Deborah Voigt's New Chapter

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Last week, HarperCollins announced a deal to publish the memoirs of mega-watt soprano Deborah Voigt, who has enjoyed a season of firsts (including a debut at the Washington National Opera in Salome and an upcoming debut at Glimmerglass in Annie Get Your Gun, plus maiden voyages into the title roles of La Fanciulla del West and Die Walküre). Tentatively titled True Confessions of a Down to Earth Diva, the autobiography will give an account of Voigt's very public struggle with weight loss, which culminated in a 2005 gastric bypass operation that helped the singer to shed 100 lbs.

In a statement reported by The New York Times, Voigt said of the book: "It’s time for me to step up and share my story because I know there are lots of other people, especially women, who are out there suffering in silence." Yet while the diva begins to look back at the details of what may have been her darkest hour, she may also, at 50, be in a new golden age.

A great deal of tension surrounded her role debut as Brünnhilde in Robert Lepage's controversial new production for the Met. Speculation on the opera blog included suggestions for her replacement in what many felt would be an inevitable cancellation. However, while Voigt's performance in April was not without reproach, it was nevertheless a thrilling ride (made even moreso on opening night when the Ring Cycle's infamous set, dubbed "the Machine," caused her to slip and fall on her first entrance).

Dramatic weight loss has often taken its toll on great voices, most notably that of Maria Callas and has lessened Voigt's imperious sonic heft. However, over the last six years, she seems to have created a newly symbiotic relationship with her altered instrument, which has made recent performances all the more compelling. 

What promises to be equally galvanizing is Voigt's run with the New York Philharmonic in Arnold Schoenberg's thorny monodrama, Erwartung, opening tonight and running through Saturday. Voigt has cultivated a rich and rewarding relationship with the orchestra since her debut with the company in 1995, and has been omnipresent on its programming under its new music director, Alan Gilbert.

Voigt will also be a feature in the orchestra's opening night program, singing music by Barber, Wagner and Richard Strauss. This weekend's performances, however, will be decidedly less melodic, and, compared to the vocal feats that are Strauss's Salome and Wagner's Tannhaüser (which are nothing to sneeze at in and of themselves), far more challenging. "I did not have a hand in choosing this material," Voigt deadpans in a video on the Philharmonic's Web site, describing the work as "one of the most difficult pieces that I have in my repertoire."

The twelve-tone music is a bit chewy, however the dramatic arc of Schoenberg's work certainly offers a prime cut of dramatic meat for Voigt, who sings the sole role of a woman who may or may not have murdered her lover, who in turn may or may not have been unfaithful to her. Ambiguous to be sure, Erwartung is nevertheless a white-knuckle ride through one troubled, amorous psyche. It will make Voigt's next role, that of Annie Oakley with the Glimmerglass Festival, a dose of vocal and ear candy for singer and listener. More importantly, it marks this season as one of significant growth and exploration for Voigt -- one that seems to indicate a new chapter on the horizon. And I'm not just talking about her book.