Deborah Voigt’s Bold Gambit

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The New York Sun

American soprano Deborah Voigt has had an up-and-down career over the last decade. Although some of her appearances at the Metropolitan Opera House have been powerful, especially her Sieglinde under both maestros Gergiev and Maazel, she has also disappointed as Elisabeth in “Tannhaeuser” and especially as Floria in “Tosca,” where her rendition of Vissi d’arte on opening night was remarkably unmoving. At this point, she needs to prove herself at every appearance.

Thus it may have been a bit of a tactical error on Wednesday night to take the stage with arguably the two greatest female singers performing today. Adopting the title role in Amilcare Ponchielli’s “La Gioconda” with Olga Borodina and Ewa Podles as scene partners is either a bold or a foolhardy gambit.

Opera lore is filled with stories about how the mezzo role of Laura totally eclipses the supposed leading lady soprano, especially during the duet L’amo come il fulgor del creato. This night was not a total mismatch, as Ms. Voigt was in good voice and seemed invested in her part. True to form, however, Ms. Borodina dispensed her golden tones with generous dispatch, producing perfectly rounded notes of great beauty and power. In the act titled The Rosary, she offered a Stella del marinar that was extremely poignant. As the ear naturally compared her communicative radiance to that of Ms. Voigt, the soprano came up a little short.

As for Madame Podles, many of us have been lobbying for her reappearance at the Met for many years (she last sung here in 1984). No matter how often I hear her remarkably subterranean contralto, the first time that she opens her mouth in a given performance is a shocking moment. Singing the role of La Cieca, the blind mother of Gioconda, she delivered such an otherworldly Figlia, che reggi il tremolo pie that for the first time I thought that maybe, just maybe, she actually was a witch. Take note, Mr. Gelb: The ovation for her lasted longer than all of the others for the whole cast of singers for the entire evening combined.

Ms. Voigt has to wait for four acts to deliver her big number. She did a creditable job in Suicidio, but having recently heard Aprile Millo, whose rendition bore directly into the marrow of my bones, this version, although tightly controlled in terms of pitch, was rather pedestrian by comparison.

There were men in the cast as well, but unless one of their mothers was in the audience, there was nobody in that crowd who had come specifically to hear them. The tenor role of Enzo is an important one — in fact, it was the espousal of this character by Enrico Caruso that resurrected Gioconda from the Met scrap heap — but Aquiles Machado resembled the great man only in physical stature. His Cielo e mar was nasal and hardly what one would classify as heroic. Veteran Carlo Guelfi was a savvy Barnaba and debut artist Orlin Anastassov was respectable and credible as Badoero.

The conducting of Daniele Callegari was bland and there seemed to be coordination problems between the pit and the chorus that left the impression of under-rehearsal. More than once the soloists were left to simply stand around while we all waited for the maestro to grace us with his downbeat.

By the way, “La Gioconda” has nothing whatsoever to do with the Da Vinci painting. For an opera about that — and time travel in the bargain — you have to find a rare performance of Mona Lisa by Max von Schillings.

The New York Sun

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