TODAY: Soprano Deborah Voigt Celebrates 25th Anniversary of Metropolitan Opera Debut
Staff, ZEALnyc, October 18, 2016
Twenty-five years ago today, the American-born dramatic soprano Deborah Voigt made her Metropolitan Opera debut. The role was Amelia in Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera, and the performance would mark the launch of an exciting, colorful career.
“Friday’s performance, her first of Ariadne, revealed one of the most important American singers to come along in years.” wrote New York Times critic John Rockwell of her debut with Boston Lyric Opera earlier that year. “The obvious comparison, among dramatic sopranos, is Eileen Farrell. If Miss Voigt does not soon become an important Wagnerian soprano, she will have taken a wrong career turn.”
Ms. Voigt did become an important Wagnerian soprano, recently singing Brünnhilde in the Met’s new Robert Lapage Ring. From Wheeling, Illinois and later Placentia California, Voigt has sung Verdi, Strauss and Wagner in the world’s major houses. She hosts Metropolitan Opera’s HD Live and PBS’ Great Performance series. Her career has been rich in achievement while her persona has been shaped by challenges, some quite public. Over her twenty-five years on opera stages and in concert halls, we think it is fair to say that Ms. Voigt has forged a special bond with music lovers around the world.
As part of our TODAY series, ZEALnyc has collected thoughts and recollections from notable colleagues. These follow. ZEALnyc congratulates soprano Deborah Voigt on her remarkable career.
Peter Gelb, General Manager, Metropolitan Opera
Debbie’s position as one of the Met’s greats was secure long before her 25th anniversary. With her richly voiced and heroic portrayals of some of opera’s legendary characters, from the ‘Girl of the Golden West’ to Brünnhilde, and from Tosca to Isolde, Debbie is a Met legend in her own time.
Francesca Zambello, Director of Washington National Opera and Glimmerglass Festival
We talk a lot about performers being perfect and sublime these days.
Truthfully, no artist is perfect and those who seem to be are usually boring. That is never a word you would use about the tough willed and big-hearted diva Debbie because she has so many different facets as an artist and a human being. I have known her since the early days of San Fran Opera where she was in Merola and an Adler Fellow when I was a beginning director. She was always fearless and willing to try anything and stop at nothing. She is also not afraid of going deep in her own emotions to share them with an audience. That is a tricky thing for any performer. Of course I have directed Debbie in many standard operatic roles, but the one where she went the deepest was a show she created about herself called ‘Voigt Lessons’ with Terrence McNally, Kevin Stites and myself.
When we were working on it we holed up at the wonderfully secluded MacDowell Colony. Here we developed the show from scratch with Debbie story-telling, Terrence writing and Kevin Stites finding the right music with Debbie’s suggestions. At the end of our process we had a script and a score, a version of her life came alive in song and words using abundant amounts of humour and pathos. All the mountains and pits of it are told in a very moving fashion.
On this bumpy road of self-exposition we all saw some pretty funny sides of her personality come out as she told stories of singing in church and being louder than anyone or dreaming she wanted to be Karen Carpenter or dealing with being the fat girl amongst the cheerleaders. All of these things have shaped her as a great artist and one I deeply love and admire.
Ben Heppner, Tenor
Congratulations Deb on your magnificent career, and particularly on this important twenty-fifth anniversary. It has been both a pleasure and a privilege to work with you over the last quarter century! With all my love.
Brian Zeger, Artistic Director Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts, The Juilliard School
Debbie has a way of turning adverse circumstances to her advantage.
When the whole flap about the ‘little black dress’ was raging, we had a Carnegie recital on the way. Debbie had already been featuring my partner Ben Moore’s hilarious comedy song, ‘Wagner Roles’, in our concerts to great effect. Her consummate comedic timing matched Ben’s quiet upending of clichés about physical casting and the stereotypes that people get stuck in. So the adroit rhyming of ‘what a mess’ with ‘that little black dress’ brought the house down with a roar. You could feel the relief of the audience getting to laugh at the absurdity of the whole affair and express its love for Debbie at the same time.
In this age of fat-shaming and gender bullying, it seems like a harbinger of the voice that spoke in “Call Me Debbie” with frankness and honesty. And she brought a sold-out Carnegie Hall to its feet.
Kristen Blodgette, Conductor and Music Supervisor, The Phantom Of the Opera and CATS
I first worked with Debbie at The Glimmerglass Festival as musical director for her starring role in ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ and for me, it was a thrilling, once in a lifetime, experience.
Debbie asked if I would conduct her debut in Beijing and Shanghai with the China Philharmonic Orchestra and the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. I leapt at the chance.
One day in Shanghai, between rehearsals, we ended up in a very fancy hotel restaurant for a midday meal. The air conditioning was on high, and we were freezing. Ms. Voigt was anything but a diva about it and gently asked if the AC could be turned down a little. The response resulted not only in heat being turned on but also in 2 blankets brought to the table by the eager maître d’. It was still so cold that we ate with the blankets pulled up over our heads. We were two Little Red Riding Hoods, sipping soup dumplings!
We laughed, ate and laughed some more. I will never ever forget her down to earth, gentle, generous, fun loving spirit through our entire adventure in China.
ZEALnyc thanks both Jonathan Tichler and Sam Neuman of the Metropolitan Opera. We also thank John Michael Kennedy of Boston Lyric Opera.
ZEALnyc’s TODAY: commemorates important dates in arts and culture.
Cover photo: Soprano Deborah Voigt. Photo: Dario Acosta