Today she is hailed as the preeminent dramatic soprano of her generation.
Headlines of the current season, such as the following, tell why:
SUPERSTAR SOPRANO WILL SING SIX MAJOR OPERATIC
ROLES THIS SEASON, TWO OF WHICH ARE NEW TO HER REPERTOIRE
CAREER ROLE DEBUTS INCLUDE MADDALENA IN ANDREA CHÉNIER
IN SEASON-OPENING PERFORMANCES AT BARCELONA’S LICEU, AND WAGNER’S
BRÜNNHILDE IN VIENNA STATE OPERA’S NEW SIEGFRIED
VOIGT WILL HEADLINE NEW PRODUCTION OF STRAUSS’S
DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN AT LYRIC OPERA OF CHICAGO, AND WILL
SING HER FIRST METROPOLITAN OPERA PERFORMANCES AS ISOLDE IN PRODUCTION
OF WAGNER’S TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, TO BE BROADCAST LIVE
IN HIGH DEFINITION IN THEATERS WORLDWIDE
I.e., roles - for the most part the heroines of the German repertoire
- sung only by singers with powerhouse voices, such as Deborah Voigt's,
which she knew early on in her career had the perfect fit for her big,
lustrous voice, and for which she has deservedly garnered the most acclaim.
That her superb vocal instrument resided within a big frame associated
with opera's proverbial "fat lady" did not matter to the opera
lovers and critics who were, and remain, devoted to her and to the widely-
held (though now increasingly questioned) dictum that opera is an art
form driven primarily by voices.
But the above-mentioned season headlines also
hint that while remaining fully committed to her Germanic forte, she
has of late been expanding her repertoire, adding Maddalena (in Giordano's
Andrea Chernier) and Poncielli's La Gioconda to her select
list of Italian operatic roles that include Aida, Tosca, Amelia (in
Un ballo in maschera) and Leonora (in La forza del destino),
the latter three she has also performed recently. Credit the medically
risky decision she made in 2004 to undergo gastric bypass surgery, more
for reasons of health than of career. The procedure and the ensuing
dramatic weight reduction was fodder for the media, to be sure - landing
her a spread in People magazine and a spot on CBS' 60 Minutes.
She handled the matter with her natural candor and grace.
Today, nearly four years
later, to say that the risk paid off has become an understatement.
True, the "big girl" that she once was will never be
a wisp of a girl, but her spectacularly transformed outer persona
gave her the courage and confidence to take on the "pretty
woman" roles she would earlier never have dared to play,
lifting her career to superstardom (a lot more people know of
her than ever before). And opening up opportunities galore - suddenly,
in addition to the Italian additions to her repertoire, she could
take to the operatic stage the roles she could only sing in concert
in the not too distant past, such as: Salome - Strauss'
wisp of a 16-year old seductress, which she debuted to a huge
standing ovation at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2006; and the
beauteous Ägyptische Helena (Helen of Troy whose
face launched a thousand ships) in a production mounted for her
at the Met in early 2007; as well as re-explore operas she has
performed before from an entirely new perspective, such as: Tosca,
Un ballo in maschera, Die Frau ohne Schatten and Tristan
To make time for these roles, she put off to Spring 2008 her much
earlier-scheduled and widely anticipated portrayal of Wagner's
Brünnhilde at the Vienna State Opera (see CALENDAR),
for which she doubtless comes very well-prepared, having meanwhile
already sung the solo parts in concert and on record. (In
the meantime, she continues to sing Sieglinde - downsized in girth
but not in voice.) And then, there's Strauss' Elektra,
which, one can reasonably assume, is already more than a
blip on her radar screen. (Also in the meantime, she's content
to hang on to her much-acclaimed Chrysothemis.)
The reprieve, if you will, from these punishing
roles has also given her time to show off her light-hearted, blond,
blue-eyed, all-American self - singing the songs she grew up singing:
Broadway musicals and pop, with forays into cabaret and the American
song repertoire. According to Opera News, she "comes to pop
singing naturally." And she does it with style, grace and a "devilish
sense of humor."
It may come as a surprise to most of us, but neither Flagstad nor Nilsson
was known to Voigt until she came upon opera for the first time in her
college years at Cal State Fullerton in Southern California where her
family moved from the suburbs of Chicago when she was 14 years old.
When she became convinced that she had the talent and the personality
for an operatic career, she joined San Francisco Opera's well-known
Merola Program for Young Artists - and the rest as they say is history,
although one that is still very much in the making.