Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Truth be told, I had a long list of questions for her, but we chatted so casually, she managed to answer many of them before I'd had a chance to actually ask.
Raised in Washington, D.C. Ms. Graves was, by her own admission, withdrawn, shy, awkward and unpopular. When, in kindergarten, she had her first music class, she was hooked. She sang in the choir from kindergarten through sixth grade and then met a woman who would create the trajectory that took her to world fame, Judith Grove Allen. Ms. Allen took young Ms. Graves under her wing and suggested she join the All-City Chorus in Washington. When she was ready to graduate from middle school she auditioned for the Duke Ellington High School, D.C.'s performing arts institution. When I asked what she auditioned with, she started singing, to my incredulity, "You Light Up My Life." Yes! Ellington became her introduction to the world of opera which she was totally unfamiliar with up to that point.
After high school Ms. Graves and her friend Cassandra moved to Germany to investigate the musical possibilities, and then both decided to apply to Oberlin College, and, as they say, "the rest is history." Known primarily for the French repertoire (Carmen, Samson and Delilah, The Tales of Hoffman), she recently sang Wagner's "Erda" in Minneapolis. This led to a question I have always been curious about. I marvel at the ability of opera choruses to sing in many different languages. Do they know what they are singing? Many years ago, I asked the illustrious Grace Bumbry that exact question. Her response was, "Darling, we have all sung a little Chinese in our time!" This is Denyce's first foray into Russian opera. When asked how long she had prepared for the role, she admitted that she first looked at the score "four days prior to rehearsal." I was speechless: a new language a new role? Astounding. Not that she needed to explain, but the fact that her first grandchild, a boy, was born just this past weekend, family duties, etc. entered into it. The fact that she could actually do this, combined with all of her other obligations is prodigious to say the least. A very candid woman, when I asked her if she thought that the HD live transmissions from the Met "helped get bodies into seats for live opera?" she thought for a very long while, and almost inaudibly answered, "I don't know."
Denyce is thrilled with the Florida Grand's production of Eugene Onegin. While she is only in the first act, it's the music that brought her to her role of Filipyevna, the nurse. At this stage in life, she has decided to be very selective as to which roles she will undertake, wanting to spend as much time as she can with her family. Immediately after the Miami run of Eugene Onegin she is off to the Washington Opera to appear in the new opera The Champion where she plays boxer Emile Griffith's mother. "She was something else. She would jump into the middle of the ring and hit his opponent with her purse and scream at everyone. It's a role I have done before and the story is so powerful, about a closeted boxer in the '60s, it's something that should not be missed."
Are there any operas she would still love to do? First choice is Menotti's The Consul. When asked, and I apologize for the phrasing, "is there a role that you've done that you would sooner blow your brains out than have to do again?" her immediate answer was "Yes! Jane Seymour in Anna Bolena. Case closed.
Ms Graves and her husband, renowned transplant surgeon Dr. Robert Montgomery, split their time between a home in the West Village in Manhattan and a farm in Baltimore where they raise alpacas. An idyllic life for a contented, brilliant performer. Brava!
Eugene Onegin plays through February 4th, 2017, at the Ziff Ballet Opera House in the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, FL. It will then play at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts' Au-Rene Theatre on February 9 and 11: 2015 SW 5th Avenue, Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Please call 1-800-741-1010 or visit Florida Grand Opera's website at www.fgo.org for tickets and other information.