Soprano  Deborah  Voigt

A Very Early Conversation
with Bruce Duffie


Through her performances and television appearances, Deborah Voigt is known for the singular power and beauty of her voice, and captivating stage presence. Having made her name as a leading dramatic soprano, she is internationally lauded for her performances in the operas of Wagner, Strauss, and more, as well as for her recitals and accounts of Broadway standards and popular songs. In addition to boasting an extensive discography, she has frequently appeared as both performer and host in the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD series, which is broadcast to movie theaters around the world.

Voigt has given definitive performances of iconic roles in German opera, from Richard Strauss’s Ariadne, Salome, Kaiserin (Die Frau ohne Schatten), and Chrysothemis (Elektra) to Wagner’s Sieglinde (Die Walküre), Elisabeth (Tannhäuser), and Isolde. She is also noted for starring roles in Strauss’s Egyptian Helen, Der Rosenkavalier, and Friedenstag; Wagner’s Lohengrin; Berlioz’s Les Troyens, and Berg’s Wozzeck; and for her portrayals of such popular Italian roles as Tosca, Aida, Amelia (Un ballo in maschera), Leonora (La forza del destino), La Gioconda, and Minnie (La fanciulla del West).

A highly gifted teacher who enjoys working with young artists, as Artistic Advisor to Florida’s Vero Beach Opera, she is involved in repertoire planning, casting, and production, as well as chairing the Deborah Voigt/Vero Beach Opera Foundation’s annual International Vocal Competition.

Voigt’s extensive discography includes two popular and critically successful solo recordings for EMI Classics: All My Heart: Deborah Voigt Sings American Songs with pianist Brian Zeger, named one of the “Best of the Year” by Opera News magazine, and the Billboard top-five bestseller Obsessions, which presents scenes and arias from operas by Wagner and Strauss. Her recording of Strauss’s Egyptian Helen was another Billboard bestseller and was again named one of the best of the year by Opera News. Deutsche Grammophon released a live recording of Voigt’s headlining role debut in the 2003 Vienna State Opera Tristan und Isolde, as well as a Blu-ray DVD set of her starring role as Brünnhilde in Robert Lepage’s visionary Ring cycle at the Met, which won the Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording of 2013.

Voigt studied at California State University at Fullerton. She was a member of San Francisco Opera’s Merola Program and won both the Gold Medal in Moscow’s International Tchaikovsky Competition and First Prize at Philadelphia’s Luciano Pavarotti International Voice Competition. A Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, she was Musical America’s Vocalist of the Year 2003, won a 2007 Opera News Award for distinguished achievement, and has received Honorary Doctorates from Smith College (2015) and the University of South Carolina (2009).

==  Excerpted from Promethean Artists website  


As noted in the biographical details above (as of May, 2023), Deborah Voigt has had a major career.  Sometimes it has happened that I have had the privilege of speaking with artists who were soon to embark on a distinguished journey.  What you are about to read is one of those encounters.  As usual, names which are links on this webpage refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.

In mid-July of 1990, shortly after her win at the Ninth International Tchaikovsky Competition, Deborah Voigt was in Chicago as soprano soloist in the Mass Commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Death of Joan of Arc.  The work by Paul Paray was being presented at the Grant Park Festival conducted by James Paul.  Then, just a few weeks later, she was at the Ravinia Festival for the Four Last Songs of Strauss, plus the Liebestod from Tristan und Isole, conducted by Christoph Eschenbach.  She would return to Ravinia in 2011 for more Wagner and Strauss, and again in 2014 for An Evening of Broadway.  Additional details about her appearances in Chicago can be found in the box at the bottom of this webpage.

We arranged to meet the day after the Grant Park concert to have a conversation.  Needless to say, this was before her world-wide success and fame, so we began with a bit of background.

Deborah Voigt:   I was born in Des Plaines, right here in the Chicago area, and I lived here until I was fourteen.  Then my father was transferred to Southern California, and I started studying voice almost right away.  I worked with the wife of my choral conductor in my high school.  I was very active in music and theater through high school, and when I graduated, I decided to major in choral music.

Bruce Duffie:   As a singer, or as a conductor?

Voigt:   As a conductor.  I entered private school, and realized about half-way through my second semester that I was not ready to be a student.  So, I dropped out, and went to work as a computer operator for about two-and-a-half years, but kept studying voice.  Finally I decided that it was time to get serious about it, so I entered a few little local competitions.

BD:   This was still in California?

Voigt:   Yes.  I had done pretty well, and so I decided to go back to school at California State University in Fullerton.  I had a teacher there named Jane Paul Hummel.  I worked with her for about seven years.  She was a wonderful inspiration to me, both musically and as a person.  She’s a real down-to-earth lady.  Then about that time, two or three years into my college career, I entered the Metropolitan Opera auditions, and won, and when I got back to California, I auditioned for the San Francisco Opera’s training program, and was accepted into that.

BD:   Is this the Merola Program?

Voigt:   Yes, and I had to make a decision whether to go on with my schooling, or try and get out there and see what it was really about.  I decided it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I left school and started with Merola.  It’s a ten-week training program, and I did Donna Anna in Don Giovanni.  Then we did Western Opera Theatre, which is a four-month tour of the United States on a Greyhound bus!  [Both laugh]  I learned an awful lot about myself in that time, but it was really a good experience.  I wouldn’t want to do it again, but it was very good for me.

BD:   Is that the kind of thing you would recommend most singers do?

Voigt:   Absolutely.  A lot of singers don’t want to do it because it is very difficult being on the road.  We were sometimes in different cities every night, and living out of suitcases.

BD:   Isn
t that too tiring on you physically, and also on the voice?

Voigt:   No, I don’t think it’s too tiring.  It all has to do with your mind-set, and how you treat the situation.  We had some people who were very successful with the tour, and some people who were not so successful.  The ones who were not successful were the ones that were treating it a little bit like a party.  They were staying up very late at night, and having lots of fun, but it showed in their performance, unfortunately.  We had a lot of illness on our tour, but I learned a lot.  I was very proud of myself, because I felt my performance throughout the four months was very consistent.  There was never a bad performance.  Some are better than others, but on the whole, you try to reach a certain level and maintain it.

BD:   You were able to keep that general level?

Voigt:   Yes, and it went very well.  Not only did I do Donna Anna, but on our off-nights we were the chorus.  So there wasn’t a whole lot of time for resting, but it was a wonderful experience.  When I finished that, I did what they call an Adler Fellowship with the San Francisco Opera [named for Kurt Herbert Adler, conductor and General Manager of the San Francisco Opera 1953-81].  It’s a two-year training program where you do small parts, and understudy the big stars.  Then they send you out to different locations through the city and California, and do what we call Brown Bag Opera.

BD:   That’s very famous, and it’s apparently a very successful idea.

Voigt:   Yes, and it’s very lucrative for the training program at San Francisco.

BD:   What roles did you sing for that, or was it mostly concerts of arias and scenes?

Voigt:   Both.  We did one production of Die Fledermaus, and that was great fun.  I had a really wonderful time doing Rosalinde.  We even did it in Tahoe, or some strange place, but it was really interesting.  Just about the time I finished that, my then-boyfriend, now husband, was offered a position in New York.  So we moved primarily for his career at that point, but it turned out to be a good move for me.

BD:   I assume no singer would ever turn down an opportunity to go to New York.

Voigt:   Well, I had really avoided it.  I had been to New York a few times prior to this, and I just didn’t like it.  So I told myself I would not live in New York.  Now that I’m there, it seems to be a very different way that singers are perceived.  The singers in New York seem to be a little more respected.  Certainly they come to mind quicker in the eyes and ears of producers, because New York is the place where we do our auditions, and it’s easier to be there instead of flying across the country.  It’s also easier to get to Europe, so it was a very good move.  So I settled in there, and had to find a new voice teacher.  I stumbled onto Ruth Falcon, who is a soprano of some notoriety herself.  She
s a wonderful, wonderful singer, and at the time that I met her, she was just starting her studio in New York.  She’s been really wonderful for me, and we have taken things to another level.

BD:   Everything you did has made progress for your voice and your career?

Voigt:   Yes, it really has.  I’ve been very, very lucky in that I’ve never had the nightmare teacher.  I’ve had very three primary teachers, and I’ve studied since I was fourteen.  So that’s sixteen years, and I have been very fortunate in that respect.  I’ve never stumbled onto anyone who has done me any damage.
BD:   That’s lucky!

Voigt:   Yes, it is lucky, but at the same time, I had this teacher which just wrecked me.  I got to where I couldn’t feel those sensations, and  you don’t you know when something is not working.
BD:   It takes a while to understand that, and then realize something is wrong.

Voigt:   Exactly, especially if it’s your first experience, which in a lot of cases it is.

BD:   I would think it would be even worse for your second experience, because any new teacher is going to change a few things.
Voigt:   That’s true.

BD:   You
ll get some different feelings in the voice, and in the muscles, and and you don’t know if it’s right or wrong.

Voigt:   Exactly.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   When did you start preparing for the Tchaikovsky Competition?

Voigt:   I had thought about doing it four years ago.  It’s only every four years to begin with, and an acquaintance of mine, Barbara Kilduff, had won second place four years previously, and it really launched her career.  So I thought if I could do even that well, it would hopefully open up some more doors.  So, I had been thinking about it all this time, and then all of a sudden it was the year, and it was on me, and it was time to make that decision.

BD:   Do it now or never.

Voigt:   Exactly.  I knew it was my last chance too because of the age limit.  By the time it rolls around again, I’d be older than allowed.

BD:   What is the age limit?

Voigt:   I think it’s 32 for sopranos, so I knew this was my one shot.  I almost decided not to go.  In the last six to eight months, my career has really started to come together, and some nice things have happened.  I’ve stepped in for some people at the last minute.  I had to learn Die Tote Stadt in ten days to replace my teacher, Ruth Falcon, as a matter of fact!  [Laughs].  But anyway, and I got married, and there were a lot of things going on, and I just hadn’t had the time that I thought I would need to prepare the music.  So I thought I just couldn’t go.  It’s just too much, and I have to give my husband credit.  He literally insisted.  He knew that if I won, and I knew that if I won, it would be a very important thing for me.  But just trying to get the music together was really difficult.
BD:   What are the requirements?  What do they force you to do, and what do they ask you to do?

Voigt:   There are three rounds of competition, and each round has different requirements.  The first one is a baroque or classical aria or cantata.  In my case, it was Or sai chi l
onore from Don Giovanni.  The second requirement was a Tchaikovsky song.  You had a choice of three, and I picked Ya li v pole da ne travuschka bïla? which means Was I not a little blade of grass in the meadow?  It is a really beautiful piece, about a woman who is forced to marry a much older man.  We also had to do a grand aria, and mine was Leise, leise fromme weise from Der Freischütz.  For the second round, there was a required piece by a Soviet composer.  For the sopranos, it was by Tikhon Krenikov.  Then came a Lied or a French song.  I sang Wolf’s Kennst du das Land?.  Then, we were asked to do a piece from a composer from our own country.  I sang Ned Rorem’s Silver Swan.  It’s a pretty piece, but not easy at all.

BD:   I’m glad that the Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow asks that you bring something of your own.

Voigt:   Yes, and then also you had to sing a folk song from the country that you represent, so I sang Beautiful Dreamer.  The Soviets just loved it.  Then there was another grand aria, and I sang Amelia’s first aria from Un Ballo in Maschera.  That was the second round, and the third round was with orchestra.

BD:   In this first round and second round, you advance or drop out?

Voigt:   Right.  They start out with sixty-five singers, and they eliminate half in the first round, and half again in the second round.  So by the time we got to the finals, there were seven women and eight men.  It was with orchestra, and you had to sing a Tchaikovsky aria from an opera, and I sang Lisa’s aria from Pique Dame [The Queen of Spades], and then an aria of our choice, and I sang ‘Tacea la notte’ from Il Trovatore.

BD:   You couldn’t sing Or sai chi l’onore again?

Voigt:   No, you could not repeat anything.

BD:   How long was there between the rounds?

Voigt:   The first round I sang the first day, and it was really traumatic.  My husband went with me, thank goodness, because we arrived and our luggage didn’t!

BD:   At least you weren’t an instrumentalist!

Voigt:   Yes, that’s true enough.  But I was traveling in sweat pants and tennis shoes for the long flight, and the next day we had to draw numbers to pick the order we were going to sing.  I thought it would be no big deal... you just show up, and somebody will read the numbers off, and that’ll be it.  Well, they made a very formal opening ceremony out of it, which was televised.  [Bursts out laughing]  So I go schlepping up on the stage in my sloppy get up, and my glasses.  It was really horrible.  I go to pick a number, and it was 13, which not only meant that I had to sing the first day, but 13 signifies bad luck to us.  But the audience applauded, and I wondered why.  It turns out that in Russia, 13 is a good luck number, and certainly ended up being so for me.  So I had to sing the first day of the competition, and we singers had two or three days
rest.  I was there for two-and-a-half weeks for the whole thing, so it took some time.
BD:   Then after the vocalists came the violinists, and the pianists, and everybody else?

Voigt:   The instrumentalists all showed up two and half weeks before we did, because their concertos are so much longer than an aria.  It takes them much longer to get through their part of the competition.  But everyone found out the results on the same night.  The way they timed everything, it all finished on the same day, and everybody was up, waiting for the results.

BD:   You took the first prize?

Voigt:   Yes, in the female division.  There is a male vocalist winner, as well.

BD:   Have there been any other Americans who have taken first prize?
Voigt:   Jane Marsh won first place in 1966, and no American has won since.  There have been two other Americans in the women’s division who have won prizes.  Barbara, as I said, won second (1986), and Dolora Zajick (third in 1982), who’s now singing all over the place, and is doing really well.  It’s a wonderful voice, and I hope to sing with her some time soon because it’s a really beautiful sound.

BD:   What was the immediate impact of winning this competition?

Voigt:   Immediate!  Even that night.  We found out at 2:30 in the morning, and by 3:00 AM my manager here in the States called, and I told him.  I was up until 5:30 or 6:00 o’clock in the morning.  I did an interview with the Los Angeles Times, and UPI [United Press International], and the next day it was just unbelievable.  I started out the day with an interview, and later had tea with the Ambassador’s wife.  It was really a full day, and very exciting.  It then continued, and really has not stopped, I must say.  I have had some nice offers come through.  Unfortunately, my schedule was fairly full for the next year-and-a-half to begin with, and so some of them just aren’t going to work because of those prior commitments.  But some of them are working out, and others have said it will be fine when I am available.  So already it seems to be paying off.

BD:   Are you being careful now not to overdo it?

Voigt:   I’m being very careful.  My manager is very conscientious about the repertoire we accept.  It’s all well and good to try and get out there, and do as many gigs as you can, but you have to be careful.  It’s just been really exciting with a lot of running around, and it’s going to be good to chill out come November.  I have a week off next week, and then I’m going up to Milwaukee to do a Beethoven Ninth.  Then I’ll be back here in Chicago to cover Alceste for Jessye Norman at Lyric Opera [the Robert Wilson production which opened the 1990-91 season, along with Chris Merritt, conducted by Gary Bertini].

BD:   Does covering a role give you some rest?

Voigt:   Yes it should, although I run out to Rimini, Italy, at the end of August, to do a concert there, and a couple of Beethoven Ninths in the early part of September with Leonard Slatkin.  So, it’s restful but not so restful.  [Laughs]

BD:   Can I assume there’s never a day that you don’t vocalize and keep the voice in shape?

Voigt:   Actually, that’s really not true for me.  I do try to take a day or two here and there, and if I
m on vacation and don’t sing for even as much as two weeks, the rest seems to help.

BD:   You just stay off it completely?

Voigt:   Yes.  I have to get those muscles back in shape if I’ve got a project coming up, but everybody’s different, and a good rest seems to do me good.

BD:   Do you plan those into your schedule?

Voigt:   I can’t believe I’m at the point where I don’t have mandatory rest periods simply by virtue of not being employed!  [Both laugh]

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   As the offers come in, how do you decide which ones you will accept and which ones you’ll turn down?

Voigt:   The time frame is eliminating things right off the bat.  Then some of the things that have come through are roles I won’t accept now.  For example, a concert performance of Abigaille in Nabucco, or Lady Macbeth.  Those are things that I would love to sing, but there’s just no point in doing them right now.

BD:   What is it that you’re looking for in a role to make sure you that you want to do it now, or maybe postpone it a little bit, or put it off and never do it?

Voigt:   Primarily it
s just knowing my own vocal limitations.  I know I can sing the notes in Nabucco.  That’s not the problem.  But it’s a big piece, and there are enormous extensions, high notes down to the low register, and mixing.  I just don’t think that’s really going to help me develop as much as doing Alceste.  There aren’t a lot of high notes, but it’s going to be a lot of nice work right in middle register of my voice, and that’s going to be healthy for me.  Also, I’m not under the pressure of doing the opening night production of Chicago Lyric Opera... although who knows?  It could potentially happen, but it’s not quite that same kind of pressure as being engaged and promoted.  It’ll be a good study piece for me.  [In the end, Jessye Norman did sing all of the scheduled performances.]  I also just know some of the Verdi things are good for me, and some of them aren’t, and some Strauss is good right now, and some isn’t.

BD:   What’s the role that you’ve sung the most so far?

Voigt:   I really don’t know that I’ve had enough experience to answer that.  I’ve sung Ballo three times, and covered it for San Francisco Opera as well.  So, I can’t really answer that one fairly, although I would say that’s my favorite so far.

BD:   Why?

Voigt:   Maybe because I was introduced to it very well.  I was asked to cover it for San Francisco Opera.  Margaret Price was supposed to sing it, and she ended up canceling.  It eventually was sung by Carol Neblett.  At the time, there was a man named Andrew Meltzer, who was something of a mentor figure to me.  He was very much into Verdi, and just being introduced to the piece with him the way that I was gave us a wonderful rapport.  He’s passed away, and I’ve thought about him quite a bit since winning this prize.  He really was in my corner, and the whole experience with Ballo had a lot to do with it... not to mention the fact that it’s absolutely gorgeous music.  I listen to that duet, and I just want to die.  It’s just so beautiful, and it really suits me.  There are a few musical things where there are syncopated beats and rhythms, and you really have to be on top of it.  But the only scary thing vocally is the approach to the high C in that first aria.  I’ve gotten to where it feels comfortable now, so it’s not quite so frightening.  It will be my Met debut piece at a Parks Concerts next summer, and hopefully then we’ll get into the house after that.
BD:   Are you looking forward now to singing in big houses all over the world?

Voigt:   Yes, I am.  I have always been of the mind that I was ready, but as I look back now, I realize I really wasn’t.  Maybe five years from now, I’ll say I was a fool, but maybe that’s important in trying to be a singer.  It
s important to feel that you’re ready, and to have people around you who can pull in the reins, and say when to slow down, and to take it all in good time.  But yes, I’m looking forward to getting out there.  I’ve been working at it for quite some time, and putting out the money that’s involved in trying to make a career.  So I would like to reap some of the benefits, just as any other singer who has been pursuing it would like to.

BD:   Both artistically and monetarily?

Voigt:   Exactly!

BD:   When you’re doing a role on stage, do you become that character, or do you still stay outside and portray it?  [Vis-à-vis the video shown at left, see my interviews with Susanne Mentzer, and James Levine.]

Voigt:   Probably everyone aspires to become that character.  There are times when I’m singing that it’s all I’m thinking about, and there are other times when something else may enter into it.  Maybe I’m not gelling with the conductor quite the way I should.  This is probably part of my development, but when I’m able to get past that, my performances seem to be much better.  When you just forget about the upcoming high C, and just think about the text and what you’re doing in the music, it does seem to help.  But I’m probably still at the point where I maybe fight it a little bit.  The last few months have been very good for me with respect to that.  I met a man through the Ponselle competition named Igor Chichagov [(Sept. 6, 1923 - June 21, 2018), an alumnus of the St. Petersburg Conservatory.  He was an accompanist and conductor of the Baltimore Opera Company, the Princeton Opera Company, and the Bel Canto Opera Company in New York].
 He was my coach for Russian music, and was very, very good in helping me to draw a lot of that out.  In my mind, I understand what the piece is about.  I know her moods in whatever piece I’m doing, but understanding that and knowing it in your mind, is not quite the same as getting it out past the footlights.  Maybe I’ve put this exterior up, thinking that it’s reading, and it’s really not.  He’s been very helpful saying I have it, and now I just have to let it out.  I tried to do a lot of that in Moscow, and it really made a difference.  I had been working on it for several months, but the response I got from the audience, compared to some of the other people who were just as good singers, was quite different.  It’s probably because while they were technically very good, nothing really read.  It was also interesting to hear the different sounds in the voices between Soviet singers, because my experience has been with the American school, and it’s a very different sound.

BD:   Yes, the Slavic training of singing is completely different.

Voigt:   Right, exactly, nut I’d never heard so many of them in one place.  When you hear a Slavic singer it’s a different sound, but it doesn’t really register until you watch one after the other.  It’s really very, very different.

BD:   Then it’s the American sound that is the odd one.

Voigt:   Yes! [Bursts out laughing]  The Soviets are all sitting there wondering what is that sound?  It’s so American!

BD:   Then why did they pick you, an American-trained singer, to be the winner?

Voigt:   I don’t know.  I can only assume they thought I was the best one this year.  Who knows what lurks in the minds of adjudicators?  There was a very big difference between my performance and the others.  There was a bigger difference between myself and the other women than there was in the men’s division.  The men were more the same level.  They were very good, but it was quite different, and it has to do with the year.  Four years ago may have been a different situation.  There were fine singers here this year.  In particular, the girl who got second place was very good.  I thought she was going to give me a run for it!  [Bursts out laughing]  She was very good, and she’s real young, twenty-four, or something like that.  She’s a Russian girl, Marina Shaguch, and I’m sure she’ll be coming to the States at some point to do some studying.  She’s very soulful, and was really very expressive on stage.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   How are you trying to divide your career between opera and concert, if at all?

Voigt:   I really can’t say that I’m trying to divide it at all.  At this point, I do seem to be getting more concert work, which could be the nature of having won this competition.  Primarily I have a lot of concert work coming up, and I love it, so I’m really happy with that.  I love to do opera, too, and I do have a fair amount of that coming up.  So I can’t complain.

BD:   What do you expect of the audience that comes to hear you sing on any given night?
Voigt:   I don’t know if I have any expectations, except that they come with an open mind, and hopefully want to get something out of the performance.  Whatever their situation is, they should try to leave their family problems behind.  I hope they enjoy it, and can be somewhere else for an hour, or two hours.

BD:   In the concerts or operas that you sing, how much is art and how much is entertainment?

Voigt:   Oh, what a question!  [Both laugh]  I’d like to think it’s all art, but it’s an entertainment industry, so there is a fair amount of both.  Some entertainment is a little bit more artistic than others, so I don’t know if I can really separate the two.  [Citing the work she had sung the previous evening]  The Paul Paray Mass is not an evening of Broadway tunes.  It’s a different vehicle entirely.

BD:   Have you done some concert opera?

Voigt:   Yes, a fair amount.

BD:   Does that work well?

Voigt:   My experience has been that it seems to work, but it depends on the piece, and how its presented.  The ones that I have done have been very well received.  I was a little concerned about Die Tote Stadt.  I wondered how it was going to work, but the audience went nuts.  They just loved it!  It’s such a gorgeous piece.  I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but it’s just beautiful.

BD:   Everybody knows Marietta’s Lied, of course!

Voigt:   Yes, but there’s so much more to it.  It’s wonderful, and I’d love to do it again.

BD:   Do you have any advice for singers who are where you were a few years ago?  [She thinks and sighs]  Besides to get out of the business?

Voigt:   Oh no, I wouldn’t say that at all.  If it’s what you have to do, and there’s nothing else you can do, then that’s your choice.  If there’s anything that you excel in that interests you besides singing, then maybe that would be a better choice, but you can’t advise anyone that way.  I would say just to study as much as they can, and learn how to audition well.  That’s probably the most important thing.

BD:   Is there a technique to auditioning?

Voigt:   I think so, and I’m not sure I’m very good at it, to be honest, but I’m working on it.  I don’t like them.  I don’t think there are too many singers that do like to audition.  I’m the person that maybe will not do a great audition, but once I get into the production, it’s a different ball of wax.

BD:   Is that why the Tchaikovsky Competition is three concerts, so you get a longer time to demonstrate yourself?

Voigt:   I’m sure that is why.  That’s very wise, because the first round is three songs.  Anybody can pop off three songs.  The second round is a little bit longer, and certainly has more varied repertoire.  It really separated the men from the boys, if you will, and also eliminated quite a few people, or made others go to the forefront.  
Then the third round is with orchestra.  As to advice, I would say to find a good teacher, one that you believe in, and stay with that person.  Get as much as you can.  I know a lot of singers who go from teacher to teacher to teacher, and that’s not a good idea.  I haven’t done it.  Most of the singers that I know who are successful, and doing well, and are well-adjusted, have had primary teachers, and don’t look for a ‘quick-fix’ situation.

BD:   You’re in this for the long haul?

Voigt:   Oh, I think so, yes.  [Laughs]  So far, anyway!  I hope so.  You don’t know what will happen, but it’s what I’ve always wanted to do.  I’ve sung since I was a little child, and that’s all I can do.

BD:   Is singing fun?

Voigt:   Yes!  I think it is.  I had a girlfriend ask me not too long ago, “Do you really have a good time when you get out there?” and I said, “Sure, if I’m well prepared.  If you’re not prepared, that’s another issue entirely.
 I really get enjoyment out of it.  It sounds corny, and doesn’t happen all the time, but there are those specific moments when it’s a spiritual thing.  I just think, Thank you, God, for giving me this, and letting me do this, because it’s just such a wonderful feeling.  But that doesn’t happen all the time.  [Laughs]  There are a lot of times when you go out and think, “Oh, if I have to do this again, I’m going die!”  But that’s part of it.  This friend of mine may not have been ready yet.  Maybe she just can’t get past worrying about this note and that note.  I was the same way four years ago, but once you get past that, and think about what you’re doing, the singing is a whole different game.

BD:   I trust you don’t ever go out there unprepared.

Voigt:   No, I really don’t.  There are times when I have less time to prepare than I would like, but I’m a very quick study, and I can’t say that I’ve ever gone out really unprepared.  A little insecure maybe, but not unprepared, no.  That would be too scary!  [Laughs]
BD:   How much time do you allow yourself to learn a new role?

Voigt:   It really depends on how much time I have, especially at this point in my career where I’m having to learn lots of new repertoire.  It’s just really mapped out by my schedule, and what’s coming up next.  That’s the pace of things at the moment.  Ideally, it would be nice to have two, three, four, five, six months to work on something, but at this point that’s not terribly realistic.  Maybe that’s not good, but that’s the nature of the business for me at this point.  Maybe fifty or sixty years ago, when there wasn’t quite the jet age that it is now, things were different, and maybe you had a week or more on a steamer to prepare, and relax, and coach.  But that doesn’t seem to be the case too much anymore.  I look forward to the time when Trovatore is no problem.  I will have done that, and I can do it again.  That’s when you can really play with things, and try different things.  At this point, it’s just trying to get a grasp on it.

BD:   What are some of the upcoming roles on your schedule that you will be learning?  [Vis-a-vis the recording shown at left, see my interviews with Thomas Moser, and Christian Thielemann.]

Voigt:   Alceste is right at the front at the moment.  That’s the major project.  Then immediately after that I’m doing Ariadne with Boston Lyric, so that will be starting up right away.  It’s a wonderful piece, and I’m really looking forward to it.  I’m going to be covering Der Freischütz for Eve Queler’s organization in New York, so I have to learn that.  Then there are some concert things, and the Female Chorus in The Rape of Lucretia.  That should be interesting.  So those are the immediate projects.

BD:   Do you see yourself moving into Trovatore and Traviata, and things like that?

Voigt:   I’m not sure about La Traviata, but Il Trovatore certainly.  Different people hear different things.  When I open my mouth, some say Verdi, and then the next one will say no, Strauss and Wagner.  So it’s going to be interesting to see how things go.  I don’t want to eliminate anything.  I would like to be able to do all of them.

BD:   Are there some star-singers that you are going to pattern yourself after?

Voigt:   There are some that I admire.  Margaret Price has absolutely a voice to die for, and she is also a very good technician.  Her Mozart is just as beautiful as her Verdi, and that’s admirable.  I also love Anna Tomowa-Sintow.  Hers is just a beautiful, beautiful voice, and my voice teacher, Ruth Falcon.  She’ll open her mouth in the studio, and tell me I can do that, too!

BD:   I hope you have a long and successful career, and I hope we see you here on stage a number of times!  [Her performances at Lyric Opera and with the Chicago Symphony are shown in the box below.]

Voigt:   Thank you.  I hope so, too.  

At Lyric Opera of Chicago, Deborah Voigt would sing Amelia in Un Ballo in Maschera (1992-93) with (among others) Fiorenza Cossotto and Donnie Ray Albert, conducted by Richard Buckley and directed by Sonja Frisell in the John Conklin production; the title role in Ariadne auf Naxos (1998-99) with Susan Graham, Jon Villars, Laura Aikin, and David Cangelosi, conducted by Robert Spano and directed by John Cox; Sieglinde in Die Walküre (2002-03) with Jane Eaglen, James Morris, Marjana Lipovšek, and Thomas Studebaker, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, and staged by August Everding; the title role in Salome (2006-07) with Alan Held, Judith Forst, and Kim Begley, conducted by Davis and staged by Francesca Zambello; the Empress in Frau ohne schatten (2007-08) with Robert Dean Smith, Christine Brewer, Franz Hawlata, again led by Davis; Isolde in Tristan und Isolde with Clifton Forbis, Petra Lang, Greer Grimsley, Stephen Milling, conducted by Davis in the David Hockney production; the title role in Tosca which would open the 2009-10 season, with Vladimir Galouzine and James Morris, again led by Davis in the Zeffirelli production; and finally Minnie in Fanciulla del West (2010-11) with Marcello Giordani, and Marco Vratogna, led once again by Davis in the Harold Prince production.

With the Chicago Symphony, Voigt would sing the Symphony #9 of Beethoven at the Royal Albert Hall, London, led by Sir Georg Solti in September, 1996.  Then, back at Orchestra Hall, she would appear in the concert version of The Trojans, Part I, (February, 2001) conducted by Zubin Mehta; and then three times led by Daniel Barenboim, including the Verdi Requiem (April, 2001), the Symphony #9 of Beethoven (February, 2004), and Erwartung (Schoenberg) (October, 2004).  At the Ravinia Festival, Voigt would sing Wagner and Strauss in 2000 and 2011, as well as the Symphony #8 of Mahler in 2004 all led by Christoph Eschenbach, and Act One of Die Walküre conducted by James Conlon also in 2004.  Finally, in 2014, Voigt would sing a concert of lighter music by Berlin, Kern, Gershwin, etc., led by Ted Sperling.


© 1990 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on July 19, 1990.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1995 and 2000.  This transcription was made in 2022, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

*     *     *     *     *

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.