curious about how she prepared for the role, we asked if, as in
Carmen, she went back to the source of the story. "You
know, the Bible - specifically the Book of Judges - doesn't really
go into the relationship of Samson and Dalila. It speaks more
of Samson, actually. So, I think a lot of the information about
this particular character, Dalila, is right there in the score
know a lot of things are unexplained. In her very first entrance,
for example, she says 'Je viens celebre la victoire de
lui qui a régné dans mon coeur.' (I have
come here to celebrate the victory of him who reigned in my heart.)
She's coming to celebrate the victory of him AGAINST her people!
You know, I have a very difficult time justifying that; but I
think at the same time, it's part of her great plan for how she's
going to get his trust."
Denyce sang the role for the first time
"in 1991 in Ravinia with
James Levine, Placido Domingo and Sherrill Milnes. It was the
concert version. I first sang it in a staged production in 1993."
[Photo at left shows her with Placido Domingo as
Samson in the 1999 Los Angeles Opera production. Photo
© Ken Howard, courtesy LA Opera]
Is that how you also usually prepare
for a role - sing it first in concert?" we asked. "I
was fortunate to be able to do that; but no, it doesn't always
happen that way. You certainly work it all out in the studio,
with your voice teacher, and you sing it many, many times. But
there's nothing like actually doing it. You know, it's a
very different ballgame, a very different ball of wax, when you
actually have the great pressure of doing it onstage in front
of everybody - the character and everything else are pushed into
a whole different league."
did you like working with a Hollywood movie director?" we asked.
"It was great! Because he really
gave us a lot of freedom. He really did. He allowed us to explore
ourselves. And he did not tell us every move to take and that sort
of thing. He let us find it ourselves." It helped of
course that Friedkin loves opera. "Yes,
he's a huge opera lover. Oh, we had a great time with that piece!"
"Then would you be attracted
to something like Schönberg's Erwartung as well?
know that sometimes they do that in a double bill, but I
think that it is a bit too high for me."
CHARLOTTE IN WERTHER:
"Ahhh! This must be what it feels like to be a soprano!"
Making music with ANDREA BOCELLI
then thought of Charlotte in Jules Massenet's Werther,
a role not performed often enough, but one that appears to be
universally loved by mezzo-sopranos. Denyce is no exception. "Oh,
I've done that quite a few times. I loooove this role! It is so
refreshing - you know, the great music.... I tell myself 'Ahhh!
this must be what it feels like to be a soprano!" I've done
it in Genoa. I've done it with Andrea Bocelli at
Opera Theater which was his first
performance in a fully staged opera production."
at left, source www.denycegraves.com.]
Bocelli! Mention of the name invites discussion, or argument.
The charismatic pop idol has his detractors - those purists among
opera lovers, who dismiss him as a popular singer, denying him
legitimacy. Obviously, Denyce is not one of them.
"Yes, they do. You know, when
we did Werther, I think that people came to the opera
with their swords already drawn. I think a lot of purists came
and said, 'OK, it's one thing to do the popular stuff, but now
you're in another arena.' I know that opera has been his passion.
He has wanted desperately to be accepted in the operatic world,
that's for sure. But there are people who will always resist
that for him."
"The type of people
one will never be able to convince anyway." "Yes,
I think so. Which is just crazy. You know, so many opera
singers would die to have the recognition that he has, and he
just wants the respect within the business. I think that
people should just come with an open mind.
the point of music anyway? It's to make us feel something,
to bring more beauty into our lives, to allow people to express
that which is inexpressible, to transport us to another place
that lets us forget about the terrible world that we live in...
to just feed our souls and hearts. And if he does that with
some people, then I think that's great. His talent is being
"I know he brings a lot of joy and happiness to people. He's
a loving human being. I know that certain personalities are suited
for certain things, but I think it's a free world and art is free.
If he wants to sing opera, then why not? People can decide whether
to go or not. By the way, I'm getting ready to do a US tour with
him, "A Royal Christmas" it's called, and it starts
next week." The tour, with accompaniment provided
by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, played through the
first half of December to an adoring audience from coast to coast.
Wouldn't the world be a
better place if we all took our cue from Denyce Graves' big-heartedness
and refreshing point of view?
Recently, Denyce created, to great acclaim,
the title role of the new opera Margaret Garner, which
is based on a poignant, true story about a runaway slave
in pre-Civil war America. "That
was written by Richard Danielpour, and Toni Morrison was the librettist.
It's a piece that I'm extremely proud of, and we will revive that
in February at Opera Company of Philadelphia."
When asked if the work might receive a West Coast premiere in
the future, she replied, as if with fingers crossed,
"From your mouth to God's ear, I certainly hope so!."
Denyce has performed many of the operatic
roles written for her voice range, and there are still quite a
few that she would love to do - Gluck's Orfeo and Thomas'
Mignon, for example. Most, if not all of them, are classic
works in the standard repertoire. Thus we thought that Margaret
Garner was her first foray into contemporary opera. Wrong.
"No, it wasn't. When I did my
apprenticeship with Houston Grand Opera, Carlisle Floyd was composer-in-residence
and so we workshopped many of his pieces." Susannah
was the first of Floyd's works that came to mind. "No,
not Susannah. There's nothing for me in there. But we
did Bilby's Doll, and The Passion of Jonathan Wade.
And my very first opera was a commission for the sesquicentennial
of Oberlin College, a piece by Conrad Cummings called Suite
from Eros and Psyche and I played the role of the Queen.
So, the very first opera role that I did was the world premiere
of a contemporary opera." An early
foretelling of the world premieres that are now becoming a hallmark
of her phenomenal career.
then we have Grendel coming in Los Angeles." It
will again be the first performance of a first opera by an American
composer, Elliot Goldenthal. The Los Angeles Opera production,
to be directed by Julie Taymor with libretto by Taymor herself
and poet J.D.McClatchy, will
world-premiere in May 2006.
The opera, which is based on novelist John Gardner's Grendel
- a retelling of the classic Anglo-Saxon epic "Beowolf"
from the point of view of the monster - promises to be a visually
spectacular production. Denyce Graves will sing the role of the
cynical but wise Dragon. A Julie Taymor production with dragons
and monsters ought to be fun. So, we asked her what it would be
like, she laughed as she said, "I
have no idea. At the moment it's a great mystery. We're still
waiting on the music for that. I've not even seen the score yet.
The composer is still working on it.
But it should be fun and I'm really looking forward to it."
Thus we learned that it is not unusual
that a singer does not get to see the score until a few months
(or less) before the premiere of a new work. "Oh,
sometimes really even less!"
But for Denyce, who by her own account is a quick study - it took
her only two weeks to learn Carmen! - that would not
be a problem at all.