Voigt charms Miami audience with Strauss lieder and American song

By Lawrence Budmen

Deborah Voigt performed a recital program Friday at the Arsht Center in Miami.

Deborah Voigt performed a recital program Friday at the Arsht Center in Miami.

Deborah Voigt was given the kind of greeting usually reserved for rock stars when she took center stage Friday night for the opening concert of the Arsht Center’s Masterworks Series. Although there were rows of empty seats, the audience was clearly behind her, responding enthusiastically throughout the recital.

Voigt’s informal, easy banter between selections gave the program a sense of intimacy difficult to achieve in a large hall. Voigt has been through a troubled period recently, repeated vocal problems forcing her to drop the major Wagner roles of Brunnhilde and Isolde after initial success in that repertoire.

Her Miami recital confirmed some continual difficulties, offered some of the vocal luxuriance that made her a prized Strauss soprano in the 1990s and suggested that perhaps her next career move may point her toward the world of cabaret and musical theater.

An opening set of three songs by Amy Beach proved less than auspicious. Voigt’s full blown operatic treatment of “Three Years at the Spring” missed the essential intimate scale of Beach’s salon settings. Her upper register sounded edgy but Voigt captured much of the poetry in “Ah, Love, But a Day.” Still, the breaks between registers and scooping up to notes were worrisome.

Two Tchaikovsky songs seemed more congenial. A Gold Medal winner at the 1990 Tchaikovsky Competition in 1990, she reveled in the songs’ operatic mini-drama but a high C fell short of the mark in “Whether Day Dawns.” That song’s lengthy keyboard postlude offered a demonstration of eloquent, big-boned pianism by Brian Zeger, one of the most versatile, attentive accompanists in the business.

Although Voigt’s sound is smaller than in former times, she can still fill a hall with vocal radiance and Richard Strauss remains the composer that brings her best vocalism. Opening a cycle of five Strauss songs with “Ich trage meine Minne” (I hear my love), Voigt’s keen sense of drama and command of the grand Straussian gesture were riveting. She effectively captured the waltz-like playfulness of “Schlechtes Wetter” (Bad Weather).

Voigt’s rich low register shone in the emotive “Lob des Leidens” (In Praise of Sorrow) while “Ach Lieb, ich muss nun scheiden” (Ah Love, I must now depart) offered finely shaded pianissimos in the manner of the Four Last Songs. Voigt sang “Zueignung” (Dedication) with intimate expression, less a full throated cry than a deeply personal tribute to a beloved. Zeger’s sensitivity, tonal shading and sense of vocal phrasing were almost orchestral in depth of sound and color.

Voigt emerged for the concert’s second half in a flowing white gown, seemingly letting her hair down for a series of light art songs and show tunes. Four pieces by Benjamin Moore seemed a good vocal fit for Voigt’s vociferous, uninhibited display of Broadway pizzazz.

Three superbly crafted songs by William Bolcom brought out the soprano’s comic side. “Toothbrush Time” was both sly and bluesy and Voigt assayed the alcohol infused text of George with the irony of Elaine Stritch. Her English enunciation was exceptional, a model for operatic divas singing populist material.

Five songs by Leonard Bernstein ranged from the jazzy Broadway riffs of “It’s Got to be Bad to be Good” (from On the Town), sung with the flair of a cabaret chanteuse, to the fervently antiwar “So Pretty,” artfully spun. Voigt’s vocal gymnastics matched the lilting mock Italiana of “Piccola serenata” but her version of “Somewhere” (from West Side Story) was unusually gritty, the broken line seeming like one voice pleading for hope in a hostile world.

The supportive audience was not about to leave Voigt go without encores and she offered Irving Berlin’s “I Love a Piano” in which she joined Zeger in swinging duo at the keyboard and, sitting on the piano bench, a sultry version of “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” from Jerome Kern’s Show Boat, suggesting Broadway shows may be in her future.

The Arsht Center’s Masterworks Series continues 8 p.m. December 19 with a recital by violinist Itzhak Perlman. 305-949-6722 arshtcenter.org.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Voigt charms Miami audience with Strauss lieder and American song”

  1. Posted Nov 17, 2013 at 9:57 pm by Renee

    Mr Budman – I couldn’t agree with you more! Thank you for your excellent and accurate account of Deborah Voight’s performance at The Arsht Center.

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Sat Nov 16, 2013
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