Deborah Voigt

Die Walküre at the Met (Lepage)

Walkuere-act-3-metWhilst the Opera Tattler attended a performance of Séance on a Wet Afternoon at the David H. Koch Theater on April 28, 2011, Miss LCU was nearby at Lepage's new production of Die Walküre (Act III pictured left, © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) with the Unbiased Opinionator.

* Notes * 
Of late, James Levine gets credit for simply showing up on the podium. The audience is so thrilled to see the ailing maestro that it seems he can do no wrong. However, I was not terribly impressed with the orchestra for the second performance of this latest Walküre. For one thing, the prelude was especially lackluster and rhythmically bridled. It was as if the orchestra was playing in exact unison to the measured beat of a metronome. There was a paucity of energy and agitato one would expect from music meant to represent a man who is frantically running from his pursuers in a storm. Thankfully things improved as the evening progressed.

As Brünnhilde, Deborah Voigt hit most of her notes and did not struggle with pitch. While she gave a very youthful, sassy portrayal of the valiant Valkyrie, her voice lacked nuance. She was generally at one dynamic level and yelped the high Bs and Cs when singing the word "Hojotoho." It sounded like she had hiccups and looking at the score, the composer did not intend for those octave leaps to end in clipped staccato. Voigt's interaction with Bryn Terfel as Wotan worked well. The two succeeded in establishing their close rapport and fondness for one another in Act II, making the heartbreak of their farewell at the end all the more devastating.

Terfel's Wotan was multifaceted and robust, even until the very end. He clearly did a fine job pacing himself. As Siegmund, Jonas Kaufmann was both convincing and lyrical. His voice carried effortlessly and his "Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnermond" consisted of one glorious legato line after another.

In contrast, Eva-Maria Westbroek (Sieglinde) gave a somewhat disappointing performance and the strain in her voice was evident as she fought through her last phrases in beginning of Act III, which are among the most beautiful lines of music in the opera. She did have cold on opening night, so perhaps she was still on the mend.

The highlight of the evening was, surprisingly, Stephanie Blythe's portrayal of Fricka. For the first time, I saw Fricka as something other than a vindictive, nagging shrew. I was reminded that she is a woman in pain, someone who has been deeply hurt by Wotan's transgressions. Blythe opens up her character's vulnerabilities to the audience, suggesting that perhaps she, too, deserves a bit of our sympathy. In order to uphold the Law, she demands punishment and justice, but we often mistake her for someone who is solely out to seek revenge.

Wagner was deeply influenced by Arthur Schopenhauer who was known for his pessimistic view of the human condition and his philosophy of the "Will," a concept so important that Wagner felt it was necessary to use Brünnhilde to personify Wotan's Will as a separate entity apart from himself. Schopenhauer also makes a clear distinction between punishment (to prevent future violations of the law) and revenge (motivated by reconciling past wrongdoings with the pure intent to harm and no constructive impact on the future).

Perhaps Fricka is after revenge and cunningly disguises it as punishment. Wagner leaves just enough ambiguity in his score to make us wonder. The true thrill of this particular production was not delivered by Lepage's ostentatious morphing planks, but with subtlety through Blythe's artistry and empathy for her character.

Regietheater seems to operate on the notion that in order for us to make old works exciting and relevant to the younger generations, we must to rely on shock value. The beauty of Wagner's work lies within the inconspicuous moments that expose human frailty and intimacy. Directors may consider paying more attention to the small details hidden in the score rather than embellishing the composers work with obscenely grand spectacles that are neither necessary nor relevant.

La Fanciulla del West at the Met

Met-fanciulla1 Metropolitan Opera's current production of La Fanciulla del Westmarks the 100th anniversary of the opera's world premiere. The Unbiased Opinionator attended the performance last Tuesday.

* Notes * 
The genesis of the La Fanciulla del Westis well known. Puccini, in New York to supervise the Met premiere of Madama Butterfly, saw David Belasco's play The Girl of the Golden West, and caught what he later called the "California Disease." The result -- after several years of struggling with librettists (Carlo Zangarini and his successor Guelfo Civinini), and after a period of unproductive depression following an extra-marital affair and the suicide of his mistress -- was one of Puccini's most musically enigmatic, elusive and psychologically insightful operas.

The central personality of the story, Minnie, reveals herself as a woman both homesick for and ashamed of her humble origins. Over her inner vulnerability she has constructed a steely shell, ever ready with a shotgun to protect herself and the gold entrusted to her for safekeeping by her ragtag group of miners. Her character is complex and contradictory, yet believable. The only female character in the opera (with the exception of the cameo role of the native Indian Wowkle), she is the surrogate mother and to and schoolmistress of a colorful collection of California Gold Rush gold-diggers.

The success of the opera rests entirely on the shoulders of Minnie, her love interest Dick Johnson and the sheriff Jack Rance. If any of the three legs of this dramatic tripod is weak, the opera fails. Unfortunately, the experience of this reviewer on December 14th was that of an utter failure, especially on the vocal front. With the exception of Marcello Giordani's powerfully and expressively sung Dick Johnson, the efforts of the protagonists were woefully inadequate.

To my great regret, the prime responsibility for the failure of the evening rests with Deborah Voigt's Minnie, which was consistently under pitch, lacking in color and marred by a weak top, with most high notes either approximated or lunged at. Having heard this artist at her peak, prior to gastric bypass surgery, when she possessed a dramatic soprano voice of astounding power and beauty, her current vocal condition is especially sad. In consideration of her statement that she underwent the surgery not for cosmetic reasons, but literally in order to save her life after a struggle with morbid obesity, an attitude of understanding and charity has to be brought to a review of her efforts. However, it is irresponsible of Management to continue to cast this artist in dramatic roles which completely exceed her current vocal state. In Ms. Voigt's favor was an obvious affinity for the character of Minnie and some fine acting, especially in Act II.

Lucio Gallo's Jack Rance was marred by clichéd, stiff, operatic gesturing and a strangled top. As noted above, Marcello Giordani's Dick Johnson, an outlaw whose encounter with Minnie both humanizes him and converts him from his renegade criminality, was very impressive and consistent, with an exciting top and a vocal delivery blessed with a variety of color and expression. Only his signature aria, "Ch'ella Mi Creda," (in which, facing execution, he asks his henchmen to spare Minnie knowledge of his fate, but rather to let her believe that he is enjoying a life of freedom far away from the harsh life of the Sierra Nevada), was flawed by curiously broken phrasing and pitch problems.

The numerous supporting roles, especially Dwayne Croft's Sonora, and Tony Stevenson's Nick, were strong, well-acted and well sung, and avoided the dangers of cartoonish over-playing. Conductor Nicola Luisotti displayed total mastery over the many challenges of the score. To create a sense of seamless flow in Puccini s music, with its constant tempo changes, syncopations and difficult vocal and instrument cues, is deceptively, in fact enormously, difficult. Fanciulla, in particular, presents many challenges, not the least of which is Puccini's delaying of the musical resolution of phrases with ambiguous tonalities. complex harmonic structures and deceptive cadences, counterbalanced by melodic material of luminous beauty, none more so than the finale, "Addio, mia dolce terra, addio mia California," which never fails to grip the listener with its haunting sadness.

Luisotti brought a natural affinity to the music and molded the Met orchestra into a fine ensemble, the orchestra in Fanciulla being, as in much of Wagner, a character unto itself. One hopes that he will be a frequent guest at the Metropolitan.

The production, dating from 1993, is conventional and mostly effective. A particularly beautiful touch was the stream of light that entered into Minnie's cabin at the end of Act II, underscoring her feeling of wholeness and redemption as she gives in to her love of Dick Johnson.

* Tattling * 
There were many empty seats in the hall, but the audience was mercifully quiet and attentive.

La Fanciulla at SF Opera

Roberto Frontali (Jack Rance), Deborah Voigt (Minnie) and Salvatore Licitra (Dick Johnson), photo by Cory Weaver * Notes * 
San Francisco Opera's latest production of La fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West) opened last night. The production, directed by Lorenzo Mariani and with sets from Maurizio Balò, is cute without being busy or cluttered. The male chorus sounded fine and the ensemble cast did well. The waltz in Act I was particularly lovely. Current Adlers Brian Jagde (Joe), David Lomelí (Harry), Austin Kness (Handsome), and Maya Lahyani (Wowkle) all had respectable appearances. Nicola Luisotti held the orchestra together, creating a luxuriant sound.

Timothy Mix was tender and vunerable as Sonora and Roberto Frontali threatening as Sheriff Jack Rance. Salvatore Licitra's voice was very sweet and warm as Ramerrez. A few of his highest, loudest notes showed some strain, but for the most part he had a nice ease. Deborah Voigt's Minnie was spunky and full of spirit. She has a bit of a tinselly quality, lacking the warm creaminess she had in former years, but overall she was quite winsome.

* Tattling * 
The press department did end up giving me tickets for this performance. The volunteer usher in front of us in Row L Seat 23 used her cellular phone as a flashlight to read the program during Act I. After the first intermission, an audience member was sitting in that seat, and the usher insisted on seeing the ticket. The audience member could not produce it and stormed off. It was not clear exactly what transpired, but the usher did not return to L 23, and the audience member sat in K 17 with her friends instead.

Though not constant, there was too much talking during the music and the singing.

Washington National Opera's 2010-2011 Season

September 11-25 2010: Un Ballo in Maschera
October 7-23 2010: Salome
February 26- March 19 2011: Madama Butterfly
February 27 2011: Juan Diego Flórez Concert
March 12 2011: Bryn Terfel Concert
May 6-29 2011: Iphigénie en Tauride
May 13-27 2011: Don Pasquale

Today WNO announced the new season, which is reduced to 5 operas, but does include two "Celebrity Concerts." Deborah Voigt sings Salome. Patricia Racette makes a role debut as Iphigénie opposite of Domingo.

Press Release | Official Site

SF Opera's 2009-2010 Season

September 11- October 6 2009: Il Trovatore
September 15- October 3 2009: Il Trittico
September 23- October 23 2009: Die Entführung aus dem Serail
October 13-31 2009: La Fille du Régiment
October 18- November 1 2009: Salome
November 8- December 2 2009: Otello
June 5- July 1 2010: Faust
June 9- July 2 2010: La Fanciulla del West
June 10-30 2010: Die Walküre

Sondra Radvanovsky, Stephanie Blythe, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky sing in Il Trovatore, with Marco Berti in the title-role. Diana Damrau makes her SF Opera debut in La Fille du Régiment with Juan Diego Flórez. Patricia Racette returns in Il Trittico, singing opposite Paolo Gavanelli in Il Tabarro and Gianni Schicchi, and Ewa Podleś in Suor Angelica. Racette also sings in Gounod's Faust with Stefano Secco and John Relyea. Deborah Voigt and Salvatore Licitra star in La Fanciulla del West. Janina Baechle has her San Francisco Opera debut as Fricka in Die Walküre.

Press Release [PDF] | Official Site

Paris Opera's 2008-2009 Season

September 6-11 2008: Eugene Onegin
September 24- November 2 2008: Rigoletto
October 11- November 2 2008: The Bartered Bride
October 13- November 12 2008: Cunning Little Vixen
October 30- December 3 2008: Tristan und Isolde
November 17- December 23 2008: Die Zauberflöte
November 25- December 21 2008: Fidelio
January 17-30 2009: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
January 24- February 8 2009: Yvonne, princesse de Bourgogne
January 29- March 4 2009: Madama Butterfly
February 27- March 22 2009: Idomeneo
February 28- March 26 2009: Werther
April 4- May 8 2009: Macbeth
April 10- May 23 2009: Un ballo in maschera
May 4-18 2009: The Makropulos Affair
May 20- June 5 2009: Tosca
June 13-21 2009: Demofoonte
June 18- July 2009: King Roger

Riccardo Muti conducts Demofoonte. Waltraud Meier sings Isolde opposite of Clifton Forbis. Paul Groves sings the title role of Idomeneo, with Joyce DiDonato as Idamante and Camilla Tilling as Ilia. Rolando Villazon shares the role of Werther with Marcus Haddock. Deborah Voigt shares the role of Amelia with Angela Brown and Ulrica Elena Manistina.

2008-2009 Schedule | Official Site

Tristan und Isolde Live in HD Met Simulcast

Mettristan * Notes *
The Dieter Dorn/
Jürgen Rose production of Tristan und Isolde was shown as a simulcast yesterday. I tried my best not to worry too much about the set and staging, as I did not find the Dorn/Rose Le Nozze or Così at Bayerische Staatsoper particularly interesting, though their Don Carlo was not bad. However, I found myself liking the production, especially Max Keller's lighting. Naturally, in Act III, there were ridiculous props on stage to signify we were in Kareol, including a number of toy knights in armor.

James Levine conducted well, the orchestra and singers were all synchronized. Deborah Voigt (Isolde) was in fine form, she only had one small gasp before she put the torch out in Act II. She sang the "Liebestod" beautifully. Robert Dean Smith's debut as Tristan at the Met seemed to go smoothly, especially considering he was in Berlin a few days ago and was flown in just for this performance. There were a few times when the orchestra overwhelmed him, and when he didn't exactly know where to be on stage. Michelle DeYoung was lovely as Brangäne, her high notes are fine and her voice is strong without being ugly. Matti Salminen embodied King Marke, he looked and sounded the part.

* Tattling *
Susan Graham was a fine host, I never noticed how expressive her eyebrows are. Her interviews with Levine and Voigt were especially charming. There was only one time the sound went out this time, for a few seconds when Kurwenal was singing in Act III. From the simulcast, it was quite clear that both Voigt and DeYoung have perfect teeth, and that Voigt's eyes are a most brilliant blue.

Barbara Willis Sweete's filming of the simulcast was extremely irritating. She employed the use of multiple images, which in and of itself could have been useful, but since the perspective kept changing and the images moved around, tracking a certain character, it was simply headache-inducing. Often the field of vision was constricted, so that there was just one small box on the screen with a bunch of empty black space around it. It was also quite annoying when the images would show either exactly the same image (the image of the flame trebled, for example), or the same person in different views. The constant motion was at odds with the production and with the work itself.

The Wagnerians were out in full force, the movie theater was sold-out. One couple arrived late and sat in front of me, they spoke at full volume a few times. The female half of the couple received a phone call during Act III, as the male half kept falling asleep and snoring.

ROH's 2008-2009 Season

September 8- October 4 2008: Don Giovanni
September 16-29 2008: La fanciulla del West
September 23- October 10 2008: La Calisto
October 11-18 2008: La Bohème
October 23- November 11 2008: Matilde di Shabran
November 9-24 2008: Elektra
November 25- December 13 2008: Les Contes d'Hoffmann
December 9 2008- January 1 2009: Hänsel und Gretel
December 22- January 23 2008: Turandot
January 20-31 2009: The Beggar's Opera
January 27- February 17 2009: Die Tote Stadt
February 10 -25 2009: Rigoletto
February 23- March 10 2009: Der fliegende Holländer
March 2- April 11 2009: I Capuleti e i Montecchi
March 31- April 20 2009: Dido and Aeneas/Acis and Galatea
April 13- May 7 2009: Il trovatore
April 27- May 16 2009: Lohengrin
May 12-25 2009: L'elisir d'Amore
June 4-20 2009: Lulu
June 19- July 6 2009: La Traviata
June 26- July 18 2009: Un Ballo en Maschera
July 7-18 2009: Il barbiere di Siviglia
July 9-18 2009: Tosca

Simon Keenlyside and Mariusz Kwiecien share the role of Don Giovanni, and Keenlyside also sings Figaro in Il barbiere. David Alden has his ROH debut directing a production of La Calisto from Bayerische Staatsoper. Bryn Terfel is singing in Holländer and Tosca, while Deborah Voigt sings the title role of the latter. Renée Fleming is singing opposite Joseph Calleja in La Traviata and Thomas Hampson sings Germont. Die Tote Stadt has its UK premiere, Ingo Metzmacher will conduct. The production is from Salzburg and is the one that will be at San Francisco Opera this September. Lucas Meachem will be singing Aeneas in his ROH debut.

Bloomberg Article | Press Release [PDF] |Official Site

Opera Pacific's 2008-2009 Season

October 22- November 1 2008: Il Barbiere di Siviglia
January 21-31 2009: The Grapes of Wrath
March 21-29 2009: Salomé

Opera Pacific's next season features a West Coast premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon's The Grapes of Wrath, which had its first performances last year at the Minnesota Opera. Deborah Voigt will sing Salomé, for me, this might be something worth going home to hear.

Season Brochure [PDF] | Opera Pacific Site

MTT and Deborah Voigt at SFS

Deborah_voigt* Notes *
Yesterday Michael Tilson Thomas conducted San Francisco Symphony in a program of Knussen's Symphony No. 3, Strauss' Vier letzte Lieder, Barber's Andromache's Farewell, and Beethoven's Symphony No. 4. Soprano Deborah Voigt returned to San Francisco Symphony as the soloist for the Strauss and Barber, a performance she will reprise with MTT at Carnegie Hall in March.

These performances mark a premiere of Oliver Knussen's Symphony No. 3, Opus 18 at San Francisco Symphony. The piece, inspired by Ophelia from Hamlet, is quite short, only about 15 minutes long. The work has a strong percussive element, as the orchestration requires 28 percussion instruments divided among six musicians. The woodwinds and brass seemed to come out more than the strings, the overall effect was eerily metallic. The flutes parts were particularly disturbing, and I had a visceral reaction, it pained my intestines.

The Last Four Songs of Richard Strauss were written between 1946 and 1948. The first by composition, "Der Abendrot," is set to a poem by Joseph Eichendorff, and the three others are poems by Hermann Hesse. The music is lush and rather romantic, somewhat melancholic at first but ultimately tranquil. Deborah Voigt sounded tentative in "Frühling," but sang the other three songs wonderfully. Some of the syllables at ends of phrases were lost, I could barely hear the "Ruh" in "September" or the end of the word "verirren" in "Im Abendrot." Otherwise, Ms. Voigt's diction was clear, she pronounced the German accurately. She has fine control of her vibrato and her breathing and was not shrill in the least. As for the orchestra, the violin solos were strong, as were the piccolos in "Im Abendrot." My favorite moment was in "September" when Voigt's voice dissolved into the horn solo.

Samuel Barber's Andromache's Farewell had its first performance at SF Symphony last night as well. The text is John Patrick Creagh's translation of The Trojan Women. In the play, Talthybius has come to tell Andromache that her son, Astyanax, is to be thrown from the walls of Troy by the Greeks. Barber's piece is Andromache's farewell to her son. The subject appeals to me, but the music, sadly, did not. Voigt sang well, and her diction was quite clear in English.

The evening ended with a vivacious performance of Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 4 in B-Flat Major, Opus 60.

* Tattling *
The performance was not full, and the audience was well-behaved, no watch alarms or cell phones went off. Some young ladies came in at the last second for the Knussen, in the middle of the First Tier. They did not seem to enjoy the music, and one of them aggressively turned the pages of her program. They whispered, but were not audible. They left after the piece, not waiting to hear Deborah Voigt at all.

The lights did not come up in time for the beginning of the Strauss, even though the poems and translations were printed in the program. Someone rustled a plastic bag during the words "Falling! Falling!" in Andromache. There was some muttering during the Barber, but most were silent for Beethoven, except for when MTT hopped off his podium during the 3rd movement, which made some laugh.

Michael Tilson Thomas had a question and answer segment after the performance. It was easy to hear why he has his own radio show, he is entertaining, saying that most conductors were "control freaks" and explaining his style was more like a director of actors. He considers music a wrestling match between instinct and intelligence. Amusingly, he also compared himself to the catcher in a flying trapeze act and mentioned that Wagner should not have written his own words.

Closing of Un Ballo

Verdiballo* Notes *
Deborah Voigt recovered enough to sing Amelia at the closing of Un Ballo in San Francisco on September 29th. Both she and Anna Christy (Oscar) stood out as good. I noticed that Marcus Haddock (Gustavus III) doesn't have a certain staccato quality that is necessary for some of the music. After seeing this production four times, I determined that it is a bit boring. It is so pretty, but not quite right.

* Tattling *
Some Scandinavian tourists brought their young daughter to the opera. The child was perhaps two-years old and was unable to keep quiet during the beginning, she screamed during the overture. The mother took the child outside for most of Act I, but returned for the rest. Thankfully the child slept for much of Acts II and III.


Erin WoodSoprano Deborah Voigt was ill with a stomach flu last night, and her understudy, Erin Wood, made her San Francisco Opera debut as Amelia in Un Ballo in Maschera. Wood's voice is cold and pretty, but not nearly as expansive as Voigt's. At times she was slightly shrill and had too much vibrato. Wood wore a purple gown instead of the gold one worn by Voigt in the last scene.