Denyce Graves has sung for Gerald Ford, Ted Kennedy, Marian Anderson, ad George W. Bush. She’s performed for the Supreme Court justices and is a panelist for American Idol Underground. In other words, she’s a real-live opera star — and she’s also the newest voice instructor for the Peabody Conservatory.
While Graves’ opera bona fides are apparent, the hiring came as something of a surprise. When Graves stopped by Peabody last fall to teach a master class, she wasn’t angling for a job. “She didn’t know she was auditioning,” said Phyllis Bryn-Julson, chair of the school’s voice department (and an opera star herself). But Graves impressed the students so much that the school started considering her for a position with the voice faculty. “Anybody who can pick up her skirt with her teeth while her hands are tied behind her back is on my front burner,” said Bryn-Julson, referring to Graves’ impressive debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1995.
Lucky for them, Graves had started scaling back her performances in order to spend more time with her husband and daughter. “I told my agency I would like to concentrate on recitals and concerts and just do one or two operas a year,” Graves said. And so the Peabody gig — which will have her advising only a few select students at first — was a perfect fit.
Presumably, Graves’s decision to accept the position at Peabody was influenced by her magnificently mustachioed husband Robert Montgomery, a high-powered surgeon and alpaca farmer who directs the Johns Hopkins Comprehensive Transplant Center, whom she met on an airplane. “He has been complaining about the commute,” said Graves. (The couple currently lives in Bethesda.) And while the Peabody job might be a sign of the 48-year old Graves mellowing out as she ages (check out the “personal life” section of her Wikipedia page!), she’s sure to bring a jolt of energy to Peabody’s programs.
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