Like many young opera singers at the start of their careers, Alyson Cambridge has built a reputation singing roles by Puccini and Mozart. But she has a special place in her heart for “Porgy and Bess.”
She has sung the role of Clara in George Gershwin’s great American masterpiece at Washington National Opera, Michigan Opera Theater and Los Angeles Opera.
“It’s some of my favorite music,” says the New York-based soprano, who makes her San Francisco debut Thursday at Davies Hall as part of the San Francisco Symphony’s Summer and the Symphony series.
Joining the orchestra under Donato Cabrera, Cambridge and bass-baritone Gordon Hawkins will sing the “Porgy and Bess” Suite drawn from Gershwin’s 1935 opera.
The all-American program also includes Gershwin’s “Cuban Overture” as well as Copland’s “Danzon Cubano” and Four Dance Episodes from “Rodeo.”
The “Porgy and Bess” Suite hits the high points of the opera, with beloved songs including “My Man’s Gone Now,” the Act 2 duet, “Bess You Is My Woman Now,” “O Lawd, I’m on My Way” and Clara’s big number, “Summertime.”
Many artists have performed “Summertime,” but Cambridge has always loved the interpretation of American soprano Leontyne Price. “She’s been a huge inspiration for me,” she says. “There’s truth and honesty in everything she sings, and her voice is like no other.”
Cambridge was born in Washington, D.C. — her father is an economist, and her mother works for the National Academy of Sciences — and started her musical training on piano at age 4. She attended Oberlin College, and earned a graduate degree from the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music.
She got her start in the Metropolitan Opera’s young artist program, and made her Met debut in 2004 as Frasquita in “Carmen.”
Since then, she’s expanded her repertoire to include Mimi in Puccini’s “La Boheme,” Donna Elvira in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and Violetta in Verdi’s “La Traviata.”
Earlier this year, though, she returned to American music with William Bolcom’s song cycle, “From the Diary of Sally Hemings.” The work is based on historic writings by the slave who was a close companion of Thomas Jefferson.
Cambridge recorded the cycle, and performed it in February at Carnegie Hall.
“It was a huge honor to be asked to do it, and I took to the piece immediately,” she says. “I’m a woman of mixed race myself, and I found myself really relating to the story. It’s challenging music, but I’m so proud of the recording.”
The New York performance was well received, and Cambridge thinks Bolcom’s work will have a long life. “One of the commissioning groups was San Francisco Performances,” she says, “so I’m hoping I’ll get the chance to perform it there.”
IF YOU GO
Presented by San Francisco Symphony
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Where: Davies Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
Tickets: $15 to $70
Contact: (415) 864-6000, www.sfsymphony.org