Saturday, October 31, 2009

Deborah Voigt: From Wagner to Irving Berlin

Decisions, decisions. Friday afternoon found me with the possibility of attending two outstanding recitals featuring two of the world's most renowned sopranos. Since both were at the same time, I could do only one. Deborah Voigt was presenting a varied program of German and Italian arias plus American and European art songs; across town Dame Emma Kirkby was performing a program of songs by Dowland and Purcell accompanied by lute. The closer venue and company going with me led me to the Voigt recital.

Voigt is making a name for herself by taking challenging and varied roles in some of the world's leading opera houses. A Met Ring Cycle in 2012 will feature her as Brunnhilde and she is easily at home in Puccini, Richard Strauss and even Broadway.

Voigt showed that her big, Wagnerian voice could also tackle the intimacies of art songs. Opening the program were 3 Robert Browning songs op 44 by Amy Beach. Voigt sweetly yet clearly communicated these intimate texts, her big voice well controlled, never overwhelming. Following these were 3 songs by Respighi, "Contrasts", "Night" and "Mists", all three sung with precise Italian diction and superb vocal tone painting, deftly communicating the impressionistic texts and music. As Voigt announced her selection of "Vissi d'arte" from Tosca, a few claps dotted the auditorium, she remarked with a smile "don't get excited, I haven't sung it yet!'. But it was an exciting rendition of this popular aria, as were the two Wagner selections on the first half "Dich, teure Halle" from Tannhäuser and "Du bist der Lenz" from "Walküre".

The second half was just as thoughtfully planned, 5 Richard Strauss songs, all allowing Voigt to showcase her soaring, yet somewhat dark, soprano. These songs could have been written with her in mind, so well did her interpretation and voice match the texts. Accompanist Brian Zeger, got quite a work out in these demanding settings.

Voigt and Zeger moved effortlessly from Strauss' "Frülingsfeier"op 56 # 5 to the uniquely American works of Benjamin Moore and Leonard Bernstein, culminating in Bernstein's masterpiece "Somewhere" from "West Side Story". Unfortunately, "Somewhere" was a bit of a letdown; Voigt certainly loved and knew the piece, but just didn't communicate the wistful melancholy of the song.

The appreciative audience demanded some encores, and were granted three.

In addition to her stellar voice, Voigt has a wonderful relaxed yet always in command stage presence. She immediately relates to her audience and makes them feel a part of the performance. The highlight of the whole evening was her vampy, campy encore romp through Irving Berlin's rag "I Love the Piano". Voigt ambled over to the piano, bumped Zeger over and proceeded to improvise a honky tonk descant along with him. The immediate standing ovation garnered us "just one more", a soulful and tender "Can't Help Loving that Man of Mine".

Those hearing Dame Emma Kirkby probably heard a more "important" and unique musical event, but I bet they didn't have nearly as much fun.

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