SPOTLIGHT: Several of the Peabody Conservatory voice students of mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves were presented in an afternoon showcase of her studio, “Studio 410.”
by Patrick D. McCoy
It was just about six years ago that Denyce Graves conducted a Masterclass at Howard University, hosted by the Hines-Lee Opera of Washington. In a few conversations that followed, she shared that she was interested in perhaps lending her gifts as an artist-in residence at the university level and had particular interests at that time at an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). And though her path to such a prominent appointment has taken her in a different direction at Peabody Conservatory, she has managed to cultivate and nurture a diverse studio of promising young artists.
Studio 410 is the voice studio of Graves’ at Peabody Conservatory. It was inspired by her mother and further nurtured by her student Brandi Diggs, who often shared with her the things that young singers currently have to go through in pursuit of this career. The young singers were given an amazing audience to perform for at Wolf Trap. Among those present from the arts community were Arvind Manocha-President and CEO at Wolf Trap, Kim Pensinger Witman-General Director of Opera at Wolf Trap, newly minted artistic director of The Washington Chorus-Christopher Bell and Douglas H. Wheeler, President Emeritus of Washington Performing Arts. It is certainly of note to credit Ms. Graves in her ability to garner such an influential audience for these budding artists to perform for. Also present were many students from Graves’ alma mater, the Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts. The afternoon was not only a series of performances, but it was also a much needed ‘teachable’ moment for the audience. In her introduction, Graves shared some of her own experiences a young rising singer and shared both triumphs and hardships that have formed her stellar career. It was truly inspirational as we witnessed the young artists that would come before us during the course of the afternoon.
Of course in any cast, there are certainly standouts. Soprano Brandi Diggs launched into “Chacun Le Sait” by Donizetti. Rousing and full of confidence, Diggs’ soaring voice was quite the opener for the afternoon. A lovely contrast that followed was soprano Simone Brown, who offered “Take My Mother Home’ from “Honey and Rue” by André Previn. Full of vocal warmth and range, Brown’s selection was a deeply emotional choice, with each phrase cast in a different light. Mezzo-soprano Lisa McNulty sang a touching interpretation of Jake Hegge’s “He’s Gone Away.” Soprano Christine Lyons exuded such a radiant presence as she sang “Ain’t That a Pretty Night” from Carlisle Floyd’s “Susannah.” Tammi Lee “broke the ice” as she interjected a moment of comedy as she explained her ‘pants’ role in Gounod’s “Que Fait” from “Romeo et Juliet.” Soprano Symone Harcum offered one of the powerhouse moments as she sang the aria “Ernani Involami” from Verdi’s “Ernani.” The surprise of the afternoon came in the form of Mary Burke. A beautifully slender singer, physical perception went all the way out of the window as she revealed a powerfully rich voice of regal warmth and strength in Korngold’s “Was du mir Bist.” Soprano Morgan Sanchez charmed the audience with her delightfully coquettish performance of “The Physician” by Cole Porter. Ironically, Sanchez not only is a voice student in Studio 410, but she is also studying biomedical engineering in the John Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering. The singers were accompanied wonderfully at the piano by Lee Musiker.
Ending the wonderful showcase was “The Impossible Dream” from “The Man of la Mancha” joined by Emma Dickinson, Briana Samuels and Taylor Alexis-Dupont in the ‘tutti’ selections.
A native of Petersburg, Virginia, Patrick D. McCoy is a graduate of Virginia State University and Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Virginia. He has been an arts contributor for Examiner.com, CBS Washington, The Afro American Newspaper and most recently was the Performing Arts Columnist at Washington Life Magazine for four years. As a church musician, he currently serves as Organist/Choirmaster at Saint John’s Episcopal Church (Zion Parish) in Beltsville, Maryland. Visit www.patrickdmccoy.com for all of your arts news and send press releases and ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org. He dedicates his musical pursuits to the Glory of God, in loving memory of his mother Velma Ann McCoy-Pulley (1956-2017).