American mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer is an international opera star, known for a strong, bright stage presence and agile lyric voice that has made her a natural for the leading travesti (trousers) roles. She is also active as a concert and recital singer.
Raised in her home town of Philadelphia, she moved to Santa Fe, NM, and finished her last two years of high school there. This led to ushering at the famous Santa Fe Opera Festival, which awakened an interest in classical singing.
She enrolled in the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA, as a music therapy major. Her music teachers immediately spotted her vocal potential and her flair for the stage, and sent her as an apprentice at the Aspen Music Festival after her first college year. Despite her rookie status, she beat all the rest of the competition for the trousers role of Nicklausse in Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann, which, she says, got her "really hooked on opera."
She transferred to the Juilliard School of Music in New York City, where she studied with Norma Newton. Her professional stage debut was as Albina in Rossini's La donna del lago with the Houston Grand Opera in 1981. She made an acclaimed European debut in 1983 at Cologne as Cherubino in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro.
She rapidly established a strong European reputation, singing Rosina in The Barber of Seville at Covent Garden in 1985. Despite her growing fame in trousers parts (Octavian in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier, Cherubino, Idamante, Sextus, the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos, and others), she also enchanted audiences as Dorabella in Così fan tutte and in the soubrette part of Zerlina in Don Giovanni, which she sang in 1987 at La Scala in Milan under the baton of Ricardo Muti -- a portrayal available on video.
In 1987, as she was starting a family, she returned to the United States as a residence and base of operations. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Cherubino in 1989. When she started rehearsals, she recalls, her son Benjamin was four months old and still being breast-fed, so she was "feeling not very man-like."
She has developed into a natural successor to Marilyn Horne in the great coloratura mezzo roles of the bel canto era, such as Adalgisa in Bellini's Norma, and the growing interest in Baroque opera led to great acclaim in the title role of Handel's Giulio Cesare at the Bastille Opéra in Paris, where she has also sung Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande. Among her other roles are Romeo in I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Giovanna Seymour in Anna Bolena, Marguerite in La damnation de Faust, the title roles of Offenbach's La Périchole and Ravel's L'Enfant et les sortileges, Rossini's Cenerentola, and Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, and Concepcion in Ravel's L'heure espagnole.
In concert, she has sung in major works of Bach, Beethoven, Debussy, Falla, Mahler, Handel, Stravinsky, Ravel, Mozart, Floyd, Bruckner, Berlioz, Berg, and Pergolesi. Her growing number of recital programs tend to feature innovative mixes of art songs, operatic arias, and American folk songs, with an interest in vocal music by women composers. Mentzer has recorded for Philips, Telarc, Virgin, Decca, Erato, Arabesque, and Angel/EMI. She frequently sings in benefits for charities related to the care of AIDS patients, including an annual "Jubilate" concert in Chicago.