Soprano Deborah Voigt to make Bass Hall debut Tuesday

Posted Monday, Oct. 21, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Cliburn Concerts presents Deborah Voigt • 7:30 p.m. Tuesday • Bass Hall, Fort Worth • $20-$90 • 817-738-6536; www.cliburn.org

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Soprano Deborah Voigt will be fully dressed when she performs at Bass Hall on Tuesday night. But she may not think she is.

“You feel a little bit naked walking out there with just the pianist. You’re much closer to the audience,” says Voigt, who has long been well known for her performances on opera stages around the world.

And because she is so sought after as an opera performer, the recital hall has often had to wait.

“Maybe I am a little less comfortable on a recital stage simply because I have spent so much of my career tromping across operatic floorboards that I haven’t had as much time to dedicate to recital as I would like to,” she says. “[A recital] requires a different set of skills. I have to be much more subtle than I would be in a 3,000-seat opera house. That’s part of the fun of it. That’s part of the challenge of it.”

But Voigt obviously relishes the recital stage as much as grand opera, and she is especially enthusiastic about her program for Tuesday’s Cliburn Concerts presentation, which allows her to visit repertoire she does not often get to sing. The performance will include works by American composers Leonard Bernstein, Amy Beach and William Bolcom, as well as Tchaikovsky and Richard Strauss. Voigt is best known for interpretations of the works of two Germans — Strauss and Wagner.

“What I like about this particular program is that I’m singing a lot in English, which I don’t get to do on an opera stage ever,” she says. “And some of it is funny. So I think it is a great opportunity for the audience to see a different side of my personality. Most of these ladies that I sing are praying and dying and crying — or toting spears. So it is nice to be a little bit more informal with an audience and have them see that Deborah Voigt is more than just that dramatic lady.”

Helping the audience see the many sides of Voigt will be her longtime accompanist, pianist Brian Zeger.

And just how ideal a choice is Zeger as an opera singer’s piano man? In addition to being an accomplished pianist, he is the head of the vocal arts department at New York’s Juilliard School and the executive director of the young artists development program at the Metropolitan Opera. Voigt’s descriptions of working with Zeger shed a fascinating light on the intricate relationship between the pianist and vocalist in recitals such as these.

“It is very much a give and take. One of the songs I am doing now, for instance, requires a very steady beat. And my tendency is to try and get through it quick, and the words get jumbled up. So I have to tell him to keep me steady,” she says. “Brian also understands that I am a dramatic soprano. And that is different from a lyric soprano or a soprano with a smaller voice. My voice takes a little bit longer to sound. And he waits for that. He knows when to give me some leash and when to pull me in again. He stays so close with me that I can hear him breathing with me sometimes.”

Voigt’s attachment to Zeger is so complete that it apparently matters more than money.

“I just turned down a recital in Europe because he can’t make it,” she says.

Voigt’s career highlights include taking the stage with the Metropolitan Opera, a 2004 Carnegie Hall recital debut and performances in the most prestigious opera houses in the world, including La Scala in Milan, the Royal Opera House in London and the Vienna State Opera.

In May 2003, Voigt was the first American given a new production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at Vienna State Opera. News of the 23-minute standing ovation Voigt received for her performance as Isolde was covered on CNN. In September, she dropped out of the role with the Washington National Opera; in an interview with The Washington Post, she said she was having trouble getting her voice in shape for the physically strenuous role after taking time off due to illness during the summer.

Voigt captured international media attention when, in 2004, the Covent Opera in London fired her because she couldn’t fit into the “little black dress” costume.

She underwent gastric bypass surgery and experienced a dramatic weight loss. She also has been public about her struggle with alcohol, and in an Oct. 4 interview in The New York Times , she opens up about the ways in which her voice has changed over the years.

“I think I’m a more interesting artist than I was 10 years ago, just by nature of the work I’ve had the opportunity to do, the physical challenges I’ve had,” she told the Times.

Although Tuesday’s concert will be Voigt’s Bass Hall debut, it will not be her first visit to Fort Worth.

“I met Van when I won the [vocal part of] the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1990,” says Voigt, about the beginning of her friendship with Fort Worth’s most famous pianist. Winning the piano portion of the same competition launched Cliburn’s career in 1958. And Cliburn’s admiration for her was so great that he chose her for a very important performance.

“His mother [Rilda Bee Cliburn] was having a birthday, and he flew me out to surprise her,” she says. “He was such a vibrant person. I had an enormous amount of respect for him.”

In addition to her extensive performance schedule, Voigt is a prolific recording artist and teacher who also supports worthy causes.

“I’ve gotten involved with an organization called Sing with Haiti. And their mission is to help rebuild the Holy Trinity Music School there,” she says.

She was inspired by the music students’ efforts to “literally rise above the rubble” and resume playing despite the loss of their school and so much else.

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