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It's all French to her

March 26, 2007|by KATE COLEMAN

HAGERSTOWN - Because mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer would be performing Hector Berlioz's songs in French, she encouraged Prelude audience members to look at the English text of "Les Nuits d'Et" in the program.

Even for those who didn't take advantage of the translations of the poems, the emotions of the pieces were evident as Mentzer performed the work during the Maryland Symphony Orchestra's MasterWorks IV performance Sunday afternoon.

Mentzer's voice - unaided by microphone - filled The Maryland Theatre. With acting skills she had begun to sharpen years ago as a freshman at Catoctin High School in Thurmont, Md., Mentzer expressed the many moods in the work.

At times, she smiled. Sometimes, she looked sad. Her eyes were closed; then they opened wide.

"Excellent," said Quincy, Pa., resident Irene Duval, a first-time season-ticket holder.

"I think she has such a rich mezzo. Her range is so pure."

Friends and family members also were in the audience. Mentzer's parents, who live in Quincy, Pa., were among them.

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"It's nice to have her for a few days," Virginia Mentzer said of her daughter, who moved from Chicago to Houston in August.

Texas is where her career started, said the artist's father, Frank Mentzer. She toured with the Texas Opera Theater after earning her bachelor's and master's degrees at The Juilliard School.

During Prelude, Susanne Mentzer mentioned that generations of her family have lived in this region for more than 200 years.

"It's really home," she added.

"She's the best singer I've ever heard," said Patrick O'Kelly of Charlottesville, Va.

He might be a tiny bit biased: He is Susanne Mentzer's cousin and has heard her sing in Barcelona, Spain; Salzburg, Austria; and London.

MSO Music Director Elizabeth Schulze, who saw Mentzer in the opening night world premiere performance of "The First Emperor" at The Metropolitan Opera in New York City, called the artist's French diction perfect.

Richard Tomlinson would agree, and he'd have a right to that opinion. He was Mentzer's French teacher at Catoctin High School. He called her French pronunciation - particularly the "middle vowels" - wonderful. He's heard other singers perform Berlioz's "Les Nuits d'Et" and not get it right.

"She's like an old shoe," he said of his former student - a down-to-earth prima donna who doesn't act like a prima donna.

Denton Twigg, who sang with a teenage "Susie" Mentzer in the Thurmont United Methodist Church choir, isn't too surprised by her international success.

"She had the drive. She had the voice," he said.

The MasterWorks IV program opened with another Berlioz work, the overture to "Beatrice and Benedict," an orchestral piece that Schulze chose in honor of Mentzer, who has sung the role of Beatrice in the opera several times.

The afternoon concluded with Symphony No. 1 in C minor by Johannes Brahms.

"Bravo!" shouted Trudy Denzer Coody as she stood to applaud the Maryland Symphony Orchestra at the conclusion of the Brahms symphony.

"Elizabeth Schulze is magnificent," the Williamsport resident added.

"Wonderful," the Rev. Elgar Soper of Smithsburg said as he left his seat at the close of the program. "What else do you want to know?"

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