Humidity dampens Voigt's impressive recital

Music Review

April 19, 2002|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Nice weather you have in D.C.," Deborah Voigt said, unfolding a fan and trying to stir up a little air in between songs.

The extraordinary soprano must have been miserable up there on the stage at the French Embassy, where she made her Washington recital debut Wednesday night presented by the Vocal Arts Society. It wasn't so great for the audience either, as something vaguely suggesting air-conditioning rumbled ineffectually in the background.

The freakish heat wave could not dampen the crowd's enthusiasm, but it may have accounted for the singer's occasional slips of intonation, tone control and even memory during the unusual, fascinating program. Maybe the extra humidity also caused the pianist's bench to buckle at one point, giving Voigt a good laugh.

Just a few days after soaring through Washington Concert Opera's gala, the soprano sounded a little under the weather - literally - all night. But even a slightly off-her-form Voigt is still on a very high level.

Voigt made a strong case for Alexander von Zemlinsky's sometimes diffuse melodic lines in the Six Waltz Songs, as Brian Zeger explored the harmonic richness of the piano parts. The soprano had great fun with a group of Arnold Schoenberg's cabaret songs, acting out the sometimes sensual, sometimes raucous words.

Her Richard Strauss selections inspired considerable intensity of phrasing; the performance of Fruhlingsfeier alone, with its impassioned cries of "Adonis!," put the temperature inside the hall up another degree or two.

Songs by Gounod and Saint-Saens inspired colorful, subtly shaded interpretations. And it was rewarding to encounter works from 1912 by underrated American composer Charles T. Griffes. His settings of hyper-romantic poetry may not be profound, but they have sincerity and ardor in them, qualities Voigt stressed effectively.

The encores included an amusing showpiece written for her by Benjamin Moore called Wagner Roles, which has her lamenting being typecast and stuck in trendy Wagnerian stagings where she can't move a muscle for four and a half hours. Voigt followed that up with a reason why she's so in-demand as a Wagnerian - an all-cylinders version of Brunnhilde's signature war cry, complete with dead-on, full-value high notes that many a soprano can only squeak out for an instant.

Gershwin's Someone to Watch Over Me proved the perfect antidote to that. Voigt couldn't always get her voice to cooperate at low volume, but the phrasing exuded elegance. And, as was the case all night, Zeger provided superb support at the keyboard.

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