Susanne retired from the opera stage in August 2022. She had a significant opera career of forty-two years appearing on four continents with nearly every great opera house and orchestra. She was a guest artist at the Metropolitan Opera in leading roles from 1989-2016.
Operatically, she specialized in music Mozart, Berlioz, Rossini and Richard Strauss and is widely admired as a specialist in trouser roles, most notably for her portrayals of Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro, Idamante in Idomeneo, Komponist in Ariadne auf Naxos, and Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier. She has also appeared in many notable female roles – Dorabella, Despina, Rosina, Adalgisa, and Jane Seymour.
Transitioning to more age appropriate characters, her recent roles were: Grandmother Buryja in Jenufa, Queen Gertrude in Hamlet, Mrs. Patrick DeRocher in Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, the Beggar Woman in Sweeney Todd and Nellie in Carlisle Floyd’s Wuthering Heights which has also been recorded for commercial release.
Her extensive discography includes over 25 CDs of opera and oratorio. She produced a recording of songs by American opera composer Carlisle Floyd on Roven through Naxos. This project was funded by her successful Kickstarter campaign. She has recorded two other recitals she also performs in concert: The Eternal Feminine, a recital of music by women composers (Koch International Classics) which includes the premiere of Libby Larsen’s Love After 1950 with her long-time pianist, Craig Rutenberg; and her personal favorite, Wayfaring Stranger – a collection of international folksongs arranged for voice and guitar with Grammy Award-winning Sharon Isbin. She also received a Grammy nomination for her work as Colombina in Busoni’s Arlecchino. She is on the recent releases of Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking and Plump Jack by Gordon Getty. Susanne appears on DVDs of Les Contes d’Hoffmann (Opéra de Paris), Don Giovanni (La Scala), and Grammy nominated The First Emperor by Tan Dun (Metropolitan Opera), and Ariadne auf Naxos (Metropolitan Opera). She has appeared numerous times on PBS as part of the Live from Lincoln Center and Live from the Met programs and the Met Cinema broadcast.
As a recitalist Susanne has appeared in recital on the Great Performers series at Alice Tully Hall, Carnegie’s Weill and Zankel halls, NY Festival of Song, Tisch Center for the Arts, Morgan Library, Town Hall, Tannery Pond, Schubert Club St. Paul, Kennedy Center, Vocal Arts Society- DC, Spivey Hall Atlanta, Schwartz Hall at Emory, Santa Fe Concert Association, Aspen Music Festival, Aspen Winter Music, Wyatt Artist in Residence Series- Calgary, Ravinia Festival, Ann Arbor University Music Society, Oberlin College, and others.
A proponent of women composers and new works, her interest in contemporary music has led her to premiere two song cycles by Libby Larsen: Love after 1950 and Sifting through the Ruins. She premiered Living the Divine – a cantata for children’s choir, percussion and voice, and The Journey – 5 songs for strings and voice both by Daniel Brewbaker, Carlisle Floyd’s Citizen of Paradise-a mono-drama based on poems and letters of Emily Dickinson, and Stephen Bachicha’s New Mexico Fragments, a work she commissioned in 2010. She also performed Bernard Rand’s Now and Again with 8th blackbird and sang the American premiere of Stabat Mater by Italian composer Matteo d’Amico.
As a chamber musician she has collaborated with the Orion, American and Brentano String quartets, and appeared with Chamber Music Lincoln Center, Music in the Vineyards, Music from Angel Fire, Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, DaCamera Houston, and Sun Valley Summer Symphony, Chicago Symphony Chamber Musicians, Chicago Chamber Musicians, University of Chicago Chamber Music, Rembrandt Chamber Musicians, and Music@Menlo and the NY Philharmonic Chamber Musicians. Additionally she collaborated with faculty at Rice University and at the Aspen Music Festival.
Susanne is also a writer and contributed regularly to the Huffington Post where her essays are still accessible.
Ms. Mentzer is a mentor to young singers and as she continues to actively perform, she feels a kinship with her students. She maintains a private studio and teaches at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (since 2016) and has worked with the San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows. She spent twelve years previously in academia as a Professor at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University and DePaul University in Chicago. She also served as faculty at the Aspen Music Festival and School and has been a guest teacher at the San Francisco Opera Merola program, the Castleton Festival and frequently gives master classes in conjunction with her engagements. She a regular faculty member of Songfest at Coburn in Los Angeles. In summer 2023 she will be on faculty of the Taos Opera Institute.
She adjudicates competitions and serves on the Board of Directors of The Sullivan Foundation and The George London Foundation which each give awards to promising young singers, both which supported her as a young singer.
Susanne was born in Philadelphia and raised in Maryland and Santa Fe, NM where she fell in love with opera as an usher . She received her Bachelor and Master degrees from The Juilliard School and was trained in the Houston Opera Studio, studying with Rose Bampton and Norma Newton, respectively.
Her outspokenness about vocal health has earned her the VERA Award 2013 (Voice Education Research Awareness) from The Voice Foundation. Past awardees include Julie Andrews and Diane Rehm.
She received the Alexian Brothers USA Thelan Award for her help raising over one-million dollars through gala concerts for the AIDS cause in Chicago and continues to participate in charitable events.