Music critic and journalist
     Cheryl North :: Interviews

Interview with Deborah Voight

ANG Newspapers Classical Music Column - September 1, 2006, under headline, "Voight's success not thinly veiled"

In demand: Deborah Voigt stars as Amelia in San Francisco Opera's "A Masked Ball," which opens the 2006-07 season.

It just doesn't seem fair. The greatest dramatic soprano of our age is dogged by fickle fashion. First it was the tempest-in-a-teapot brouhaha over not fitting into the little black dress designed for the Covent Garden production of the Richard Strauss opera Ariadne auf Naxos a couple of years ago.

Now it's the dilemma of the seven veils she will � or won't � wear in Strauss' Salome.

"It's a no-win situation," said Deborah Voigt, the newly slender soprano siren with the lush blond hair and sea-blue eyes, about her portrayal of Salome scheduled next month with the Chicago Lyric Opera. "If I don't drop all the veils, people will think I'm trying to hide something. If I do, they could consider it gratuitous showing-off."

"One thing for sure," said the savvy soprano during a telephone conversation last week, "my parents are a bit worried after seeing the provocative publicity picture put out by the Chicago company. Actually I haven't yet decided whether I will — or won't."

Stay tuned.

At any rate, Voigt won't have to face up to the aforementioned dilemma next Friday when she sings the role of Amelia in Verdi's A Masked Ball for the gala opening of the San Francisco Opera's 2006-07 season.

Voigt is loved as one of the most down-to-earth, accessible superstars appearing on opera and concert stages today. Beyond the obvious allure of her megawatt voice, she has the ability to imbue each of the characters she sings with a sense of authenticity and intensity. Also, she's an excellent musician and plays the piano well enough to accompany herself if need be.

Born in Des Plaines, Ill., Deborah is the oldest of three children. Her father was a businessman and her mother sang a great deal in the local church. "Actually, I got my feet wet singing in church choirs too," she said. "In addition, I played the organ and piano in church and even taught a children's choir."

Her first operatic experience was when her grandmother took her to a performance of Prokofiev's The Love for Three Oranges in San Diego. She wasn't impressed. "It wasn't a young person's best introduction to grand opera," she said, referring to the work's musical and textual complexity.

Although she remains unequaled in her repertoire of demanding operas by Wagner and Strauss, she can also turn in stunningly sensitive, lyrical portrayals of Verdi and Puccini heroines. Recently, she played the title role in Ponchielli's La Gioconda, and of course, there's the upcoming Strauss' Salome.

Her most recent recording, All My Heart, is a CD of American songs with pianist Brian Zeger for the EMI label. Her first solo CD, 2004's Obsessions, including arias and scenes from operas by Wagner and Strauss, was one of Billboard's top five bestsellers of the year.

But like most of us, life has not dealt her an unabashed bowl of cherries. "I'm a food addict," she said. "After my parents divorced at the end of my high school years, my weight ballooned up. I tried every possible diet and workout regime with no luck and even had one of those gastric bubbles implanted in my stomach about 20 years ago when I was touring with Western Opera Theater. Even that didn't work.

"Finally, when my knees began giving me trouble and it was beginning to seem like that my quality of life was deteriorating because of my weight, I had gastric surgery. It seemed the best thing to do, since now, other than needing vitamin B-12 shots occasionally, I have no health issues." In addition to watching her diet, she also lifts weights and does cardiovascular exercises.

I asked if she thought her voice had been affected by the weight loss.

"Sometimes I have to stop and think a bit about my technique now, and sometimes I need to alter it somewhat, since I no longer have the heft behind it — but no, I don't think my voice has been affected."

She noted that because of the demands of her career and extensive travels (she travels to a different locale every six weeks or so) she does not have much of a social life.

"In fact, single opera singers find it quite hard to get a date these days," she quipped. "But, I have a great companion in Steinway, my little four-pound Yorkshire terrier. He travels with me everywhere."

Voigt said she wants to be remembered as someone who always did the best she could: "And, I also want to make sure that I didn't miss any opportunities along the way. I know I would regret it forever if I didn't get to sing Salome onstage — veils or no veils."

"With every exhortation against looking the audience's gaze is directed toward Salome." Christopher K. Greger, Ph.D., has writtten a probing study with new insights on the aesthetic conflicts and moral consequences of looking at Oscar Wilde's femme fatale -- an irresistible attraction for Richard Strauss' musical genius.

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