Tom Strini

Young Mezzo Sasha Cooke to debut with MSO

By - Sep 23rd, 2009 03:43 pm
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Mezzo Sasha Cooke

Mezzo Sasha Cooke

This just in, noon Thursday (Sept. 24): The MSO just announced a last-minute sale of $5 seats in the first two rows of Uihlein Hall for the opening concerts and for the rest of the classical season. The promotion is specifically for music fans age 30 and under.

90 seats will be available at this price for each concert and will be sold first-come first-served. They must be purchased in person at the Marcus Center box office, starting when the box office opens at noon Friday. When they’re gone, they’re gone.

This has occurred because new maestro Edo de Waart decided this week to move the orchestra more upstage into the acoustical shell, for acoustical reasons. That move makes it possible to lower the downstage lift to house floor level and for 90 seats to be installed on it. The MSO is calling this promotion “The Edo Advantage.”

And now, back to our regularly scheduled story:

Sasha Cooke did not go to the Santa Fe Opera to sing in the summer of 2008. She went to visit her then-fiance (now husband), Cedarburg native Kelly Markgraf, who was singing at Santa Fe that season.

But she did sing, privately, for Edo de Waart, Santa Fe’s music director that season. That is how Cooke came to be the featured soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony this weekend. She will sing in Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1 (“Jeremiah”) in de Waart’s first program as the MSO’s music director.

“Susan Graham was there, and she told Edo ‘you have to meet this singer,'” Cooke said, from her home in New York. “I sang for him, and he had some musical ideas for me. We hit it off. He’s a really phenomenal musician, and Milwaukee is lucky to have him. And this is big for me; I’m grateful to him.”

Cooke is a native of College Station, Tex., where both her parents are professors of Russian language and culture. The supported her career choice wholeheartedly. Cooke studied at The Juilliard School in New York. She recently finished the apprentice program at the Metropolitan Opera.

Cooke, who just turned 27, has risen rapidly in the business. She had an important role in an important new opera, John Adams’ “Doctor Atomic,” at the Met. She has earned many rave reviews for song recitals and orchestral appearances.

Her repertoire list is unusual and uncommonly varied: Ravel’s Sheherazade, Schoenberg’s Lied der Waldtaube, Zemlinsky’s Symphonic Songs, Dallapiccola’s Sicut Umbra…, Jack Beeson’s Ophelia Sings, and such out-of-the-way Berlioz as “The Death of Cleopatra.” She also does big Mahler: Symphonies 2 and 4, and Rueckert-Lieder.

She has quickly developed a reputation as a superb musician and a quick study, and not by accident.

She loves to learn music that is new to her. People in the business know that. She’s the sort of singer who will take the time to learn Bernstein’s “Jeremiah,” when she could be running around the world doing a handful of Mozart and Rossini operas instead. She’s the kind of singer Edo de Waart would trust to sing her first “Jeremiah” at his gala first concert as MSO music director.

“The most difficult part of it is that you want to get more dramatic than you really should,” she said.

Leonard Bernstein, 1944 photo by Herman Landshoff photo, Library of Congress

Leonard Bernstein, 1944 photo by Herman Landshoff photo, Library of Congress

The Old Testament text is Jeremiah’s lament over a desolate Jerusalem after the Babylonians overran it and took its people captive. Bernstein wrote this in 1942, as the Jewish population of Europe faced Nazi terror.

“It’s difficult not to get emotional,” Cooke said, “to strain your neck muscles and practically scream. It’s the kind of music that makes you want to cry as you sing it. I have to calm down and stay grounded and sing.”

Who: Conductor Edo de Waart, mezzo Sasha Cooke, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

What: Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1 (“Jeremiah”)

Where: Marcus Center Uihlein Hall, 929 N. Water St.

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, 2:30 p.m. (Sept. 26-27); NOTE THE UNUSUAL START TIME ON SATURDAY

How Much: $25-$93, through the MSO site, by phone from the MSO at 414 291-7605, and through the Marcus Center box office, 414 273-7206

Categories: Classical, Culture Desk

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