Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Mezzo-Soprano Denyce Graves

New York Philharmonic's Summertime Classics
July 9-10, 2009
Avery Fisher Hall, West 65th Street (at Broadway)

Denyce Graves
Now considered one of America's premier classical artists, mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves first made her mark by singing Carmen—and when she debuted in the role of Georges Bizet’s sultry, self-destructive gypsy at the Metropolitan Opera in the 1995-6 season, the raves were unanimous. She proved that she was no one-trick pony by returning to the Met a few seasons later to star opposite Placido Domingo in Camille Saint-Saens' Samson et Delilah, another femme fatale of the opera world.

For her first concerts ever with the New York Philharmonic (part of the orchestra's Summertime Classics series, which closes with these performances on July 9 and 10), the Washington-D.C. born mezzo-soprano will sing arias from both of her signature roles on an all-French program that Bramwell Tovey conducts (also on the bill are orchestral excerpts from both operas, an overture by Berlioz and Ravel's ubiquitous Bolero). Just off the plane from Sun Valley, Idaho, Graves discussed her Philharmonic debut, working with Maestro Tovey and how much she loves being in New York.

Kevin Filipski: Are these concerts your first performances with the New York Philharmonic?
Denyce Graves: Yes, this is my debut! It's something I am quite thrilled about. They wanted me to sing arias from Carmen and Samson et Delilah and, of course, I know them pretty well. (laughs) So I’m looking forward to singing them with the Philharmonic.

KF: Have you worked with conductor Bramwell Tovey before? How do you like his conversational style on the podium, which puts audiences at ease?
DG: Yes, I have worked with him. Last summer, we worked together in Sun Valley, Idaho, where I just flew in from: they have a gorgeous new concert pavilion, and I was there for its opening last summer to sing with him and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I really enjoy working with him—it's just a real pleasure. I think that all of us have a responsibility to entertain and to educate, and I think people enjoy themselves more and understand the music more, especially arias like these, which are out of the context of the operas that they’re from. Bramwell’s chats open their minds and hearts and give them a better place to receive what we are giving them, and it also makes the concertgoing experience a lot more fun. I really think that it helps: it’s friendlier, it’s warmer, and I think the response has always been great enthusiasm. So yes, I’m a real fan of it.

KF: You haven't performed in New York much lately—is that a conscious decision, or just a quirk in scheduling?
DG: No, I am very glad to be here. I love performing in, and just being in, New York: even though I was born and raised in Washington, D.C., I’ve always felt my soul was here. And I have performed in New York a lot lately—I was here already twice this year with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and for some other events. But performing these arias is kind of a return for me to sing in the city. I’ve been very busy singing in many other places and traveling all over the world, but I’m happy to be back here. Next February, I’m singing Carmen with New Jersey Opera.

KF: What do you especially enjoy about New York?
DG: Well, I was doing concerts with conductor Charles Dutoit recently in Tokyo, another city which I love, and I mentioned to a couple of Japanese people I know how much I really enjoy Tokyo: it’s a city packed with everything, they’ve created France and Italy there so you don’t have to bother going to the real countries! And they said to me that they prefer New York, because they have the feeling that they can do absolutely anything they want while they’re there. And that’s what I feel is the real American spirit, which New York is full of—you just feel that there’s so much energy and so much excitement, and it’s quite palpable.

KF: You've been very visible at holiday concerts and other special events, especially since September 11.
DG: Yes, I became the “American Girl” there for awhile, called to sing patriotic and spiritual songs at various political and memorial events, but I’ve always felt that it was an honor to be able to do that. I recently sang at the National Memorial Day Concert (on the Mall in Washington, D.C.), and I still feel like I’m part of something very special when I’m included in that.

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