|Deborah Voigt and Brian Zeger in concert at Symphony Hall. Photo: Robert Torres.|
If there were any doubts that Deborah Voigt still has command over a truly glorious sound, these were silenced early in her recital last weekend at Celebrity Series. For the soprano seemed to almost revel in sending up towering columns of acoustic gold - their surfaces polished to a gleaming shine, and seemingly inscribed with the line "Yep, I've still got it."
And she looked as fabulous as she sounded - sparklingly opulent in a daringly low bodice for the first half of her recital, then swathed in snowy luxuriance for the second (above). Yes, she's a diva and she knows it, but there's something endearing about the way Voigt can hold a tragic pose, say for the finish of something by Strauss or Tchaikovsky, and then snap back into "just Debbie" once the last note dies away. Somehow she's both of Valhalla and suburbia; the smart local gal who's a goddess when she wants to be.
Speaking of Strauss: Voigt made her name with this composer, so there was an ample sample of him on the program; most were strikingly dramatic, though less well-known until the final "Zueignung" ("Dedication"), a warhorse that gallops to thrilling peaks, which Voigt scaled with ease. I actually preferred her set from Tchaikovsky, though ("Ya li v pole da ne travushka byla" and "Den li tsarit?"); Voigt smiled about how her Russian might sound a bit rusty, but I was struck by the poise and emotional clarity of her performance; no wonder she won the Tchaikovsky Competition with these! (It should also be noted she was in superb synch with pianist Brian Zeger in these songs - which are almost duets at times between voice and a complex keyboard part; Zeger handled the challenging close of "Den il tsarit?" with particular elegance.)
The rest of the program was entirely in English - in fact in American; Voigt has let it be known she made it a point to program her fellow countrymen this time around. Early on she made a strong case for Amy Beach, the pioneering woman whose high German-romantic tone suits her timbre well; Voigt delivered passionate readings of three of Beach's best-known songs (all swooning settings of Browning), which came off as lushly appealing. I was somewhat less taken, though, with the contemporary Ben Moore, who's charming but a bit light, methinks - still, Voigt made a lovely cameo of his tender "This heart that flutters."
The soprano was back in clover with Leonard Bernstein and William Bolcom. Voigt can deliver a knowing, bawdy wink that's perfect for Bolcom, so no surprise she caught the comedy and tragedy of "George" (classical music's first valentine to a drag queen) and two forthright post-coital laments, "Toothbrush Time" and "At the last lousy moments of love." The Bernsteins were more varied in tone (some were made for the concert hall, some for the salon, and others for the stage) as well as content: "So pretty" conceals a devastating anti-war statement, while "Greeting" is a hushed meditation on the birth of a child (written upon the arrival of Bernstein's own son, Alexander). But Voigt saved the best for last - grand treatments of "It's Gotta Be Bad to Be Good" (from On the Town) and the iconic "Somewhere," which featured not only glorious vocals but an evocative keyboard arrangement from Zeger.
At just over ninety minutes, the program felt slightly short - but Voigt was wooed back (with a characteristic crack about how such moments are self-consciously staged) for two memorable encores. First came a rousing rendition of Irving Berlin's bouncing "I Love a Piano" - in which the diva proved her own passion for the instrument by plunking herself down next to Zeger and sailing through a demanding four-hand final verse. Her last bow came with Kern and Hammerstein's gorgeous "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," one of the first Broadway torch songs to cross over into art song. Voigt has spoken of her desire to explore the American musical theatre in this phase of her career (and has in fact already starred in Annie Get Your Gun); this sweet send-off made it clear she's got the voice to win over that audience, too.