Photograph: Philip Bermingham
"It's not often that a crew from '60 Minutes' covers a debut at the Metropolitan Opera. But Denyce Graves, a mezzo-soprano who made her debut in the title role of Bizet's Carmen on Saturday night, has lived a quintessential American success story. The pressures on her must have been as extreme as the expectations were high. 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. If anything, Ms. Graves underestimates her charisma. She didn't need to do all that standard-issue hip swiveling to entice Don Jose. Much more effective was the moment when after her arrest outside the tobacco factory in Seville, sitting on a table with her hands tied behind her back, she slowly lifted her skirt above her knees with her teeth. From that moment, Ms. Graves had the Met audience enthralled."
– Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times
"Ms. Graves let herself explode across the stage. The voice meows and growls; there is a touch of brass that makes the sound that much more visceral. She exudes what Carmen must have: sex."
– Bernard Holland, The New York Times
"The mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves has not only taken over the title role of the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Bizet's Carmen, she has taken over the whole show. And more power to her. Few Carmens bring such beauty and unself-conscious sensuality to the role. And she moves as nimbly as any dancer in the chorus. Mostly she sang with husky, dark tone, intense expressivity and stylistic understanding. Her best moments were those when she dared to do less, not more, as in Act II, when she pensively reflected upon the possibility, unthinkable to her, that perhaps Don José really does not love her enough to desert the army as she wants him to."
– Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times
"Nothing scares Denyce Graves' Carmen, not even Don Jose grabbing her by the hair or putting a knife to her throat. A free spirit who leaves a wake of destruction through southern Spain, Graves' Carmen is an unforgettable theatrical performer whose presence drowns out Zeffirelli's circus atmosphere. The final, fatal encounter between gypsy and soldier is the most powerful moment in the opera. Graves, defiant to the last, dies like a true diva. She is the Met's Carmen for many years to come, and this uneven new production needs her presence to hold it together."
– Paul J. Pelkonen
Lyric Opera of Chicago
"Fortunately Lyric has brought us today's Carmen of choice, Denyce Graves, who takes command of the stage with a vibrant intensity that is absolutely mesmerizing. The American mezzo-soprano, in her Lyric debut, is by far the central attraction here.
She makes every other Carmen of recent memory seem bland by comparison. It's not just the smoky, earthy growl and sensuous bite of her singing, although that is exciting enough all by itself. An unusually beautiful woman, she uses her dancer's body like a lethal weapon: charming but loaded. She is fiery, free-spirited, empowered, a Carmen for the post-feminist era. She exudes raw sexuality, as Carmen must. There is no mistaking her intentions as she bites into an orange during her singing of the Habanera, spurting the juice in Don Jose's face. After that, the susceptible kid from the provinces doesn't stand a chance."
– John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune
The Washington Opera
"The 'Carmen' that opened Saturday night in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall is an outstanding conclusion to one of the best seasons the company has had in years. Martin Feinstein has ended his tenure as general director in fine style. The high point of this production is the long-awaited appearance of Denyce Graves as Carmen. Graves, a Washington native, has sung the role in the great opera houses of the world—Milan, Berlin, Paris, Vienna and London, not to mention Philadelphia and San Francisco—before finally bringing it to her home town. The powerful singing and the skilled acting of Graves give it an unusual dramatic strength and focus. Her voice is evenly and strongly produced throughout its range. Her lower register has the warmth and the hint of menace that are keys to an effective vocal interpretation of Carmen. Graves uses her rich voice and powerful body language to project the sensuality and capriciousness that make this one of opera's most challenging and rewarding roles."
– The Washington Post
"Rising superstar Denyce Graves more than lived up to her advance billing as the definitive Carmen of the '90s. Sultry and slinky, her smoky, powerful mezzo-soprano voice exuded sexuality without flaunting it or vamping it—a difficult task, proving that she is as much a first-class actress as she is a major operatic force. Her Carmen is not a coquette. She is a sexual predator, an independent spirit, a wild bird who cannot be captured by any man, as she allusively proclaims in the 'Habanera.' She commanded the stage from that time onward, with the 'Chanson Bohème' that opens the second act particularly exhilarating. Hers is a breathtaking talent, one that will continue, like a great wine, to expand and improve over the years."
– The Washington Times
Opera Company of Philadelphia
"Graves embodies the beguiling beauty of this role. She sang the part with a creamy, even voice while projecting a character that is agile and capricious."
– The Philadelphia Inquirer
"Washingtonian Denyce Graves brought her internationally acclaimed interpretation of Bizet's Carmen as close to home as is likely in the next year or so, and it is worth a trip to Philadelphia for repeats. The primary appeal of this 'Carmen' lies in the portrayal of its title role: a capricious young woman, wild, untamed and bent on using her sexual power as a weapon against the world. Graves owns this role.
Her voice is powerful but tonally mellow and used with a subtlety of emotional nuance that one usually finds only in much older singers. She is equally impressive as an actress, with moods that can range instantly from a kitten wanting to be petted to a tigress ready to kill. Her body language is precise and eloquent, and it indicates great depth and complexity beneath the character's apparently simple surface. She also has the kind of drop-dead good looks that make it seem completely reasonable that men would fall in love with her and forget everything else."
– The Washington Post
San Francisco Opera
"Seldom has a singer made such an impression as the plucky Denyce Graves in the title role of 'Carmen,' opening a nearly sold-out run of the Bizet favorite at the San Francisco Opera. Graves, a promising young mezzo whose physical beauty is solidly matched by the size and quality of her voice, essayed the role in a knee-high cast. Even with the distraction, Graves' natural charisma and her huge, gorgeously rich voice had us hanging on every note."
– Oakland Tribune
"As though if were not challenge enough to produce Bizet's 'Carmen' effectively under normal circumstances, the San Francisco Opera, and notably its new leading lady, had to win out over undue handicaps Saturday. Denyce Graves, who was last week tapped to take over, made her impressive San Francisco Opera debut in pain. Having suffered a broken bone in her left foot in a rehearsal, she was hobbled by a walking cast. The traditional good luck stage salutation 'Break a leg' is not meant to be taken literally.
To say she came through like a trouper understates it. Graves gave a stirring performance as a Carmen of fiery resolve, sexual magnetism (dare one use the word today?) and unswervable toughness. Her high mezzo-soprano voice is potent and arresting, particularly in the top register when she lets it out. Her singing and interpretation were highly individualized by way of her making much of the contrast between light and contained vocalism and the 'tiger burning bright' sound. The softer voice conveyed the vulnerable or, alternatively, the seductive and dangerous side. Her young voice is not yet fully settled, but that's only a matter of time and good experience. Graves will make a big mark."
– San Francisco Chronicle
"The title character in Bizet's most popular opera, 'Carmen,' is supposed to be sexy, savvy and sonorous. Just like Denyce Graves was Saturday night. But mezzo-soprano Graves, making her San Francisco debut, had something going for her no other Carmen in memory has had, a large plaster cast on her left foot. Actually, after the initial visual shock, the cast on her foot became unimportant. Her steamy, highly intelligent portrayal of the Gypsy tobacco factory siren took over, as did extraordinary vocal abilities. At once a sensitive actress and a wonderfully lyrical singer, Graves drew an enthusiastic response from the early 'Habanera,' when Carmen flirts with Don José. Her line was clean, powerful and, especially in the middle registers, incredibly sensuous. She allowed Carmen's personality to come through with ever-increasing fervor. By the death scene duet, at the opera's closing moments, one was in full sympathy with the character's free spirit and amazed by her interpreter's vocal beauty."
– The Sacramento Bee
Los Angeles Opera
"Graves is, it seems, a major talent. She is tall and slender, obviously intelligent and eminently voluptuous. She moves with confidence and subtle grace. Her eyes flash with telling insinuation. She savors textual nuance, and she commands an attractive, smooth-timbered lyric mezzo- soprano."
– Los Angeles Times
"In Graves, a young mezzo making her debut in the role, we have a Carmen who fits the role perfectly. Not only does she possess an unusually expressive, opulent voice, a fluid style of moving and an unafraid sensuality, she can also act with great clarity. Her Carmen, from the beginning, is all internalized anger and willful calculation. But Graves, both physically and musically dominant, is from the start a woman in revolt. Her Carmen is the ultimate male fantasy creation, the stereotypical dark-skinned gypsy exotic whore. Her sexuality is not only her allure, it's her weapon, her way of manipulating and controlling, and ultimately, exposing the oppression around her. In Graves' provocative interpretation, her seduction is never confused with either love or passion. She shows the calculation behind her seduction, taking her own steamy cultural stereotype and throwing it back in the face of the culture that created it."
– Mike Steel, Minneapolis Tribune
"Carmen is the first leading role for mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, a woman of ravishing vocal and physical beauty, who will soon be able to write her own ticket. Dramatically, she spanned a convincing range from the devil-woman of the first act to the cornered, pitiable victim of the last, making an unusually sympathetic case for the gypsy. Offers of more Carmens will probably besiege Graves, especially given the bold and unsettling eroticism she generates onstage (no doubt keeping the cold showers running long into the night)."
– David McKee, Opera Monthly
Berkshire Opera, MA
"She looked fabulous, changed her clothes frequently, projected diva charisma, tossed her hair, swung her hips, bared her teeth, flaunted her cleavage, and sang the music about as well as it can be sung. There was fire, humor, and grace in her voice as well as power and allure; Graves sings off the words, with precise rhythm, dynamic variety, and uncommon accuracy in all the places even very good Carmens fudge. Her characterization in the first two acts was both larger-than-life and conventional. This was a Hollywood Carmen, or Carmen as glamorous opera star; she was not a sly, capricious, willful, violent gypsy. She does know how to move, dances convincingly, and plays the castanets with real snap. At her best, she can hold her own against most of the heavy competition of the past; she's a great Carmen."
– Richard Dyer, Boston Globe
Saint Louis Symphony
"Graves is a charismatic figure onstage, sensuous and beautiful. She is completely involved in her character, and everything she does is believable. Her big, dark, vibrant voice is well-nigh perfect for the role; her musical and dramatic instincts are flawless. Graves knows when to stick to the book and when to exercise the freedom that is so much a part of Carmen's persona. She is a world-class singer in her prime, and her performance—from the 'Habanera' to her dancing and castanet playing to her convincing death—was stunning."
– Sarah Bryan Miller, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa
"For the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America, the USA sent to Genoa, birthplace of Christopher Columbus, a young black Carmen of immense charm, worthy to join the dynasty of Leontyne Price, Grace Bumbry, and Shirley Verrett. She is Denyce Graves, 28 years old, with a supple body whose grace matches her voice. Her acting and her singing were imbued with great sensuality, and powerful, instinctive eroticism. As well as conquering poor Don José, the sensuality of this Carmen overwhelmed her audience in the Teatro Carlo Felice. She has a full, warm beautiful voice, dark at the bottom, but able to soar up with velvety resonance. The scene of the Seguidilla and the dance with castanets in Lillas Pastia's tavern will not be quickly forgotten here. Denyce Grave's Carmen was intensely emotional, sincere and provocative."
"Her name is Denyce Graves, from the United States, 28 years old, and yesterday evening she made her debut in an Italian theatre. The Carlo Felice Opera House, crowded with people, paid her Carmen tribute with great and well-deserved applause. It is worth attending the show so as to not miss this young artist who will undoubtedly be heard of in the near future. Denyce Graves is a perfect Carmen. Beautiful to hear and beautiful to see.
The voice is powerful and pliant, homogeneous in its tessitura. Her singing is fluid, elegant, varying in its colors, and supported by a solid technique. And the theatrical personality is uncommon. Graves performs with self-revelation, dances with sensuality, and has an exceptional communicativeness on stage. In sum, extraordinary from the initial 'Habanera,' through the second act, with the long dance scene leading to Don José's seduction, to the dramatic interpretation of the game of cards and of fate in the third act."
– Corriere Mercantile (Genoa)
"Graves is dazzling in a powerful opera. The opera is worth seeing again for the portrayal of Carmen by Denyce Graves, a young American artist in her debut in Italy. An impeccable voice, an extraordinary dramatic temperament: an undeniably fascinating Carmen."
– Gazzetta del Lundi (Genoa)
"Great expectations are had for Denyce Graves, a young American artist in her operatic debut in Italy. At the final dress rehearsal on Saturday, she showed and added to a beautiful and powerful voice, a strong dramatic temperament which makes her particularly well-suited to the role of Carmen."
– La Stampa (Genoa)
Grand Theatre de Geneve
"Thank God the Geneva Carmen was blessed with Denyce Graves, who had so much womanly fire and knowing passion that she could bring soul to this production."
– Das Opernglas
"On Wednesday evening the debut of Denyce Graves as Carmen was a small sensation. In contrast to the celebrated interpreters of our day, she sings Bizet's showpiece role with a dark-colored voice which is without breaks in the registers, but it is also blessed with the proper metal for the precipitous outbursts. In standard memory no one in Vienna has sung Carmen more beautifully."
– Die Presse (Vienna)
Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires
"Mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves has made a specialty of Carmen. Her career is young but it has had a high profile. She is a looker, no mean advantage in a Carmen, and her voice is creamy and beautiful, with fine tone in all registers. I saw her twice, and as time went by, she was more and more convincing, finding the right volume for the big house and interpreting with true sensuality. She acts well, with feline agility, and she even does a creditable job with the castanets."
– El Heraldo de Buenos Aires
"The Carmen of the young Denyce Graves possesses, all at once, perspicacity, impertinence and aplomb. She knows how to carry out a seduction. She alone knows how to create an atmosphere which ends, unalterably, in an explosion of passions."
– Opèra International
More Critical Acclaim:
All Reviews ~
In Recital ~
As Carmen ~
As Dalila ~
Opera General ~