Thoughts on Call Me Debbie: True Confessions of a Down-to-Earth Diva

The cover of Deborah Voigt's new autobiography "Call Me Debbie: Confessions of a Down-to-Earth Diva"

The cover of Deborah Voigt’s new autobiography “Call Me Debbie: True Confessions of a Down-to-Earth Diva”

In the last three days I have devoured and finished Deborah Voigt’s new autobiography Call Me Debbie: True Confessions of a Down-To-Earth Diva. I found her story fascinating, less so from her musical perspective but more so from her struggles with her addictions: Eating, alcohol, and men. Her target audience, I feel, should include not only opera fans, but also those struggling to overcome addictions in general. Through her comparisons between the roles she sang and her own life events, she made both opera and her diseases accessible and easy to understand for readers. I particularly liked her comparison of her own life to Sieglinde, as both of them were forlorn and feeling trapped in the lives they were living; Voigt due to her own physical and emotional constraints, and Sieglinde due to her unhappy marriage to Hunding.

If everything in the book is true, it seems as if Voigt did not hold anything back. She goes into gruesome detail about the amounts of food she gorged, leading to her heaviness and embarrassment from events such as the “Little Black Dress” predicament. Nothing is sugarcoated; she puts everything out in the open. Despite some grammatical and factual errors, such as discussing a “Minister” as a character in Götterdämmerung, it remained sincere and authentic.

Her sincerity truly touched me the most at the very end. At one point during the time she is in rehab for alcoholism, she describes how she was assigned to draw a Tree of Life, on which she drew her dog Steinway, music notes, and other happy thoughts. She then drew a Tree of Hope, on which she depicted herself as happy and free, which are the exact characteristics she was striving to achieve for herself throughout the entirety of the book. I was left in tears knowing that she was able to pick herself up through drawing after years of suffering.

Voigt’s new book truly made me appreciate her journey to becoming and conquering her career as an opera singer. It also made me more thankful than ever that she is still alive on this Earth and benefiting the world of music.

This Don is on Fire: A Review of the Met’s Don Giovanni

On Wednesday night the premiere of Don Giovanni took place at the Met. The cast included Swedish baritone Peter Mattei in the title role, Luca Pisaroni as Leporello, South African soprano Elza van den Heever as Donna Anna, Emma Bell as Donna Elvira, Kate Lindsey as Zerlina, and James Morris as the Commendatore. This performance was the beginning of another run of the Michael Grandage production which opened in the 2011-12 season.

Peter Mattei in the title role in Act II of Mozart's Don Giovanni. © Marty Sohl, Metropolitan Opera 2015

Peter Mattei in the title role in Act II of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. © Marty Sohl, Metropolitan Opera 2015

Peter Mattei was the highlight of the show. His voice shimmers and has a sincere, sweet quality to it that has worked for his Don Giovanni, as well as other heavier roles such as Amfortas in Parsifal. This sweetness was particularly prevalent in “Là ci darem la mano” and “Deh vieni alla finestra”, as he used that tone especially well when serenading and flirting with various women in the opera. I, on cue, practically melted in my seat. His intensity on stage was also admirable. For a man well over six feet tall, he was able to stoop down to other singers’ levels, jump on tables, and sink into the fires of Hell without letting his vocal quality decrease. His diction was also impeccable; I had never heard “Fin ch’han dal vino calda la testa” sung with such crispness. Overall, Mattei was the highlight of the evening, wowing with me with every line that poured out of his mouth. He had the entire audience in the palm of his hand.

Pisaroni played a hilarious Leporello; his comic timing is priceless. He had the audience howling with laughter when Giovanni forces Leporello to put his own clothes on in disguise to woo Donna Elvira. His reluctant facial expressions and his collapsing out of fake infatuation for Elvira were hysterical. Pisaroni’s singing was largely lyrical, just as it was in La Cenerentola last season in the role of Alidoro. His “Catalog Aria” was not overdone; it was sung beautifully.

Elza van den Heever wowed the audience with her “Non mi dir”. She played a largely independent Donna Anna, rarely putting her head on Don Ottavio’s shoulder. I only wish that “Non mi dir” and “Or sai chi l’onore Rapire a me volse” could have been on the more exciting side. The tempi seemed to drag under the baton of Alan Gilbert for many portions of the opera. I felt the same way about Emma Bell’s “Mi Tradi”, one of, if not the most exhilarating aria of the evening. It did not feel driven enough, in my opinion, as entrances were hesitant and long lines tended to drag.

The septet at the end of Act I of Mozart's "Don Giovanni". © Marty Sohl, Metropolitan Opera 2015

The septet at the end of Act I of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”. © Marty Sohl, Metropolitan Opera 2015

Kate Lindsey’s voice seems to grow richer each time she steps on the stage. She is sounding more and more like a dramatic French mezzo, or the likes of Susan Graham. As the petite Zerlina, she sounded grounded and steady. Her voice did not waver or go sharp, which can happen to more “flighty” Zerlinas. Her counterpart, Masetto, sung by Adam Plachetka, was very solid in his Met debut. Russian tenor Dmitri Korchak also made his debut on Wednesday in the role of Don Ottavio. Other than some unsteady approaches to high notes and taking more time then needed on some phrases, he sang a lovely performance.

The Met Orchestra was captivating. The Met Orchestra musicians always play Mozart so well, as they keep it very chamber-like and crisp. The Met Chorus also did a wonderful job; they sounded lithe and graceful in the happy scenes and dark and menacing in the scary scenes!

Performances of Don Giovanni run through March 6. Go see this Mozartian drama before it is too late!

Seeing Double: A Review of the Met’s Double Bill: Iolanta/Bluebeard’s Castle

On Thursday night the Met put the premiere of Iolanta/Bluebeard’s Castle on the stage. Both new productions directed by Mariusz Trelinski were supposed to open on Monday night, however, the impending “blizzard” did not allow for that to happen. On Thursday the weather was still blustery and nippy, giving an appropriate feel for both the Tchaikovsky and the haunting Bartók.

Starting with Iolanta, the production was very much focused on the stark differences between what Iolanta, sung by the fabulous Anna Netrebko, pictured despite her lack of sight versus what everyone else around her could see. Her bedroom, small and isolated on the big Met stage, lacked any color except for some lifeless deer heads mounted on the wall. The only instance when color came into play was when Vaudemont, sung by Piotr Beczała, arrived and questioned Iolanta about the red and white roses. As Iolanta is somewhat of an obscure opera written by Tchaikovsky immediately after his masterpiece The Queen of Spades, the production’s darkness and ambiguity did not bother me.

Anna Netrebko in the title role of Tchaikovsky's "Iolanta". © Marty Sohl, Metropolitan Opera, 2015

Anna Netrebko in the title role of Tchaikovsky’s “Iolanta”. © Marty Sohl, Metropolitan Opera, 2015

The music for Iolanta fits like a glove in Netrebko’s voice. Her sound was truly voluminous, just as it was earlier in the Met’s season when she sang Lady Macbeth. Her rich middle register is something in which one can just sink him or herself. Beczała’s voice was very silvery as Vaudemont. There is nothing artificial or fake to his sound; it has become increasingly pure, at least to my ears, over the last few seasons at the Met. Aleksei Markov played a boyish Robert, high-fiving and performing an elaborate handshake with Beczała at one point when he returns to the stage. Ilya Bannik did a great job filling in for Alexei Tanovitski as King René, Iolanta’s overbearing and protective father. As my dad said in regard to Iolanta’s family keeping the fact the she is blind hidden from her, “These people really need to get out more”.

The Met Orchestra played superbly in both the Tchaikovsky and the Bartók, with only a few minor disconnects that will be fixed as the run continues. The chorus sounded magnificent in Iolanta, as they do not have a role in Bluebeard. The final scene in which Iolanta is finally cured of her blindness is movingly accompanied by the chorus and the rest of the cast.

The performance was dampened, however, by an unfortunate event that occurred during the bows before intermission. During the week, I had seen protests outside both Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Opera against Maestro Gergiev and his “friendship” with Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia who has faced a lot of controversy in the last year over his policies towards homosexuals and his attitude towards Ukraine. In light of these events, security at the Met was tighter than usual on Thursday night. That did not stop a protestor from hopping onto the edge of the pit on the Stage Right side, walking around the rim onto the stage, and unfolding an anti-Putin, Gergiev, and Netrebko poster with a Ukrainian flag drawn on it to the audience, and then to the cast. Scarily enough, it took more than just a half-second for a stage manager to point the protestor off stage left, let alone tackle him, so he could then be arrested. That excitement left a bit of a bad taste in all of our mouths as we left the theater for intermission.

As all of us hesitantly walked back into the theater after that awful incident. I never would have guessed that I would grow increasingly scared and haunted through the rest of the evening. Bluebeard’s Castle truly left me shaken, not only because it is a terrifying opera in and of itself, but because the production was so downright creepy. The opera began with the traditional poem read in Magyar booming through amplified speakers throughout the theater accompanied by creaking noises. As we were listening to this ominous, deep voice speak, the entire theater’s lights were dimmed to black, as we virtually walked through a dark forest thanks to Trelinski’s vivid projections. The production was overall very dark and dismal; lighted scenes came as a shock. For example, the flashes of red and white light in the torture chamber as well as the immaculate-looking, white-tiled bathroom containing the Lake of Tears came as real surprises. At several points, Judith was blind-folded by Bluebeard before opening the doors, connecting Judith’s being “blinded” from the truth and Iolanta’s physical blindness. The most terrifying factors I found in the production were the almost three-dimensional projections that allowed audience members to feel as if they were walking with Judith down the corridors of Bluebeard’s Castle, and the amplified noises that echoed throughout the house.

Nadja Michael as Judith in Bartók's "Bluebeard's Castle". © Marty Sohl, Metropolitan Opera, 2015

Nadja Michael as Judith in Bartók’s “Bluebeard’s Castle”. © Marty Sohl, Metropolitan Opera, 2015

Nadja Michael played the innocent ingenue Judith very well. Her looks allowed for her to be enticing and sexy at the same time; at one point she appears completely nude coming out of a bathtub behind the door of riches. Her high C upon opening the fifth door positively rang through the house. I felt as if she had much more control in this role than when she sang Lady Macbeth in the 2011-12 season. Mikhail Petrenko played a somewhat quiet, held-back Bluebeard, acting as if he had been down the road three times already with three previous wives preceding Judith. He blended well with the production in his pitch black suit and wig while showing off his gloomy castle to Judith. At some points it was difficult to hear him, but that was made up by his sound being creepily amplified at other times when Judith was alone on stage. Amplified noises and voices in an opera house may not be traditional, but for a horrifying opera like Bluebeard, I felt like it really worked.

I look forward to returning to see Iolanta/Bluebeard’s Castle in the movie theater Saturday, February 14, if not before at the Met!