Thursday, January 30, 2003

Graves delights with opera, more

Concert review

By Nicole Hamilton
The Cincinnati Enquirer

"I thought it was more interesting to play the bad girl," mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves told the audience Tuesday at Miami University's Hall Auditorium.

Sultry in a fitted blue velvet dress, she then launched into her famed version of the "Seguidilla" from Carmen.

Graves performed with her accompanist Warren Jones as part of the university's Performing Arts Series. The two are this year's Cromer/Flory Performing Artists-in-Residence at Miami.

Throughout the evening, Graves communicated freely with the packed house. Sometimes she did so with humor and other times with seriousness, but always with the same passion she brought to songs.

In the first cycle of songs - which included Henry Purcell's "If music be the food of love, Z. 379" - she revealed an enormous range and rich tone. Her movements and facial expressions added depth. Her interpretations were authentic but not static.

Jones' approach twas subtle but effective - except in the second song cycle, which featured the work of Brahms. In pieces that call for anything but subtlety Jones assumed double duty as an accompanist and soloist.

In Brahms' "Verzagen, Op. 72, No. 4," Graves' voice took dramatic peaks and dives in range and dynamic amid sudden changes in tempo.

She introduced the third song cycle - three works by French composer Henri Duparc - with commentaries about each song. Her honest emotion for the lyrics and the characters she would portray was deeply moving.

"Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix" from Camille Saint-Saens' Samson et Dalila followed. Here, she showed gorgeous phrasing and a strong tone.

After intermission Graves told the audience she thought the repertoire needed "more toe-tapping numbers." What followed were two pieces by Carlos Guastavino, "Plancha," and "Plomada," that featured French clarinetist Vincent Thomas.

Graves performed traditional spirituals like "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," and "Every Time I feel the Spirit" like the opera singer that she is. But it would have been more effective if she performed more familiar versions. The audience didn't seem to mind, because it showered them with applause.

Graves and Jones returned with two encore performances - the "Habanera" from Carmen and the humorous "I'm Hungry."


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