Meet MAHLER’S INNER CIRCLE Soloist Sara Couden

According to the SF Chronicle, Sara Couden once “drove the audience into convulsions of delight.”  We get to know this Walnut Creek-based singer, acclaimed for her deeply soulful voice, rich tones, and warm personality. And spoiler alert, be careful on stage around bracelet beads…

What’s a contralto and how’s it different from alto?

AHAHAHH probably someone knows the actual answer to this question, but it’s not me, at least not technically and/or historically. In practical terms, “alto” nowadays is a chorus term, and “mezzo-soprano” / “contralto” are opera terms. In general, solo opera singing requires greater extremes in terms of range than choir singing (for good reason—can you imagine trying to blend with other people when you’re singing as high as your voice will go? Actually, I’m sure some choral sopranos definitely have experienced that…), so a mezzo-soprano and a contralto both sing higher than a choral alto, and a contralto sometimes sings lower (though not always—choir alto parts can really go low!).

“This is me looking extremely contralto-y in a production of Fille du régiment at St Pete Opera. You know you’re a contralto when your costume includes a ridiculous bonnet.”

What’s a famous contralto opera piece / character that people might know?

If you’ve seen Suor Angelica by Puccini, the evil aunt is a contralto. Ulrica is a contralto in Un ballo in maschera, and The Marquise of Berkenfield is a contralto in Fille du Régiment. If you’ve ever seen a Gilbert and Sullivan show, odds are you’ve seen a contralto in action—generally, the wacky older romantic female foils in those shows are contraltos.

Kathleen Ferrier had one of the most celebrated contralto voices. Here she is singing Agnus Dei from Bach’s Mass in B minor.

You’ll be singing Alma Mahler’s Five Songs on our MAHLER’S INNER CIRCLE program.  Can you tell us a little about the music?

It’s so fabulous. The music is at once absolutely gorgeous and extremely idiosyncratic. She clearly knew the musical language of her time—of art song especially—inside out, and she does the most bizarre, compelling, expressive things with that knowledge, while at the same time writing this extremely listenable, lush music.

As a Walnut Creek resident, do you have any favorite places to hang out before or after a show at the Lesher Center?

I’ve gone to Montecatini a couple times and eaten the lasagna. It is so flipping good.

Prior connection with Donato?

Haha just a big fan! I kept bugging him on social media to hire me. I really really enjoy California Symphony concerts.

Wildest thing that’s happened to you in performance?

One time my bracelet broke and I slipped on a bead and fell during my aria. You just get up and keep singing; something like that has happened to most people!

MAHLER’S INNER CIRCLE, with contralto Sara Couden, takes place Saturday, March 25 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 26 at 4 p.m. at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. Tickets are $49 to $79 and $20 for students 25 and under, and include a free 30-minute pre-concert talk starting one hour before the performance. Buy tickets online or call or visit the Lesher Center Ticket Office at 925.943.7469, Wed – Sun, 12:00 noon to 6:00 p.m.