news Sports Opinions arts variety interact Wildcat On-Line QuickNav

Singing statues

By brad senning
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 4, 1999
Send comments to:


Wildcat File Photo
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Denyce Graves performed at Centennial Hall on Wednesday, January 27.

The guy sitting next to me was a retiree from Dallas. The only thing I care about with regard to Dallas is that it's far enough away that I don't have to smell the steer manure and that since the prime-time drama that bore its name is now off the air, the fall lineups have put into the limelight such favorite personalities as Balky and Alf. One of the pains of the theater, as with airplanes, is to have to sit next to someone who thinks that an interesting conversation starts with the place he's from and ends with a between-you-and-me discussion of his prostrate.

Yet because the show was quite distant - the box office didn't save me a ticket, so I joined an anonymous ticket donor at the rear end of the theater - I got to concentrate more on my neighbor from Dallas. "Denyce Graves performed in Carmen with Placido Domingo," he said. "She knows how to sing, but she doesn't know how to act."

I suppose one of the nice things about performing in a recital versus performing in an opera is that the music becomes more purely expressive and you can alienate your audience from your physical presence by making your face as blank as a sheet of ice. Take Denyce Graves. From the distant rear end of the theater her often motionless body and presumably changeless face gave her the appearance of a singing marble sculpture.

Yet when she broke into Bizet's "Oeuvre ton coeur," a sensitivity distinct from her physical presence put the music outside the vale of explicit beauty. It was music warming to the fires of pure art. I was surprised to find myself moved as were men for the statue of Aphrodite in the days of Hellenic Greek sculpture. The time when they leapt into her marble arms, so transfixed by the ungodly beauty that they ventured past public decorum.

She warmed up so much that after the intermission she reappeared without her lace overlay. When she sang Brahms, I could almost detect - through the stout German diction and nearly bipolar variations in emotion - expressions of saliva hitting the standing boom mikes.

Her piano accompanist, Warren Jones, put some textured touches into the performance, notably during the Falla pieces, playing vigorously as if putting "Seguidilla murciana" to death then giving "Asturiana" a solemnity of character I've hardly heard from the most skilled mortician.

Perhaps it does the performance a disservice to end this review on a sour note, but Graves' cap to the selections, a string of spirituals in the African-American gospel tradition, was as soulless as if they had been sung by Ross Perot. The occidental arrangements were a sacrilege. It might as well have been Gwyneth Paltrow playing Eliza in Uncle Tom's Cabin. She can sing a mean Carmen, as she proved in one of her encores, but the jaws of life couldn't have helped redeem those spirituals from her lifeless rendering.