High Notes On This Day

A Look At Denyce Graves’ ‘Carmen’ & ‘Samson et Dalila’

Denyce Graves is regarded as one of the great mezzos of the 20th century. For years she dominated the stage in many leading roles and after her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1995, became a household name around the world. Born on March 7, 1964, the mezzo-soprano has built an extensive repertoire throughout her career and she continues to find interesting roles that suit her voice and temperament. However, there are two roles that will forever mark her career, “Carmen” and Dalila in “Samson et Dalila.” In celebration of her birthday, we take a look at these two roles that she made favorites at the Metropolitan Opera.


For years Graves made headlines with her sensual Carmen. She performed the role at the Covent Garden, Washington National Opera, LA Opera and most notably at the Metropolitan Opera, where she made her debut as the eponymous heroine in 1995. Of her debut critics wrote, “Ms. Graves has a classic mezzo-soprano voice with dusky colorings and a wide range, from her chesty low voice to her gleaming top notes. She is a compelling stage actress who exuded the sensuality that any Carmen must have but few do.” She would repeat the role again in 1996, 1997, 2002, 2003 and 2005, which would mark her last production with the company. As she continued singing the part her interpretation changed and it became even more dramatic.


The other role that Graves became known for was Dalila in Saint-Saëns’ opera “Samson et Dalila.” For Graves, this was her favorite role and she stated back in 1999 that Dalila, “is so gratifying, but it’s one of those roles you have to be in form for. In ‘Carmen’ you can hide in some places. Not with Dalila. Act 2 starts out with one of the hardest arias in the repertoire. There are very gentle moments and moments of great finesse. But from the beginning of the act to the end of the act, you don’t leave the stage, and that’s major big-girl singing.” Graves introduced Dalila to Met audiences in 1998 with Placido Domingo in a production by Elijah Moshinsky. It was a role that she would repeat for Met audiences in 2000 and 2005. For her final run at the Met, Graves did not receive spectacular reviews but critics did say, “she roused herself in Act Two and delivered her strongest singing when it counted, during the love duet.”

While Graves never returned to the Met after 2005, audiences around the United States were still able to catch both these roles and enjoy the artistry of this great Diva.

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