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Lisa Saffer (Soprano)

Born: June 3, 1960 - Madison, Wisconsin, USA

The American soprano, Lisa Saffer, holds Bachelor of Music degree from Oberlin College Conservatory, and Master of Music degree and Artist Diploma from New England Conservatory.

Lisa Saffer, described by critic Leighton Kerner as “one of those special singers whose technique and blooming sound always serves sense and emotion,” delves into repertoire ranging from J.S. Bach to Zimmermann with remarkable incisiveness and musicality. Her versatility was noted again this past season my Richard Dyer reviewing her performance as George Frideric Handel’s Cleopatra for The Boston Globe: “We know that soprano Lisa Saffer is a stage animal - a couple of years ago she was nominated for London’s prestigious Olivier Award for her performance of the title role in Berg’s Lulu. Her silvery, brainy vocalism was world-class throughout… In the last celebratory aria, she brought the house down, rocketing off coloratura with flourish and showing off a splendid high D.”

Renowned for her interpretation of 20th century repertoire, Lisa Saffer’s performance as Lulu at English National Opera was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award for outstanding achievement in opera in London. For her portrayal she was honored to receive the Royal Philharmonic Society Award for best vocal performance. The Richard Jones production, conducted by Paul Daniel, was extremely well received with Lisa Saffer’s performance acknowledged as outstanding by the press. The Sunday Times wrote “The American soprano Lisa Saffer…is a beguilingly sexy Lulu, transforming herself with ease of a consummate quick-change artiste into the female fantasy of her lovers, and singing the hair-raisingly high vocal lines with insouciant ease.” And again, in the 2005 revival, The Telegraph reported “…Towering above them, in vocal and dramatic if not actual stature, is the diminutive Lisa Saffer, whose performance in the demanding title role is not only grippingly acted but - not a given in this marathon of a part- musically sung. So often the still eye at the centre of the storm she creates, Saffer commands the stage, a chameleon-like character changing her costume as often as her persona.” The 2005 revival was recorded and is soon-to-be released on the Chandos label.

The preeminent interpreter of the role of Marie in Zimmermann’s challenging Die Soldaten, the soprano received international acclaim for the role in the New York premiere of the opera at the New York City Opera, which was followed by equally heralded performances at the Opéra National de Paris at the Bastille (under conductor Berhard Kontarsky) and at the English National Opera (under conductor Elgar Howarth) in the London stage premiere. The review of her performance in The Nation read “Among many superb performers, Lisa Saffer’s Marie was in a class by herself: unfailingly effective she sang the fearsomely difficult part without a hesitant note or accent - true, direct, lyrical...Were it not for the skill and beauty of Lisa Saffer’s presence you would not be able to hear much except heaps upon piles on densely aggressive sonorities; these are immediately, expressive, directly, even blatantly, programmatic.”

Lisa Saffer is sought after worldwide for leading roles in contemporary operas. Her numerous accomplishments in this repertoire include the world premiere of Klaas de Vries’s A King Riding at the Holland Festival, Hilda Mack in Hans Werner Henze’s Elegy for Young Lovers with the Schoenberg Ensemble (conducted by Oliver Knussen) at the Concertgebouw for VARA and at Tanglewood (conducted by Gustav Meier), Polly/Witch in Harrison Birtwistle’s Punch and Judy in the Pierre Audi production and Morton Feldman’s Neither in performances conducted by Oliver Knussen (both at the Netherlands Opera), Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos at the Scottish Opera in a production by Nottingham Playhouse director Martin Duncan and conducted by Richard Armstrong, Tytania in Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Florentine Opera which was directed by David Gately and conducted by Steuart Bedford, Anne Trulove in Igor Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress at the Indianapolis Opera, The Fire and Nightingale in Ravel’s L’enfant et les Sortileges and Cunegonde in the Hal Prince production of Candide both at the New York City Opera. Her performance in Amsterdam of The Rape of Lucretia, conducted by Oliver Knussen, was broadcast by VARA Radio. She also made a rare foray in the operas of Wagner performing the roles of Woglinde and the Woodbird in the Stephen Wadsworth production of Der Ring des Nibelungen at the Seattle Opera.

Lisa Saffer is well known for her performances in the operas of George Frideric Handel, many of which have been released on the Harmonia Mundi label. Her first exploration of the early operatic repertoire was in the Stephen Wadsworth productions of The Return of Ulysses (Minerva) and The Coronation of Poppea (Poppea) at the Skylight Opera in Milwaukee. Performances of Poppea in Agrippina, Teofane in Ottone and Polissena in Radamisto at the Halle Handel Festival, Jenny and Polly Peachum in The Beggar’s Opera at the Santa Fe Opera, and Belinda in Dido and Aeneas (directed by Mark Morris) at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (all conducted by Nicholas McGegan) followed. Saffer returned to the Santa Fe Opera as Poppea in the Francisco Negrin production of Agrippina conducted by Harry Bicket in summer 2004. Earlier in the season she made her debut at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich as Almirena in the David Alden production of Rinaldo, also conducted by Harry Bicket. She also performed Drusilla in Poppea in the Jonathan Miller production at BAM, and at Glimmerglass she portrayed the title role of Partenope. In addition to the title role of Partenope, at the New York City Opera, she gave her first performances of Almirena in Francisco Negrin’s production of G.F. Handel’s Rinaldo. Both the Partenope and the Rinaldo productions were conducted by Harry Bicket. Last season Lisa Saffer performed Atalanta in the Stephen Wadsworth production of Xerxes with the company. With the Mark Morris Dance Company she appeared in Rameau’s Platée (roles of Thalie and Clarine) at the New York City Opera, reprising earlier performances under the auspices of Cal Performances on the Berkeley Campus. The soprano’s first performances as Dalinda in G.F. Handel’s Ariodante were at the New York City Opera as well, and she will perform the role in her debut at the Gran Teatro del Liceu this season, making her debut in Achim Freyer’s production conducted by Harry Bicket. She added the role of Cleopatra in G.F. Handel’s Giulio Cesare to her repertoire in James Robinson’s production at Utah Symphony & Opera, repeated the role with Boston Baroque and will make her debut at San Diego Opera as Cleopatra in the upcoming season. The John Copley production will be conducted by Kenneth Montgomery. She will also make her debut at Arizona Opera performing title role in G.F. Handel’s Semele for the first time in performances conducted by General and Artistic Director Joel Revzen. Chas Rader-Shieber will direct the production.

Other Early Music projects have included appearances in the role of Antigona in the rarely performed Admeto with Emmanuel Music in Boston. She perforthe role of Amore in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice under the auspices of the prestigious University Musical Society at the University of Michigan in her hometown of Ann Arbor. Lisa Saffer also returned to Glimmerglass Opera for her first performances as Angelica in a James Robinson production of Haydn’s Orlando Paladino (conducted by Guido Johannes Rumstadt) and the title role in the Simon Callow production of Cavalli’s Calisto, which was conducted by Jane Glover. At the Boston Early Music Festival she also performed Iole in Cavalli’s Hercules.

Contemporary music and early music often attract artists with great technical precision, intelligence and musicality and this precept holds true for Lisa Saffer who possesses these characteristics as an artist. However, she also employs the same understanding of the composer’s writing in her performances of standard repertoire. Her Gilda (Rigoletto) has been described as “ravishing of tone” by Scott Cantrell, and her Norina (Don Pasquale) was described in The Indianapolis Star as follows: “Saffer who provided so memorable a portrayal of a tragic heroine (Lucia di Lammermoor) last season, showed her range by handling a comic role with equal gusto. Her displays of coquetry, willfulness and girlish enthusiasm...had a naturalness.” In addition to Gilda in the Nicholas Muni production at the Tulsa Opera, Norina at the Indianapolis Opera and in the David Gately production at Chautauqua Opera and at the Canadian Opera Company (which was her Canadian opera debut), Miss Saffer has performed many of the standard Bel Canto roles in her repertoire: Lakmé in Lakmé at the Seattle Opera, Adina in L’elisir d’amore with the Boston Lyric Opera in performances conducted by Stephen Lord and the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor with the Indianapolis Opera. She returned to Indianapolis Opera as Adina in L’elisir d’amore this past season. She also added the role of Oscar to her repertoire in Pittsburgh Opera performances of Un Ballo in Maschera. The Michael Hampe production, with new direction by Sandra Sachwitz Bernhard, was conducted by Music Director, John Mauceri. In fall 2005 she returned to the New York City Opera in the cameo role of the Italian Singer in Richard Strauss’s Capriccio.

Equally in demand for W.A. Mozart heroines, she has performed Despina in Così fan tutte in the Leon Major production at the Opera Company of Philadelphia, and Servillia in La clemenza di Tito at the Connecticut Early Music Festival. In concert she has performed Aminta in Il re Pastore at the E. Nakamichi Baroque Music Festival, a role that she repeated in a staged version by Mark Lamos and conducted by Nicholas McGegan at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival. She also performed Electra in Idomeneo with the Boston Early Music Festival conducted by Roger Norrington. She appeared as Sandrina in the Paul Curran production of La Finta Giardiniera at the Garsington Festival in the UK in performances conducted by Steuart Bedford. She repeated the role at the New York City Opera in the Mark Lamos production conducted by George Manahan. She looks forward to returning to Indianapolis Opera for performances of Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro in the upcoming season.

Lisa Saffer’s concert appearances also encompass a broad repertoire. In the USA, she has appeared with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (David Del Tredici’s Ecstatic Alice with Robert Spano), Boston Symphony Orchestra (Knussen’s Symphony No. 2, conducted by the composer), the Baltimore Symphony (with Christopher Seaman), the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (two world premieres: John Harbison’s Four Psalms with Christoph Eschenbach and James Primosch’s From A Book Of Hours written to texts by Rilke with Anthony Pappano) the Cleveland Orchestra (Felix Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Christoph von Dohnányi and Ravel’s L’enfant et les Sortileges with Pierre Boulez at Carnegie Hall), the Colorado Symphony (W.A. Mozart’s Exsultate jubilate K158a with Marin Alsop), the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (W.A. Mozart’s Exsultate jubilate K158a with Pinchas Zukerman), the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (G.F. Handel’s Messiah), the Handel and Haydn Society (G.F. Handel’s L’Allegro, il moderato ed il pensiero with Christopher Hogwood and G.F. Handel’s Messiah with Grant Llewellyn) the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (G.F. Handel arias with Nicholas McGegan), the Los Angeles Philharmonic Contemporary Music Group (Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Floof, Knussen’s Rilke Songs and Carter’s A Mirror on Which to Dwell), the National Symphony Orchestra (Messiah with Claudio Scimone), the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (F. Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Kurt Masur), the Orchestra of St. Luke’s (J.S. Bach’s B minor Mass (BWV 232)), the Philadelphia Orchestra (G.F. Handel’s Messiah), Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (G.F. Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus and Resurrezione with Nicholas McGegan), the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra (concert version Candide with David Zinman), Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (Alexander’s Feast and Robert Levin’s edition of the W.A. Mozart’S C minor Mass with Nicholas McGegan, and Lukas Foss’s Time Cycle, with Robert Spano) and the Brooklyn Philharmonic (Benjamin Britten’s Spring Serenade with Robert Spano), amongst others. Her Carnegie Hall debut was with the New York Choral Society as soprano soloist in Carmina Burana, which she also repeated with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and at the Hollywood Bowl (both conducted by Neeme Järvi). In fall 2003, the soprano was delighted to appear in the opening concerts of Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall performing Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater with conductor David Robertson. With Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra she will perform G.F. Handel’s Samson and arias on their series in California as well as on tour at Disney Hall in Los Angeles and in Carnegie H’s Zankel Hall. Lisa Saffer will return to Carnegie Hall for performances of G.F. Handel’s Messiah with Musica Sacra (conducted by Richard Westenburg), to the Minnesota Orchestra (conducted by Paul Goodwin) for Messiah performances as well, and to the Madison Symphony for a holiday concert in their new Overture Hall (conducted by Music Director, John DeMain). She will also appear in a Romeo and Juliette-themed program with tenor John McVeigh as part of the Napa Valley Symphony season. She will also perform and record the W.A. Mozart;s C minor Mass with Nicholas McGegan at the Göttingen Handel Festpiele.

Lisa Saffer premiered Bright Sheng’s Three Chinese Love Songs at Tanglewood in Leonard Bernstein 70th Birthday Celebration and has since performed the cycle at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Society, the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group, and under the auspices of the Lyric Opera of Chicago. At the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the soprano premiered Lohn for soprano and percussion by Kaija Saariaho. She also gave the world premiere of Rorem’s Evidence of Things Not Seen with New York Festival of Song at Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall and has returned to The New York Festival of Song on many occasions since. She made her Lincoln Center recital debut, with pianist Judith Gordon, on the “Art of the Song” series and appeared in recital at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC under the auspices of the Vocal Arts Society. In season 2004-2005, she appeared in recital at the University of Pennsylvania in a program that included James Primrosch’s From A Book Of Hours written to texts by Rilke.

An active chamber musician, Lisa Saffer performed Harrison Birtwistle’s Pulse Shadows with Reinbert de Leeuw conducting players from The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. An audience favourite in Boston, she recently performed G.F. Handel arias with Boston Cecilia at Jordan Hall, Arnold Schoenberg’s String Quartet No. 2 with Dinosaur Annex at Jordan Hall, Carter’s A Mirror on Which to Dwell with Boston’s Collage New Music at Harvard University’s Paine Hall, and gave the premiere of the piano version of James Primrosch’s From A Book Of Hours with pianist Judith Gordon at the Gardner Museum all in one season. This season she returns to Caramoor for a Schubertiade performance.

Outside of the USA, Lisa Saffer has appeared as soloist with the Jerusalem Symphony (G.F. Handel’s Samson with Nicholas McGegan) and with the London Sinfonietta (Benjamin’s A Mind of Winter). Acknowledged as a leading performer of the works of Oliver Knussen, she made her debut with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in performances of Knussen’s Whitman Settings conducted by Oliver Knussen, appeared with the Residentie Orkest Den Haag at the Concertgebouw and the Orchestra della Toscana in Italy (Knussen Symphony No 2 with Oliver Knussen), The National Arts Centre in Canada (Knussen’s Symphony No. 2 and Henze’s Being Beauteous), and the Schoenberg Ensemble in Amsterdam (Where the Wild Things Are and Higglety Pigglety Pop!). She made her Berliner Philharmoniker debut performing Where The Wild Things Are with Oliver Knussen, as well. Lisa Saffer’s recording of Higglety Pigglety Pop! with Maestro Knussen and the London Sinfonietta was recently released by DGG.

Highlights of Lisa Saffer’s 2009-2010 season include The Princess in Philip Glass’s Orpheé for Portland Opera, Messiah with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and at Duke University, Oliver Knussen’s Whitman Songs with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 with the Portland Symphony.

Lisa Saffer’s discography includes the Grammophone Award winning recording of G.F. Handel’s Ariodante (Harmoni Mundi USA), Agrippina (Harmoni Mundi USA), Ottone (Harmoni Mundi USA), and Radimisto (Harmoni Mundi USA), Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas (Harmoni Mundi USA), and her solo aria recording Arias for Cuzzoni (Harmoni Mundi USA). She has also recorded Knussen’s Hums and Songs for Winnie-the-Pooh with The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center for Virgin Classics, Imbrie’s Requiem with the Riverside Symphony and Sheng’s Three Chinese Love Songs for New World Records. Most recently she has recorded Knussen’s Higglety Pigglety Pop & Where the Wild Things Are with the London Sinfonietta for DGG and Xanthe in Richard Strauss’s Die Liebe der Danae with the American Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Leon Botstein) for Telarc. Her appearance in the New York City Opera production of A Little Night Music was televised “Live From Lincoln Center” and she has appeared as a guest artist on the Garrison Keillor radio program on NPR.

Lisa Saffer joined the NEC voice faculty in fall 2010. She has received New York City Opera’s Diva Award, and their Kolozsvar Award in recognition of her performances of new and unusual repertory. A couple of years ago she was nominated for London’s prestigious Olivier Award for her performance of the title role in Alban Berg’s Lulu, London’s prestigious equivalent of Broadway’s Tony.

Source: Pittsburgh Sympoby Orchestra Website (2005-2006?); All Musaic Guide Website; New England Conservatory Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (May 2012)

Recordings of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works




John Gibbons


BWV 4, BWV 202 [7th]

Links to other Sites

Lisa Saffer (Schwalbe and Partners)
Bio for Lisa Saffer (Pittsburgh Sympoby Orchestra)
Lisa Saffer (NEC)

The Big Question: Opera Singer Lisa Saffer (Yankee Magazine)
Lisa Saffer - Biography (AMG)
About Lisa Saffer (John Pierce)

Biographies of Performers: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
Explanation | Acronyms | Missing Biographies | The Sad Corner


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