Opera great Deborah Voigt performs musical autobiography in Boulder
Macky Auditorium date a return for the show after hiatus
Deborah Voigt is undoubtedly one of the great legends of the operatic stage.
The soprano’s storied career reached a high watermark in 2011 when she sang the iconic (and enormous) role of Brünnhilde in Robert Lepage’s new production of Richard Wagner’s “Ring of the Nibelung” cycle at the Metropolitan Opera.
It was also around that time when Voigt first presented her unique one-woman show, “Voigt Lessons,” at the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, New York.
Voigt’s personal and professional struggles are as widely known as her triumphs, and she has always been remarkably honest and frank about them. “Voigt Lessons” is a musical presentation of her story. Since its premiere, the show has received glowing reviews, and she has presented it throughout the country.
Voigt has since stepped back a bit from public life, having moved her home base from New York and Florida to California, where she last year accepted a faculty teaching position with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
It has been several months since she has presented “Voigt Lessons,” and the show’s first performance after this hiatus will be Saturday, Feb. 18 at Macky Auditorium, a featured event in the CU Presents Artist Series.
“It really is the story about how I became an opera singer, where I came from, and my many performing and personal experiences,” Voigt said. “Through song, I lead a discussion about various things I’ve had to deal with in my life.”
Those things include both alcoholism and obesity, and how she overcame them. “It’s very funny in places, but extremely difficult in others,” she said.
She emphasized that her life story is really the framework for a 75-minute vocal recital with highly diverse repertoire. She trades the vast Wagnerian stage and orchestra for piano accompaniment. “It was important to me to show different sides of my personality, to talk and sing about my life in as intimate a way as possible,” she said.
Voigt collaborated with distinguished playwright and opera librettist Terrence McNally in crafting the program for “Voigt Lessons.” She credited him with fitting the sung portions into the narrative thread. The sung portions themselves, she said, are “favorites of mine that I’ve collected over the years.” These selections range from Carpenters songs to a Brahms art song to, of course, excerpts from opera.
While a 2000-seat theater like Macky is probably not the most ideal venue for the concept, Voigt insisted that the immediacy will still be apparent. She will use a microphone for the spoken portion and for some of the songs, but not for the operatic excerpts.
The usual pianist for the program, Kevin Stites, is unavailable for the Boulder performance. Voigt will be joined by pianist and vocal coach Matthew Stephens.
Speaking of her current career, Voigt said that the slower pace is somewhat of a relief. “When you’ve had a career as long and public as mine, singing as much repertoire as I have, it really becomes exhausting and all-consuming.” She said that the teaching environment at the conservatory is more rewarding than she anticipated.
“I can’t take six weeks off mid-semester to do an opera at the Met because I feel that responsibility to my students,” she explained. “But I do have a good mix of concerts and master classes on weekends.” She is also a regular host for the Met’s “Live in HD” movie theater broadcasts.
Voigt has performed at Beaver Creek and Vail, but this will be her first-ever appearance in Boulder. “I want to encourage people to come with the assurance that they will hear a lot of different music,” she said. “If they have friends who are not opera fans, there will be music for them too. We wanted to create a light evening for people who want a glimpse of the operatic experience, and I want everyone to leave happy.”