March 13, 2003

Three Encores, One Incredible Woman

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The Cornell Concert Series presented yet another superb artist last Sunday, as mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves gave a triple encore performance at the State Theatre. The elegant virtuoso produced an amazing sound in a wonderfully diverse concert of worldly music.

She began with a set of pieces from the Baroque period, immediately capturing the audience as she reached out with hand and voice, interpreting the bittersweet music of John Dowland, followed by two works by Henry Purcell. Next, a single, quick-paced selection by Handel, which the singer seemed to particularly enjoy, her head bobbing between phrases to the tune of the piano; an accompaniment which went nearly unnoticed until this point. Pianist Warren Jones played excellently — graceful and unobtrusive, though well connected to the soloist. By the end of the first set, Graves had displayed impeccable diction, a well-controlled vibrato, and an elaborate range with a rich lower register, like that of a contralto.

The second set, which introduced the Classical period, included four passionate songs of Brahms. They translated into messages of despair, death, and eternal love, for the most part, sad and heartfelt, as expressed by Graves’ portrayal of the notes through body language. One could obviously see the influence of her operatic experience.

With three pieces by Henri Duparc, she continued the emotional display, though not before setting the stage with a description of the songs’ underlying tales of love. In this, her first time opening her mouth without producing magical notes, Ms. Graves gave a rather detailed interpretation of “Le Maniore de Rosamonde (The Manor of Rosamonde).” She told of a suitor’s failed attempt to surpass the traps and pitfalls of a maze (designed by an obsessed king) leading to the home and heart of his beloved.

When finally she did sing, it seemed evident that Graves’ smooth voice was made to sing French. Apparently, others have thought the same. She’s performed, year after year, the title roles in Carmen and Samson et Dalila. She drew on the latter, singing the well-known melody of “Mon coeur s’ouvre