Voigt, Deborah

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Deborah Voigt

Opera singer

For the Record…

Received Rave Reviews

Leading Light of Contemporary Opera

Away from the Stage

Selected discography


Deborah Voigt, according to a Town & Country magazine article, “has a voice so magnificent that it has made her the world’s foremost dramatic soprano.” A noted interpreter of German opera—highly acclaimed for her interpretations of Strauss and Wagner—the American singer is in demand on stages from Manhattan to Moscow.

Born in 1960 in Illinois, Voigt cut her musical teeth on piano lessons and the church choir. By the time she attended high school in California, musical theatre had attracted her attention; she told Marty Umans in an Opera News article how she played the comic foil Agnes Gooch in a high school production of Mame, calling her characterization “hysterical, if I may say so myself.” Voigt continued: “In those days, being an opera singer never entered my mind. I had sung since I was a small child, but it was primarily church music. I played the piano in church, I taught the children’s choir, I sang all the time.” But, she added, “I don’t think I even knew what the Metropolitan Opera was until I was in my late teens, and if I did, it was just sort of a vague notion that this thing called opera was something that other people did.”

For the Record…

Born on August 4, 1960, in Chicago, IL. Education: Attended Chapman College and California State University at Fullerton; San Francisco Opera Merola Program.

Breakthrough debut as Ariadne in Ariadne auf Naxos, Boston Lyric Opera, 1991; joined New York Metropolitan Opera Company playing Amelia in Gian Carlo Menotti’s Amelia al ballo, 1991; performed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, as Amelia in Un Ballo in Maschera opposite Luciano Pavarotti, 1995; has appeared on numerous stages worldwide; featured performer in television productions including New Year’s Eve Gala, Public Broadcasting System (PBS), 1998; recording artist for Deutsche Grammophon, RCA Victor, EMI Classics, and other labels.

Awards: Winner, Pavarotti Competition, 1988, Verdi Competition, 1989, and Tchaikovsky Competition, 1990; Voci Verdiane Award; Chevalier of France, Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, 2002; New York Sun, Performer of the Year, 2002; Musical America International Directory of the Performing Arts, Musical America Award for Vocalist of the Year, 2003.

Addresses: Agent—Andrea Anson, CAMI, 165 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019. Website—Deborah Voigt Official Website: http://www.deborahvoigt.com.

At Chapman College in Orange, California, Voigt studied choral conducting. But she wasn’t happy and dropped out to work as a computer operator for a couple of years while pondering her next career move. Her course became clear when she won a vocal scholarship at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. The funding enabled her to enroll in the voice program at California State University at Fullerton. There “I just happened to find a great teacher named Jane Paul, who was a phenomenal inspiration musically and personally,” as Voigt told Umans. “I studied with her for about eight years.”

Received Rave Reviews

Voigt’s studies were followed by an apprenticeship at the San Francisco Opera’s Merola Program. “Fabulous training, wonderful people,” she remarked in Opera News. “I covered maybe seven major roles in those two years.” In 1988 she won the Pavarotti Competition and made her bow at New York’s Carnegie Hall, then won the 1989 Verdi Competition in Bussetto and the 1990 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. The following year Voigt made waves in Boston singing the title role in Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos. A rave review in the New York Times helped cement her growing reputation: “My mother couldn’t have written anything nicer,” Voigt said to Umans. She went on to reprise the role of Ariadne over the next several years, including a 2002 production in San Francisco.

When New York’s Metropolitan Opera came calling, Voigt was ready. In 1991 she made her Met debut as Amelia in Gian Carlo Menotti’s Amelia al ballo (Amelia Goes to the Ball). The next season Voigt returned to garner ovations as Chrysothemis, the conflicted sister of the title character in Elektra. By 1992 she had become a star, filling her season with appearances in Paris, Venice, Cologne, and Amsterdam; closer to home, she sang for the Washington Concert Opera, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Over the next five years the soprano was part of no fewer than five dozen major productions, including a Beethoven concert in Israel; a lyric sym-phonia in Berlin; a role as Elisabeth in the Wagner classic Tannhauser; and a turn as Lady Macbeth in Verdi’s adaptation of the Shakespearean tragedy.

Voigt has assumed some of opera’s the most challenging roles, including Seiglinde in Wagner’s Die Walkure (The Valkyries). In Verdi’s Salome she demanded the head of John the Baptist in a performance that “was not some jaded decadent,” according to Opera News reviewer Patrick Giles, “nor did she play her with those unfortunate sulks and pouts that can make the Judean princess into an overripe Playboy bunny. Voigt’s Salome was unaffectedly sensual. Eroticism, greed, necrophiliac passion and exultation were expressed with youthful wonder, a kind of sweet ruthlessness that was, by turns, surprising, funny, often very disturbing.” Giles added, however, that the soprano’s portrayal “remains a work-in-progress. At her best, she bears a sound so mighty and beautiful that it registers only a shade or two below glorious. But her soprano doesn’t always work as it should. Voigt can sound underpowered at the top of her voice, especially when she has to ascend gradually on a long line.”

When asked by Umans how she dealt with such a wide variety of roles, Voigt replied: “Technique, I think, is the common thread that takes you from one role to another—more so, perhaps than an understanding of style or interpretation. Being able to sing the Verdi roles that are particularly high keeps my voice more youthful and more flexible than if I were to have a steady diet of just Strauss and Wagner.”

Leading Light of Contemporary Opera

In a 2000 article for New Criterion, Jay Nordlinger singled out Voigt and mezzo soprano Susan Graham as two of the leading lights of contemporary opera—American singers in “superb form.” Nordlinger remarked that Voigt’s voice “comes as something of a shock, even if you have heard it before. Quite simply, it is hard to fathom that such a sound is coming from a human being. It is an enormous sound—about as big as voices get—but a beautiful, luxuriant one, not a battle-hardened, rough-and-ready one.” Thus it struck Nordlinger as something of a disappointment that the singer’s recording of Strauss’s Four Last Songs seemed “jarringly blunt, lacking in introspection and transport. Voigt was not in particularly good voice on this occasion; some of her middle notes are hard and metallic.” When the soprano “lands juicily on a note, the effect is wonderful,” the writer added, “but these songs call for more than voice.”

The Four Last Songs compilation was one of several by Voigt. She recorded her Ariadne and Chrysothemis roles as well as Strauss’s lesser-known Friedenstag; her discography also includes renditions of Les Troyens, Fidelio, and Eine florentinische Tragodie. As a concert singer, Voigt has recorded Alexander Zemlin-sky’s Lyric Symphony and Alban Berg’s Der Wein. Teamed with opera legend Placido Domingo, Voigt released the album Wagner: Love Duets. The two sang selections from Tristun und Isolde and Seigfried. “[I]t is a pleasure to hear Wagner sung by highly intelligent musicians, impressively alert to rhythmic values, accents and dynamics,” commented Anthony Tom-massini of the New York Times.

Voigt first sang Verdi’s Egyptian queen Aida in 1999; she reprised the role in a 2001 revival at the Metropolitan Opera. Tommassini compared the two productions, noting that the soprano’s earlier attempt was “vocally tentative.” Her later rendition, though, showcased a singer “exuding confidence.” Voigt, Tommassini wrote, “honored Verdi’s dynamic markings and sang with genuine Italianate poignancy.” Also in 2001 Voigt first assayed the title role of Puccini’s Tosca. Though Opera News contributor Brian Kellow commented that the sultry and insanely possessive character “isn’t necessarily the first part that leaps to mind as being appropriate” for Voigt, the singer told Kellow that she considered Tosca to be a dream role: “Besides, the costumes… are much better than they are for any of the other roles I sing,” she quipped.

Away from the Stage

In 2002 the singer appeared in Deborah Voigt on Broadway, a musical-theatre concert to raise funds for AIDS research. Offstage, Voigt unwinds by listening to pop music including the works of Joni Mitchell and Alanis Morissette. She also shares her art by visiting elementary schools, introducing music concepts to children age four to seven. The soprano and her class take turns teaching each other songs. “We sing about anything they want to sing about—their pet, the weather, anything they want,” Voigt told Umans in Opera News. “It just has a way of opening them up. I don’t go in to try to explain the Ring cycle, or anything like that. You know, on the other hand, they might like that! These are precious little kids. They run up and hug me—and that’s because I’m the music lady, not because I’m Debbie Voigt, the opera singer.”

Selected discography

Berlioz. Les Troyens, Decca, 1993.

Beethoven: Fidelio, BMG, 1996.

Schoenberg: Gurrelieder, Teldec, 1996.

Beethoven: Cantates, Koch International Classics, 1997.

Mahler: Symphony No. 8, Telarc, 1997.

Robert Shaw: Absolute Heaven, Telarc, 1997.

Strauss: Elektra, Deutsche Grammophon, 1997.

(Various) The American Opera Singer, BMG/RCA Victor, 1997.

(Various) Operatically Incorrect!, BMG/RCA Victor, 1997.

Wagner: Der fliegende Hollander, Sony/Columbia, 1997.

Strauss: Don Juan, Teldec, 1999.

Zemlinsky: Samtliche Chorwerke, EMI Classics, 1999.

Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos, UNI/Deutsche Grammophon, 2000.

Wagner: Love Duets, EMI Classics, 2000.



New Criterion, May 2000.

New York Sun, June 19, 2002.

New York Times, October 22, 2000; January 18, 2003.

Opera News, March 14, 1988; July 2000; March 2001; August 2001; January 2002; February 2003.

Town & Country, March 2002.


“Deborah Voigt: The Parterre Box Interview,” Parterre Box, http://www.parterre.com (February 9, 2003).

Susan Salter