At Times Event, Voigt Discusses the 'Little Black Dress' and the Challenges of Choosing Roles

Classic Arts News   At Times Event, Voigt Discusses the 'Little Black Dress' and the Challenges of Choosing Roles
A newly svelte Deborah Voigt told New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini about her dramatic weight loss and the challenges of choosing roles at a New York Times Arts and Leisure Weekend event on January 6.

Elegantly dressed in jeans and black heels, the soprano was adamant that the infamous little black dress incident, where she was dropped from a 2004 Covent Garden production of Ariadne auf Naxos due to her girth, didn't prompt her gastric bypass surgery.

"My decision had nothing to do with Covent Garden," she said. "I was tired, I had no energy; yo-yo dieting is very draining. I had faith that surgery wouldn't be my demise, but that my weight would be my demise."

She joked, however, that even 130 pounds lighter it was still hard getting a date. Voigt and Tommasini discussed the increasing importance of rippling Nathan Gunn-like torsos and glamorous Anna Netrebko-style sopranos, a trend both suggested is to opera's detriment.

Voigt recalled adjudicating a competition where a young, but unglamorous, woman with a wonderful voice almost didn't make the second round, because fellow jurors were hung up on her short height and bad clothes.

Voigt also discussed the challenges of choosing roles that would keep her voice in optimal condition over the next few years. Referring to what Tommasini called the Nilsson/Rysanek dichotomy (whether to focus on heavy dramatic soprano roles like Birgit Nilsson or follow Leonie Rysanek's example and try and choose more varied roles), Voigt said, "I have been going down a path more like Rysanek's, as I want to keep some lightness in my voice. If you get cast as Brunnhilde, that's all you'll be offered!

"My responsibility to music is to last as long as I can, and to provide the public with interesting things."

She pointed out, however, that the technical demands of Verdi, with its coloratura and large interval jumps, are on a par with Wagner roles.

Tommasini also used the occasion to criticize the use of microphones in concert halls, saying, "The concert hall and opera house are like temples of natural sound."

Tommasini's point of view was in direct contrast to that of composer Osvaldo Golijov, who was interviewed alongside soprano Dawn Upshaw on January 8 by Times critic Anne Midgette as part of the series. Golijov said, "Do these people who don't like amplification go home and use candles? Do they not use electricity? Classical music touches the emotional core of people. You can do it like Bach on a harpsichord, or like Billie Holiday with a microphone. Everything can generate poetry, even a laptop." Upshaw added that the microphone is "an incredibly fertile instrument."

Golijov and Upshaw also spoke with Midgette about the upcoming Golijov festival at Lincoln Center and their ongoing collaborations. Golijov wrote his song cycle Ayre and the opera Ainadamar, both of which will be featured at the festival, for Upshaw.

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