• The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Deborah Voigt

    Deborah Voigt is a busy lady. Her agent said she wasn't granting many interviews these days, and asked us to keep it short. We did this one as an e-mail questionnaire, and sent her eight questions (Mary Auer contributed with the questions), and we are thrilled that she did reply, and sent us her interesting thoughts that you can read below. (Photos used with authorization of her press representative at 21C Media Group) [Opera Lively interview # 52]


    © Peter Ross

    Singer: American soprano (of German descent) Deborah Voigt
    Fach: Dramatic soprano
    Born: in 1960 to a Southern Baptist family; raised in Wheeling, Illinois, and Placentia, California
    Recently in: Der Ring des Nibelungen, Metropolitan Opera, NY, in the role of Brünnhilde
    Currently in:
    summer recital season; July 30 in Sun Valley, ID; August 5 in Cooperstown, NY (Glymmerglass Festival); August 18 in Westhampton, NY.
    Next in: Les Troyens, Metropolitan Opera, NY; December 13, 17, 21, 26, 29 2012; January 1 and 5, 2013 - for tickets, click [here]

    Artistic Biography

    Deborah Voigt is increasingly recognized as one of the world’s most versatile singers, and one of music’s most endearing personalities. Through her performances and television appearances, she is known for the singular power and beauty of her voice, as well as for her captivating stage presence. A leading dramatic soprano, internationally revered for her performances in the operas of Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss, she has also portrayed some of the great heroines in Italian opera to great acclaim. An active recitalist and performer of Broadway standards and popular songs, Voigt has an extensive discography, and has given many enthusiastically received master classes. She also appears regularly, as both performer and host, in the Metropolitan Opera’s “Met: Live in HD” series, which is transmitted live to movie theaters across the U.S. and overseas.


    As Salome - © Dan Rest

    In addition to her Brünnhilde at the Met, other recent engagements have included
    her company debut with the Washington National Opera as Richard Strauss’s Salome (in a production by Francesca Zambello) and her role debut as Minnie in Puccini’s La fanciulla del West, at three different American opera houses over a nine-month period: at the San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the Metropolitan Opera, where her performances marked the 100th anniversary of the opera’s premiere in 1910.

    Her late-season performance of Schoenberg’s monodrama, Erwartung, with the New York Philharmonic was critically acclaimed. In the summer Voigt won praise as Annie Oakley at the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, headlining in Irving Berlin’s beloved Annie Get Your Gun as well as in Voigt Lessons, a one-woman show developed by Voigt with playwright Terrence McNally and Francesca Zambello. Voigt also served as the festival’s first Artist-in-Residence during its first summer featuring Zambello as its General and Artistic Director.

    Through her career, Voigt has given definitive performances of iconic roles in German opera, from Richard Strauss’s Ariadne, Salome, Kaiserin (in Frau Ohne Schatten) and Chrysothemis (in Elektra) to Wagner’s Sieglinde (in Die Walküre), Elizabeth (in Tannhäuser) and Isolde. She is also noted for her portrayals of such popular Italian operatic roles as Tosca, Aida, Amelia in Un ballo in maschera, Leonora in La forza del destino, and La Gioconda. Voigt’s wide-ranging repertoire also includes starring roles (several of which she has recorded) in Strauss’s Egyptian Helen, Der Rosenkavalier, and Friedenstag, Wagner’s Lohengrin, and Berlioz’s Les Troyens.

    Deborah Voigt studied at California State University at Fullerton. She was a member of San Francisco Opera’s Merola Program, and won both the Gold Medal in Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Competition and First Prize at Philadelphia’s Luciano Pavarotti Vocal Competition. Voigt is a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and was Musical America’s Vocalist of the Year 2003. In 2007 she won an Opera News Award for distinguished achievement, and in 2009 she received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of South Carolina. Known to Twitter fans as a “Dramatic soprano and down-to-earth Diva,” Voigt was named by the Los Angeles Times as one of the top 25 cultural tweeters to follow. She is currently writing a memoir that is scheduled for publication by Harper Collins in 2013.

    Discography

    Voigt’s extensive discography includes two popular solo recordings for EMI Classics – both of which were critical successes.The Washington Post praised the “discerning eye” behind the adventurous choice of repertoire for All My Heart with pianist Brian Zeger, and noted that it was “performed by a voice outstanding not only for tone and power but for interpretive subtlety and emotional nuance.” Voigt’s earlier disc, Obsessions, presents scenes and arias from operas by Wagner and Strauss. Gramophone’s review of the Billboard top-five bestseller states, “The arias highlight Voigt’s extraordinary ability to soar effortlessly and luminously above the orchestra with her trademark rich, lustrous, never hard or brittle voice.” Her recording of Strauss’s Egyptian Helen was also a Billboard bestseller, and was named one of the best CDs of the year by Opera News. A live recording of the 2003 Vienna State Opera Tristan und Isolde, in which Voigt made her headlining role debut, was released by Deutsche Grammophon.

    The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Deborah Voigt

    Opera Lively - Last summer at the Glimmerglass Festival, you presented a one-woman show called "Voigt Lessons" which you developed with Terrence McNally and Francesca Zambello. This show has a lot of autobiographical content, some of which sounds as though it must have been painful for you to deal with. How did you come up with the idea for the show; what was it like preparing it and performing it? Do you have plans to present it in other cities?

    Deborah Voigt - Francesca and I have known one another for quite some time, and the idea for this show came up in conversation, just as we discuss other ideas for future collaborations. I was somewhat apprehensive, to be sure, in the beginning, to think about a show in which personal issues are so publicly revealed. But as the project developed, I realized it was something that would empower me, not diminish me. Also, along with the satisfaction of the artistic collaboration with Cesca and Terrence, I receive great satisfaction from people who have said or written that they have, or are, dealing with many of the same issues. Voigt Lessons will definitely be performed again - - the problem is, the show is me, only I can perform it, and finding the time in the schedule has been a challenge.

    OL - In addition to your extensive discography of classical vocal music, you also recorded a CD called "All My Heart," with the pianist Brian Zeger that focuses on American art songs. In addition to familiar names (Leonard Bernstein, Charles Ives), the recording also includes songs by the late 19th/early 20th century composers Amy Beach and Charles Tomblinson Griffes, as well as the contemporary composer Ben Moore. We have recently interviewed Thomas Hampson who also shares your interest in American art songs. Why do you feel it's important to bring this music to a wider audience?

    DV - I'm an American singer, and I do find particular joy in singing American composers. Perhaps it's a good fit based on serendipity of birth, who knows. I want everyone to enjoy these composers, and I suppose I'm just doing my part.

    OL - You sang the title role in "Annie, Get Your Gun." How different is it for an opera singer to approach musicals, with their more frequent shows and their use of amplification? Are there special challenges to consider? Do you have other plans to sing non-operatic roles?


    As Annie - © Julieta Cervantes


    DV - "Annie Get Your Gun" as I performed it at Glimmerglass last summer was done without amplification, which is how Francesca Zambello intends to mount any musicals she presents there, and I applaud her for that. Since that's been the only time I've sung a musical professionally, I didn't have to deal with amplification. I wasn't much bothered by the rapid schedule of performances, to tell you the truth. I would welcome the opportunity to sing more musicals, and there are talks happening.

    OL - With the recent increase in injuries to singers on opera sets (such as David Rendall's career-ending one in Belgium), do you think that modern productions are exposing singers to too many physical risks these days?

    DV - If you think I'm going to criticize or trash The Machine, just because I tripped and fell and slid off of it... Seriously, no, I don't really think there are too many physical risks. I mean, there ARE risks, with stage machinery and sets becoming more complex, I'm not downplaying the danger, at all. The best we can do, as singers, is be vigilant, careful, and if we engage in reasonable criticism about how something could be improved or changed, and the director is willing and reasonable, and the GM willing and reasonable, then there will be a successful meeting of the minds. Of course... this doesn't always happen quickly, or overnight. But, there will always be the odd unforeseeable accident, and some are very serious. No doubt, performing onstage can be dangerous.

    OL - The Los Angeles Times recently counted you among the nation's top 25 cultural Tweeters to follow. How do you see social media as a communication vehicle for opera and opera singers?

    DV - Well, it's so immediate, isn't it? You get your word out there in split seconds, and not just to a readership of hundreds of thousands, but potentially to millions. I'm thrilled by social media's ability to spread the word, especially to young people, and others who might just be learning about opera and opera singers.

    OL - You've shared with your public how you came to your first voice lesson at California State planning to sing a beautiful aria you had heard -- Nessun Dorma. Of course, your teacher had to explain that this is a tenor aria. But in "Voigt Lessons," you sang Nessun Dorma, anyway. There have been other sopranos who sang it in concert, which has generated some controversy. Any opinions on this? And do you have any interest in singing the Ice Princess herself, Turandot?

    DV - I sing an excerpt from Nessun Dorma in "Voigt Lessons," and it happens because I tell the very story you mention. As for some sopranos singing it to controversy, I hadn't heard that. I say why not, that's my opinion. If it's a good piece of music, sing it. Is there an Ice Princess in my future...? You'll have to wait and see.....

    OL - We would like to know your feelings about R. Strauss's Die Ägyptische Helena. In our view, this is a neglected and underrated opera (granted, not the best of librettos, but some irresistible music), and you have recorded the role, as well as sung the part in several theaters, including the MET (one of our staff members heard you live, at Teatro Real in Madrid, in 2005). Do you have a special place in your heart for this role?


    As Helen - © Nick Heavican / Metropolitan Opera

    DV - I do believe Helena is a wonderful piece with some gorgeous Strauss moments. Yes the story is a bit difficult to grasp, to put it mildly, and the "omniscient mussel" is certainly one of opera's more singularly named and created characters. It's possibly not performed more often because it's difficult to cast, needing two great sopranos and a tenor. Strauss never makes it easy for his tenors.

    OL - We find that you and Bryn Terfel achieved an extraordinarily committed, moving onstage father/daughter relationship in Die Walküre, which was one of the very best moments of the Met's Ring. You had a wonderful playfulness to display with him, and then you switched effortlessly to great dramatic tones. Can you tell us a bit more about how you achieved such compelling results? And please, comment upon the psychology of your character Brünnhilde. How do you read her? Which ones of her psychological traits have you decided to underline, hopefully to get something of a Deborah Voigt's unique Brünnhilde?


    As Brünnhilde - © Metropolitan Opera

    DV - Thank you for saying all those nice things! To tell you the truth, my "process" in creating a character, a first-time role, isn't anything special. It's study, hard work, then reflection on that study and hard work - - this all sounds so simplistic, in a way, but it's the truth. Perhaps the end result being a success has a touch of something in it that goes beyond the hard work and study - - like anatomy, biology, physiology, God - - all things that are out of my hands! But I do love the character of Brunnhilde, I love her very human progress and process, through the three operas. I don't think she has just one trait that I focus on, to bring my own interpretation to her. She's the whole package, and I focus on trying to capture that, emotionally, physically and vocally, and I like to think I do a good job of it.

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    Many thanks, Ms. Voigt, for taking the time to respond to our questions. We know how busy you are and we feel honored that you graciously shared your thoughts with us!

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    Let's listen to Ms. Voigt and Mr. Terfel in Die Walküre:



    Here she sings "Suicidio" from Ponchielli's La Gioconda:



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    © Opera Lively - Disclaimer: this exclusive interview is copyrighted by Opera Lively with all rights reserved, and is not to be reproduced without express authorization. Brief excerpts can be used after consultation (use the Contact Us form) as long as proper credit and a link to the full interview on Opera Lively are provided. Links to the interview can be posted without authorization.

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    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
      Let's hear also Ms. Voigt singing the beautiful aria "Zweite Brautnacht!" (Second wedding night), from Richard Strauss's Die ägyptische Helena.

    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Nice! I was trying to find a clip with her Die ägyptische Helena and couldn't, glad that you found one.
    1. CountessAdele's Avatar
      CountessAdele -
      I adore Deborah Voigt! She's seems really approachable in her interviews.
    1. StLukesGuildOhio's Avatar
      StLukesGuildOhio -
      I love Voigt as well. I recently picked up a 2 disc set of Wagner highlights with Voigt and Domingo and I was honestly quite enthralled. Nice interview as well. As for Strauss' Die Ägyptische Helena... well Alma I can only congratulate you on your being diplomatic. Stating that it has "not the best of librettos" is surely the height of understatement. As you might remember, I am a sworn lover of Strauss. By my standards he is the greatest composer of the 20th century... and I fully agree that Die Ägyptische Helena has some exquisite music. But the libretto must surely be one of the all-time worst. It's so bad, it's unintentionally comic. Strauss should have insisted that Hugo von Hofmannsthal stick with his original intention of composing a comedy. An all-seeing sea mollusk? Please! If I can only forget the story I listen to the opera again as "pure music" without making the mistake of following along with the libretto.


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