Something’s wrong when…

…one of the world’s top opera singers sings La Gioconda at the Met, and gets just polite applause for her big killer aria. But that’s what happened to Deborah Voigt last night. What went wrong?

She’s not a strong presence onstage. She keeps leaning forward, which makes her look weak. And she’s not a diva. When she first comes onstage, you don’t even notice her. In the old days, when a star Gioconda made her first entrance, not singing a note, a shockwave went through the opera house, and the crowd would go wild. Voigt might think she’s an actress, avoiding all that bad old operatic exaggeration. But the opera demands that grand old style. Without wild, grand heat, the music will die. Listen to Zinka Milanov singing the aria, from a live 1953 performance in New Orleans. Hear the electric shock in her very first notes. She grabs you by the throat, and doesn’t let you go. (And you can’t fault her dignity.)

Voigt’s voice is too light for the role. Especially in her middle range. She can pump up the low notes, and belt out the highs. But the middle — where the role demands that she sing with great empahsis — doesn’t have any force. Listen to Milanov, in the aria’s climax. Hear how she goes up the scale, hurling the high note out from the notes that lead up to it. And then how powerfully she comes down from the high note! This (along with the size of the note, and its sheer diva force) is why the climax is powerful. Voigt can’t do this. Her high notes came out of nowhere, and mostly had no effect.

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  1. says

    Those are perfectly reasonable criticisms of Voigt – and Milanov exhibits at least one of the flaws you point out in Voigt. In this broadcast, though less than in the famous 1939 broadcast with Martinelli, her low register is not firm enough under pressure. Overall, of course, Milanov has more the right kind of voice for the role even though she lacks the real chest of an Italian dramatic soprano.

  2. Suzanne Derringer says

    Hi, Greg –

    Maybe this is another example of how remote that “grand old style” is from our experience today. Of course we grew up on recordings by Milanov or Ponselle in Gioconda…those ladies embodied those passionate dramatic roles, whatever their technical flaws might have been. Times have changed. Milanov – and Callas and Tebaldi – were pretty much the end of the long line of “prima donnas” who didn’t agree with Toscanini that the only stars are in the heavens.

    “Suicidio!” is an aria which demands full-blooded intensity – the singer has to be utterly convinced (or at least convincing) about the inevitability of suicide, the only possible resolution of her situation. I haven’t heard Voigt do this, but she may indeed be too detached for this most Italian of late-19th century Italian operas.

  3. ariel says


    The Met is short on great singers but large

    on hype -let’s face it , most people came

    to hear the great Podles ,however short her role ,nothing went wrong -the Met just doesn’t have it. The internal power struggles reflect

    its poor casting.It took Podles some 20yrs.

    to return, why is the question – she is much too good even in the sun set of her career to

    bother with the Met .It must be unsettling

    for the likes of Voigt ,when a real artist

    such as Podles steps on the the same stage .