American soprano Deborah Voigt is known for an unusual combination of attributes and experiences. The public is aware not only of her powerful and remarkably lively performances of a notably wide repertory from Wagner, Verdi and Strauss to Berlin, Bernstein and Bolcom, but also of her publicly discussed weight loss and “little black dress.” She recently conversed by email with us about her program for Sunday afternoon’s Celebrity Series recital at Symphony Hall [details here], her third since 2005.
F.L.E: You’re opening with three songs by Amy Beach, a real favorite of ours; I presented a set of her songs a couple years ago in a concert placing her within the Second New England School. How did you come to her and why these songs?
D.V: Unfortunately you don’t have the opportunity to hear a lot of female composers. Brian Zeger is an absolute genius at knowing repertoire for all voice types, so he introduced me to these songs and they really just hit me immediately. I feel that her music is very lush. To be honest, these are all songs that I’ve had in my repertoire for a long time. It’s nice to be able to sing things that are more familiar, but you never really know how it’s going to flow until you have it in front of an audience.
There’s a much more famous Bostonian composer on the program, but this set we do know. What can you tell us about Leonard Bernstein’s Piccola Serenata?
Bernstein is one of our American treasures and I never had the chance to meet him or work with him, so it’s a bit of a tribute to someone who’s been so central to American song for such a long time. I grew up listening and dancing around to West Side Story, so I thought, let’s just visit him and see what’s out there, and we came up with some things that people will absolutely recognize for the final piece of the program. I feel that Piccola Serenata in particular shows his deep understanding of the voice; I had the opportunity to record this in 2005 for my album All My Heart.
Then you’re giving us some William Bolcom and a set from Ben Moore, an American born in 1960.
Bolcom again was someone Brian introduced me to and I just fell for these songs. “At the Last Lousy Moments of Love” is one that I just added for this tour and it’s a great song about the trail … sadly, I can relate to that. Ben Moore is someone I came to know several years ago. I’ve recorded the pieces I am doing and I really love his music. It’s very melodically driven so it works well for me because I am also melodically driven, and, while he’s a contemporary composer, he knows how to spin out a beautiful melody and set text well. One piece I find particularly rewarding to sing is called “This Heart That Flutters.” From the minute I heard it I loved it.
Amidst all that Americana we do get a dollop of Tchaikovsky and a large helping of one of your signature composers. The Richard Strauss songs that you’ve chosen are from much earlier in his career, when Strauss was much more experimental.
Strauss wrote beautifully for women in particular, and these pieces are a little stories in and of themselves, as are all the pieces on the program. I like that they focus on “What is the character saying? Who is she?” Not having to sustain that for four hours makes it a lot of fun. There is something to be said for being able to switch gears from one delivery to another.
Is there a key to how you put the program together?
The program is quite diverse and I feel it flows well. You never really know when you put these things together. Brian Zeger and I have been doing this program all fall and we’ve done it in the past, so we kind of know what works. Even as recently as a week ago we made the decision to change the order of songs because we felt they weren’t flowing in the right way; it seemed like the audience wasn’t getting the humor of one, and maybe he and I thought it was funnier than they did. So these things can change. I don’t like to do that too much. The program is printed and I want the audience to have a record of what they’ve heard. But of course we do switch things up if we think it’s going to be better for their experience.
Do you see another Isolde or Brünnhilde anywhere in your future? I wish Boston had an opera company that could bring you to us more often and experience the theatrical animal that comes out only on the opera stage.
Right now I am feeling very blessed to be at this place in my career, to feel I’ve done pretty much everything operatically that I’d like to do. One role I still dream about doing is Strauss’s Elektra. Other than that, I’ve done quite a bit and I’m really enjoying looking at other things, other options. There’s a musical-theater piece in my future that is very interesting for me and a lot of fun. It’s nice to have made it this far, such that I have choices and can still exercise performance muscles that have been dormant since I performed musicals in high school—which was more than a few years ago.