Fresh from her role as Marie in Alban Berg's disturbing "Wozzeck" at New York's Metropolitan Opera, soprano Deborah Voigt will swing by Weill Hall this Sunday as part of a four-city spring recital tour.
Accompanied by pianist Brian Zeger, Voigt will present a balanced program of American and European songs by composers Amy Beach, Leonard Bernstein, William Bolcom, Ben Moore, Richard Strauss and Tchaikovsky.
The recital tour, which also makes stops at Stanford University's Bing Concert Hall and Boston's Symphony Hall, gives the dramatic soprano a welcome break from the opera stage, where she often plays tragic, long-suffering women.
"It gives me a chance to show a side of my personality that doesn't come out when I'm singing all these very serious heroines," the singer told the South Florida Classical Review.
The recital is expected to be one of the highlights of Sonoma State University's Mastercard Performance Series, which kicked off last September with a show by another beloved American soprano, Renee Fleming.
As a dramatic soprano, Voigt boasts a powerful, rich voice that can soar over a full orchestra, making her ideal for the iconic roles of German opera, from Richard Strauss' Ariadne to Richard Wagner's Isolde.
It's been an interesting journey for the 53-year-old Voigt, who grew up outside Chicago and started singing in church when she was 5.
Moving to Southern California for high school, she starred in musicals such as "The Music Man" and won a vocal scholarship, enrolling in the voice program at CSU Fullerton.
In the 1980s, she was named an Adler Fellow in the San Francisco Opera's Merolo Program, where she learned the ropes of her profession.
In 1991, she made her big breakthrough with the Boston Lyric Opera as Ariadne in Strauss' "Ariadne auf Naxos." At that time, New York Times critic John Rockwell predicted that only a wrong career turn could stop her from becoming a significant Wagnerian soprano.
Voigt made her debut at New York's Metropolitan Opera later that year in the role of Amelia in Verdi's "Un ballo in maschera," impressing a New York Times critic with her voice's "deep, mezzo-like darkness."
But as her reputation grew, so did her girth. By 2004, she had ballooned to a size 30.
In 2004, she was fired by London's Royal Opera House for being too large for the role of Ariadne — there was an issue with a "little black dress" that she could not fit into — and Voigt unknowingly set off a controversy heard 'round the opera world.
Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle at the time, music critic Joshua Kosman opined that the incident proved that opera had caved into Hollywood's "tyranny of image, glamour, glitz, and good looks."
"Voigt's artistry encompasses more than just a magnificent set of pipes," he wrote. "She's a superb singing actress — expressive, responsive, witty and deeply intelligent."
In the long run, however, the hurtful ordeal may have helped her career.
Using her fee and the unexpected time off, Voigt underwent gastric bypass surgery later that year. As a consequence, she lost more than 100 pounds and went down to a size 14.
In 2011, she appeared in a one-woman show, "Voigt Lessons," which she developed with playwright Terrence McNally and director Francesca Zambello. The 75-minute show previews her autobiography, scheduled to be released by HarperCollins later this year.