…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.