American soprano Lisa Saffer has achieved distinction in an amazingly wide variety of roles, though she is identified particularly with the operas of Handel. She has sung Dalinda from Ariodante, the title role in Partenope, Atalanta from Xerxes, Cleopatra from Giulio Cesare, and numerous others, generally to critical acclaim. Her repertory extends to Mozart (Susanna from Le nozze di Figaro), Verdi (Gilda, from Rigoletto), Wagner, Richard Strauss, and the moderns, a category that includes the title role in Berg's Lulu and such lesser-known fare as Henze's Elegy for Young Lovers (Hilda Mack), Birtwistle's Punch and Judy (Polly/Witch), and Oliver Knussen's Higglety Pigglety Pop! and Where The Wild Things Are. She has also regularly appeared in concert, again in broad repertory, from Bach's B minor Mass to Knussen's Rilke Songs.
Saffer was born in Madison, WI, on June 3, 1960. Her educational background is impressive: she received a bachelor's degree from the Oberlin Conservatory and a master's (1984) and artist diploma (1986) from the New England Conservatory of Music. Her principal teacher throughout her student years was Helen Hodam, with whom she worked for about 20 years, beginning in 1978. She began studies with Rita Shane in 1998.
Saffer received the Anna Case Mackay Award while serving as an apprentice at the Santa Fe Opera in the mid-'80s. In 1988 she was named a recipient of the National Music Theater Institute grant. She soon began attracting attention on U.S. stages for her work in several Stephen Wadsworth productions of Monteverdi operas. Beginning in the early '90s she made a series of Handel recordings for Harmonia Mundi, for which she achieved international acclaim. The series included Agrippina (1992), Ottone (1993), Judas Maccabaeus (1995), and Ariodante (2002).
During the 1990s Saffer was already branching out into repertory far afield from the Baroque: for New World Records she recorded Bright Sheng's Chinese Love Songs (1992), and for the Arabesque label, she recorded songs by Ralph Shapey (1999). Her highly imaginative portrayal of Lulu in the English National Opera production in 2005 garnered a nomination for the Laurence Olivier Award in operatic performance and received the Royal Philharmonic Society's vocal performance award. The Chandos recording of Lulu, based on that acclaimed English-language production, was issued in 2006, Saffer drawing virtually unanimous critical praise for her interpretation of this enormously difficult role.