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Opera Singer Denyce Graves, Johns Hopkins's Robert Montgomery Celebrate Wedding

Opera singer Denyce Graves and Robert Montgomery redefine the meaning of a wedding party.

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By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 14, 2009

This is what's transpired in the past six years of Denyce Graves's ever-epic life:

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She was dumped by a boyfriend who no longer wished to follow her around the world. She found herself heartbroken and sick and finally went to a doctor who said he had news -- at 39, she was with child. Impossible, she replied: Throughout her previous 17-year marriage she tried repeatedly to get pregnant, but was told it could never happen because of fibroids and various other conditions. Besides, her then-lover had told her he'd had a vasectomy, she says.

But she was pregnant. The doctors urged her to abort, she says, because she wouldn't be able to carry to term. Then, Graves says, she was told the child had Down syndrome.

But in 2004 she delivered a healthy baby girl -- "and she's perfect."

So one of the most celebrated mezzo-sopranos of her day became a single mother to a daughter named Ella Thomas, ferrying the infant to concert halls around the world.

Then, in June 2006, she and Ella boarded a plane from Dulles to Paris and sat down next to love. It came in the body of a bespectacled, flamboyantly mustachioed transplant surgeon who knew little about opera and even less about Graves.

On Saturday Graves held the third of three wedding ceremonies to that man, Robert Montgomery, 49, a Johns Hopkins doctor known for his pioneering work in kidney transplantation. The two staged a family-only affair in June, traveled to Kenya for a traditional Masai blessing in August and wrapped up with a six-figure, five-day finale that included events at a private airplane hangar, Washington National Cathedral and the Anderson House in the Dupont Circle neighborhood.

Like their romance and her existence, it was dramatic, grand and complicated.

"This is your lucky day," Graves said to Montgomery as she and Ella, then almost 2, settled in to the business-class seat next to him on that transatlantic flight.

She was being ironic, of course, not knowing that he already -- earnestly -- agreed. Montgomery had seen Graves and Ella in the airport lounge before they boarded, and "I was struck by her presence," he recalls. "She was just illuminated. . . . I was transfixed."

Both are normally the type who refuse to talk to seatmates on long flights, but when Graves discovered the battery on Ella's DVD player was dead, Montgomery offered his laptop as a replacement and a conversation began. It continued from takeoff through landing, and spanned both their life stories.

Now 45, she had grown up without a father in Southwest Washington, found her talent early on, married a classical guitarist who became her manager in her early 20s, risen to the top of the opera world, sung for presidents and royalty, survived depression, divorce and surgery on her vocal cords. She'd tried to make things work with Ella's father after her daughter's birth, but they just didn't.


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