Denyce Graves returns to Broward Center for a mixed recital

By David Fleshler

Denyce Graves performed a program of arias and songs Friday night at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale.

A sea of empty seats greeted the mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves as she stepped onto the stage of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.

The Fort Lauderdale hall looked to be at best one-fifth full Friday evening, with almost all the seats in the right and left orchestra sections empty. While Graves is no longer the A-list singer she was a decade ago— when she was considered by many the reigning Carmen of her generation—she is a well-known artist who has achieved semi-official status for performances at state events such as a Washington memorial service shortly after the 9/11 attacks, President Ford’s funeral and the second inauguration of President George W. Bush.

To her credit, Graves showed no sign of disappointment with the size of the audience, and while a lesser performer would have just gotten the concert over with quickly, she performed not one but three encores for the enthusiastic crowd.

In her performance of a wide array of songs and arias in Italian, German, French and English, you could hear the almost overpowering depth, bloom and richness that had taken her to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera and other leading houses. But she also displayed repeated technical insecurity, lacked agility and too many works were wanting in the necessary passion and commitment.

In Handel’s famous aria Ombra mai fu, she sang with great dignity but with unevenness of tone, particularly in the upper register. The same contrast between gorgeous timbre and a lack of nimbleness appeared in her performances of the song Amorosi miei giorni by Donaudy. And there was a coolness and lack of theatrical presence to her singing that didn’t breathe enough life into these works, leaving them stage-bound.

She announced three works from the stage by the French composer Henri Duparc, L’invitation au voyage, Le Manoir de Rosamonde and Chanson triste. In these works she seemed more in her element, allowing her dusky voice to luxuriate in the slow-moving, yearning harmonies of this late Romantic music.

Graves brought a warm seductiveness to Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix from Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila, one of her signature roles, which she performed on the same stage a few years back with Florida Grand Opera. Her performances of Richard Strauss’s Die Nacht and Morgen were marked by similar vocal gleam, although there was an expressive sameness to her interpretations.

The singer was at her best in the second half of the recital, particularly in a series of Gershwin songs, including The Man I Love and Summertime, where her soft but full voice filled the hall with wistful tones. And perhaps her best performances came in the encores, in which she sang two of the arias for which she is famous, the Habañera and Seguidilla from Carmen. If her physical gestures were somewhat exaggerated, she sang these arias with a smoky depth to her voice, an authority of manner and the theatrical personality that showed why this was one of her great roles.

Graves was ably accompanied by pianist Louis Salemno, who played more assertively than most keyboard partners, particularly in the Gershwin works in which the piano role is so prominent.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Denyce Graves returns to Broward Center for a mixed recital”

  1. Posted Mar 20, 2012 at 6:33 am by Kevin Miller

    It is because she is a contralto, if she had sung the right rep. from the start, none of this would be happening.

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