Monday, November 14, 2005
Watch this space
We got back from New London late Friday night and on Saturday headed up to Fritz's house in New Hampshire. The big job of the weekend, carried out in great autumn weather, was the construction of a safety railing next to a sloping path paved with slate flagstones that becomes very slippery with ice and snow in winter. We got it built Saturday afternoon and set into the ground Sunday morning.
Saturday night one of the teachers who was giving a weekend-long music class in the Masters degree program went with us to our favorite Japanese steak house and we finished the night playing Rummykub, mostly in hysterics. After four games, I finally won by two points when Fritz unwittingly set me up to go out with a truly dreadful set of tiles.
On Sunday, after cleaning up from digging postholes and pouring concrete, I drove back to Boston for a vocal recital at Symphony Hall by American dramatic soprano Deborah Voigt. Popularly known to her fans as Debbie, Voigt is the epitome of the modern female opera star. She completely avoids the attitudes and pretentions of the classic "prima donna," jokes with her audience and programs, as she did yesterday, a great deal of American song, including sets by William Bolcom, Charles Ives, Ben Moore, Amy Beach and Stephen Sondheim. Tchaikovsky and Richard Strauss, whose music fits Voigt's shimmering, golden colored voice perfectly, filled out the program.
Deborah Voigt In concert gown and casual
She's also become involved in the battle over weight, an issue that has had implications well beyond the world of opera and become a big feminist political issue into the bargain. Voigt began her career as a big girl but was always a strikingly beautiful woman who moved well on stage. However there was a famous international incident in London that changed her life. She had been engaged by the Covent Garden Opera for one of her signature roles for which she is world-renouned, the title role in Strauss's ARIADNE AUF NAXOS. The management knew her figure and the production was already designed so they knew the costumes, which were modern dress. The director and designer, however, declared that she would look ridiculous in the "little black cocktail dress" they had chosen for the character. Covent Garden bought out her contract and dismissed her from the production.
It went public, which Covent Garden never should have allowed. Voigt returned to the U.S. and scheduled a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York. She had Ben Moore write a song for her to use as an encore piece poking gentle fun at her famed Wagnerian roles and including the line "the profession's a mess, then there's this whole thing about a little black dress" that stopped the number with a two minute standing ovation.
But she also changed her life. Always candid about the weight issue (in one interview for Opera News held at a New York restaurant she mentioned she'd rather be eating anything other than the plate of grilled vegetables in front of her), she took the plunge and had the stomach stapling operation. The soprano who walked out on the stage of Symphony Hall to a big reception yesterday stood tall, statuesque and with a figure not large but voluptuous, the kind of figure in which Lillian Russell at the turn of the 20th century or Mae West in 1930s Hollywood looked sensational. Slimmer even than in the photos above, and singing with power, style and gorgeous tone, she looked like an artist who might even be invited back to put on that little black dress sometime soon.