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Graves Sings the Mezzo-soprano Blues

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Carmen is crazy about Denyce Graves and beckons her to the stage far more often than any other role. But Graves isn't so crazy about Carmen.

"I love it, and I'm frustrated with it," she said. "I think there's no glory in the role. ... It's really about being a personality.

"You don't get the beautiful melodic music or the romantic material. She never has a moment alone on the stage. She never even has an aria, in my opinion."

So although the characters of Don Jose and Micaela take solo turns in the spotlight, even Carmen's most famous number, the Habanera, is accompanied by a chorus.

"It's very satisfying in terms of the character herself and the range of emotions you have to develop throughout the whole of the evening," she said. "But it's certainly very, very frustrating. It's not a role that I would choose had I the choice to say, 'What is it that you'd like to do?' I would never say Carmen. Not ever."

The idea that Graves, one of today's most celebrated opera stars, feels she lacks choice might seem surprising. But, she explained, she's constrained by being a mezzo-soprano, for whom far fewer roles are written than for the higher-pitched sopranos.

"I'm so angry with Puccini that he didn't write anything, I mean nothing, for mezzo," she said. "There are little roles here and there but nothing like where you get to be the real protagonist."

Renowned soprano Sylvia McNair doesn't share her friend's assessment of "Carmen."

"I disagree completely," she said. "I think she's got the best music. Actually in my one-woman show, I do one full chorus of the Habanera. It's a great piece."


(c) 2005, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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