Soprano's voice soars and gleams with fave composers Strauss, Mahler



Leading soprano Erin Wall will add a sparkling presence as the guest artist for the Bravo concert “A Night in Vienna” Jan. 11, highlighting the midpoint of the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra’s diamond anniversary season.

Many have taken a shine to Wall, a dual citizen of Canada and the United States, with such praise as “radiant,” “gleamingly sung” and “vocal thunderbolts.” The word that sticks with her most about her voice? “Sometimes, they say it’s silvery. I like that.”

She’s sung leading roles in such great opera houses as the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, the Vienna Staatsoper, Opéra National de Paris and Lyric Opera of Chicago. This season’s top notes so far include “Four Last Songs” with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Australia, “Peter Grimes” in Norway and London, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

In Jackson, she’ll perform Strauss’ “Four Last Songs” and Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 — both “right at the top of the list of my favorite composers,” she says. “Anytime I get to do both of them on a concert, it’s a pretty special occasion.”

“‘Four Last Songs’ are some of my favorite things on Earth,” she says. Written shortly before Strauss died and published posthumously as a single unit, the songs have a sense of calm and acceptance. “Even though they’re about death … if that’s the way death is, hopefully, I would like it to be like that when it’s my time.”

Wall grew up in Vancouver, and lives near Toronto with her husband and two children, ages 10 and 7. She’s the daughter of symphony musicians — her dad, a French horn player, and her mom, a cellist. “No one was really a singer, but I did grow up with a lot of music in the house,” almost exclusively classical, though her dad also enjoyed the Great American Songbook and show tunes from Broadway musicals.

It wasn’t until her freshman year in college that she embarked on the operatic path. “I got into school for singing, but I really hadn’t discovered that my voice was particularly operatic up until that point.” Her first two years as an undergrad, she fell in love with it and, under her voice teacher’s tutelage, “My voice really started to develop.”

Wall had a three-year apprenticeship with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and lived in that city for nine years; her younger sister lives there still. In Toronto for more than a decade, she’s returned to the Lyric quite a few times since her apprenticeship, and also to the Chicago Symphony.

Each kind of performance, in an opera or as a concert soloist, has a distinct appeal.

“What you’re putting forward in opera is a combination of ideas that belong to several people — the way the conductor would like you to sing it and the way the director would like you to portray it, and then whatever you also bring to the role.”

“What’s nice about concerts, especially for me, is that you’re essentially yourself, which is nice,” she says. “You also get to choose your own clothing, which can be either good or bad, but you get to choose the way that you want to present yourself. And, I find, a lot of times, I get to put a little more of myself into it.”

“At the same time, opera … when it all comes together and all the elements are working, you’re literally in another world. It can be really magical.”

The venues are like old friends. “I think I’ve always felt really at home on the concert stage,” she says. With musician parents, “I grew up in a concert hall, basically. We spent a lot of weekends, just running around backstage and in the rehearsal room.” No babysitter? No problem. They took their toys to the hall, played and listened.

A breast cancer diagnosis two years ago meant Wall spent most of 2018 in treatments. Concerts she’d get to sing during that time “really felt like a vacation,” she says. “

I finished radiation in August 2018, so I’ve been all clear for a year and a bit now,” but medication continues. “The cancer’s gone, but I’m still in the rebuilding process.”

This hasn’t changed the way Wall does her job, she says, but has changed the way she takes care of herself. She’s spent the year with a new voice teacher, retraining, rebuilding and strengthening.

“It definitely has been life-changing, but I would actually say I enjoy my work even a little bit more now, because it’s hard not to appreciate being alive after you go through all that.”

In her first visit to Mississippi, “I just want to take it all in.”


1.11.20 / Thalia Mara Hall / 7:30 pm / Jackson, MS

Tickets $27 & up: buy here >

students/children (ages 4-18) $5 

RICHARD STRAUSS: Four Last Songs Erin Wall, soprano

GUSTAV MAHLER: Symphony No. 4 in G Major Erin Wall, soprano

Concert sponsored by: Selby and Richard McRae Foundation

J. Keith Robbins, III, MD