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The Voice of the Black Community

Arts and Entertainment

Diva with a voice for perfection
Opera star Denyce Graves works at her craft
Published Thursday, October 6, 2011 8:08 am
by Ryanne Persinger

Denyce Graves’ vocal vehicle is a mezzo (middle) soprano and the international opera singer goes to great lengths to preserve it.

“In this profession we are in constant pursuit of perfection,” she said. “We’re chasing it night and day.”

Denyce Graves is one of the world’s best opera singers and she takes care of the voice that has been heard by millions at home and abroad. She’ll perform in Charlotte Oct. 15, 20 and 23 at Belk Theater.

It takes Graves 45 minutes to warm up her vocal chords, for her voice to be supple and her bands to stretch. And she doesn’t like to speak before warming up, in order to conserve her instrument.

“We have to take such good care of the voice because we’re constantly using it,” Graves said. “We’re constantly laughing, clearing our throats...if you get a cold that means you don’t work. Sometimes just meeting people or shaking hands; I’ll ask for people to wash their hands.”

There are even certain foods Graves steers clear of so it doesn’t affect her vocals. She won’t drink milk or eat cheese or ice cream to avoid phlegm in her throat nor does Graves eat vinegar or tomatoes; foods that give her acid reflux.

“We are called high risk performers and we’re not enhanced by microphones,” Graves said. “It’s a tremendous amount of pressure on the vocal chords. We have to know what it means to take care of ourselves and our body.”

Graves has been taking care of her sound for decades. At 14 she decided to become a singer, but was singing long before then. A Washington, D.C. native, she attended the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and studied voice at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the New England Conservatory.

A performance synonymous with her name is “Carmen,” which she debuted at the Metrolina Opera in 1995.

“That particular character has taken me to every opera house in the world,” Graves said. “I guess I owe her a debt of gratitude. Carmen is such a popular opera.”

Graves’ talent has had her perform at the inauguration of President George W. Bush, at the Washington National Cathedral during a memorial service in 2001 for victims of Sept. 11, and more recently at the Kennedy Center during the “Concert For Hope,” last month.

“For me all of it leaves me with an enormous sense of pride for my family and my race and as a woman,” Graves said. “I feel like I carry a lot with me. I’m just enormously proud to be an opera singer, an African American woman and to be from Washington, D.C.”

Charlotte performance

Graves will perform in Opera Carolina’s “Il Travatore,” at 8 p.m. Oct. 15, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 20 and at 2 p.m. Oct. 23 at Belk Theater; 130 N. Tryon St. Ticket prices vary from $15-135.

Graves portrays Azucena, a gypsy woman.

“This is a woman whose life has been tragically compromised because she has witnessed her mother’s death,” Graves said. “Her mother was burned alive at the stake. She is a heavy character from start to finish.”

Graves will also participate in a master class with one-on-one instruction with students from in and around the area.

Eight students will participate during the class from 3-6 p.m. Oct. 16 at the Belk Theatre. The public is invited to attend and tickets are $10. Student tickets are free depending on availability.

“I’m going to be coaching and that could include working on technique, language, interpretation, style with presentation and delivery,” Graves said. “It will basically be refining those skills and artistry that students already have.”

Whether training with students or for any other aspiring singer, Graves said the key is to listen.

“You’ve got to find a good voice teacher, study piano, listen to podcast, telecasts, whatever,” Graves said. “Listen to all kinds of music whether its concerts, oratorical, symphonic, grass, rock, everything. Just absorb and surround yourself with music.”

Graves said whatever you decide in life you have to be prepared to persevere.

“Life is always full of surprises and it’s never going to go the way you want it to,” she said. “I’ve had a tremendous amount of ups and downs like everybody else. I’ve had great highs and unbelievable lows. That’s life and no one escapes it.”

No matter what your career, Graves said, people are always evolving and growing.

“I try to live my life in a way that I think would be pleasing to God,” she added. “All those things make me really proud of what I do.”

For tickets or for more information, call (704) 332-7177 or (704) 372-1000.

On the Net:
Opera Carolina


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