Diva's 3-Ring Circus Starts Small

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Tuesday, June 30, 2009; 12:00 AM

Denyce Graves, Washington's homegrown opera superstar, and Robert Montgomery were married yesterday in a quiet ceremony at a chapel of the National Cathedral.

"An intimate thing, just the two of us," as she described it to us last week -- only a handful of guests and the cathedral's dean, the Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, there to administer the vows.

Right now you're thinking: C'mon! The top diva of her generation owes us a bit more wedding than that! Never fear. Yesterday's nuptials were just the first of three this summer to consecrate the union of the mezzo-soprano and her physician sweetheart -- one of the top transplant surgeons in the country -- each ceremony more dazzling than the last.

In August, they will travel to Kenya for a blessing in a tribal Masai village. This was the groom's idea and will mark the bride's first trip to Africa. "When he was first studying medicine he studied with medicine men in the village. When he proposed last year at Thanksgiving, he said, 'I'd love to have a wedding in the Masai village.' We looked into that -- it's not legal."

Then in September, they'll go back to the National Cathedral to do it up big. All the friends, all the family, plus documentary film cameras. But the diva, it should be noted, suggested a smaller scale. "I wanted to have a little ceremony, nothing but the two of us," Graves told us. "He wanted to have for his family much more of a public announcement about our new lives." So they're compromising -- and doing both. (It's the second marriage for both bride and groom. Graves's daughter just turned 5, while Montgomery has two college-age kids.)

"We feel so extremely blessed," she said. "He wanted to scream from the top of the bell towers."

A spectacular celebration of an unlikely romance. They met four years ago when they were seated next to each other on a Dulles-to-Paris flight. "That's the only way either of us could meet the other," she said.

Graves, now 45, had spent a decade thrilling audiences on opera stages around the world. Montgomery, now 49 and the chief of transplant surgery at Johns Hopkins, has gained acclaim for his work with "kidney paired donations," in which a donor who isn't compatible with the recipient he wants to help instead gives an organ to a stranger, in exchange for a kidney from the stranger's willing loved one. In another pioneering surgery that made headlines this winter, Montgomery's team was the first to remove a donor's kidney via her vagina. (Don't cringe: It reduces scarring and recovery time.)

"I'm usually the first one to pull out my laptop" on long trips, Graves told us. "But we talked from takeoff to landing." (Fittingly, the rehearsal dinner before their full-scale September ceremony will be in a hangar at Dulles.)

Early in the courtship, they made an agreement, she said: "He had to come to an opera, and I had to come to a kidney transplant." Montgomery saw Graves in the Washington National Opera production of "Bluebeard's Castle" and later a recital at the Kennedy Center.

"Then I finally went to watch him in his own theater," Graves said dryly. "I'm not sure I'd do it again." And yet: "I am myself in awe and in great reverence for the way he lives his life."

If it sounds as though she's pretty crazy about him, the feeling seems to be mutual. One of Montgomery's transplant patients recently returned for a checkup after a few years and told him he was glowing. "Along with the birth of my daughter, this is the most beautiful happening in my life," Graves said. "We've begun an excavation of our souls that has unfolded new selves for us."

Obamas to Worship in Private, for Now

Not coming to a church near you -- the Obama family. The president is still looking for a congregation to join in Washington, but will worship at Camp David for the time being. "He has attended services at the chapel there; he enjoys the pastor there," press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters yesterday. Gibbs said the president believes there is a "very personal nature to one's spirituality" and worries that his presence at a church service can be disruptive and takes away from the experience for others. "He certainly doesn't want to do that," Gibbs added.

Hey, Isn't That . . .

. . . Noah Wyle dining with friends at Nathan's on Friday. The "ER" star was spotted with actress Sarah Clarke; the two are here shooting (shhh -- it's supposed to be very hush-hush) the D.C.-based indie comedy "Below the Beltway."

Quoted

"The term 'Congress,' Madam Speaker, actually is an ancient term. It means interaction -- it means the intercourse between men and women -- and ideas and philosophies."

-- Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), captured by Roll Call on the House floor Friday, trying to shame Democrats into allowing more time for debate on the climate-change bill but instead leading us into a total heh-heh-heh moment.

This Just In . . .

-- Billy Mays probably died of a heart attack, a Florida medical examiner said yesterday. The TV pitchman, 50, died in his sleep Saturday night. There was early speculation that a head bump during a rough airplane landing that day contributed to his death. But Hillsborough County Medical Examiner Vernard Adams said Mays had no evidence of head trauma -- but did have heart disease, which is "perfectly consistent with sudden death." The official cause will be determined after tests are completed in a few weeks.


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