Classical & Opera: Heavenly songs, celestial voice

Rising star Heidi Grant Murphy sings an appropriately spiritual programme at her Wigmore Hall debut
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Already called "the American lyrical soprano of the moment", Heidi Grant Murphy's career has been on an upward spiral ever since she was persuaded to enter the Metropolitan Opera National Council's Auditions. There she won a prize and was invited by the company's artistic director, James Levine, to join the Young Artist Development Programme. That was some 10 years ago now, but it perhaps wasn't until 1994, when she portrayed Sister Constance in Poulenc's Dialogue of the Carmelites, that the musical world really sat up and took notice. Since then, she has appeared with a host of prestigious companies and orchestras and made a real name for herself as an eminent interpreter of Mozart, singing Susanna, Pamina, Zebinetta, and this year, at Salzburg, adding Ismene from Mitridate and Celia from Lucio Silla to her Mozartian canon.

"I think Mozart suits my voice type and character," she says. "But another aspect of his music is that he certainly keeps you on your toes as far as delivery is concerned. There really are no histrionics to aim for to cover up imperfections - it's a case of pitching all the notes extremely accurately and always combining thought and feeling. If you can sing Mozart, you can sing anything, as they say."

But it is Heidi Grant Murphy's flexibility and versatility which will be on display this week when she makes her long-awaited Wigmore Hall debut. Accompanied by her husband Kevin Murphy, she will perform an eclectic programme spanning three centuries, two continents and five languages. In that line-up are composers as diverse as Handel, Mahler, Faure, Copland, Barber, Schumann, Obradors and Richard Strauss. "It may sound like a very mixed bag indeed," she comments. "But, actually, the whole thing hangs together in that all the settings deal with angels, spirits and celestial beings. The idea was to cast the net far and wide, but hopefully come up with something that has a coherent mood. The effect is obviously spiritual, without being overtly sacred. And, for the same reason, it's maybe also quite a nice collection to give in the run- up to Christmas - meditative, but again without containing standard Christmassy settings or carols."

And, in terms of her recital technique, the charming yet matter-of- fact American soprano seems to approach her repertoire with methodical diligence. "To begin with, I like to make sure that my diction and pronunciation are right, depending on which language I'm singing in, and here it'll be Italian, German, Spanish and French, as well as English. Then, I pay a great deal of attention to phrasing and nuance, because it's often the tiniest details in a song which can make or break it." So, at the Wigmore on Wednesday, a gamut of celestial evocations, and the celestial voice of Heidi Grant Murphy to go with it.

Heidi Grant Murphy gives her song recital at the Wigmore Hall, W1 (0171- 935 2141) 16 Dec, 7.30pm