It Ain't Over

Deborah Voigt, who is starring in Wagner's Tristan und Isolde at the Met, proves opera to be full of drama, excitement, and relevance.

BY Robert Hilferty

March 16 2008 11:00 PM ET

“How did
that happen?” Voigt asked me after I gave her the
good news. Mystified but delighted, she hasn't
actively courted gay audiences, or their legendary
disposable incomes, as aggressively as the magnificent
comedian Kathy Griffin.

“If I knew
how to become a gay icon, I would have pursued it from the
get-go,” she continued. “I’m honored.
Gays are such a discerning group.” She told me
this right after a stunning performance as Isolde in
Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the
Metropolitan Opera, her first there. It has a near
sold-out run until March 28.

At the first
intermission, gay music critics -- a notoriously
overrepresented category, rivaling hairdressers and interior
designers -- were already gushing over her
performance. One said to me, “I think Debbie
has gone from being a great singer to a great
artist.’’ Another chimed in, “Is
it me, or is she sounding more resplendent than
ever?” You can expect the audiences for this
run to have a much higher queer quotient than other
Met performances.

Why is that?

First of all,
aside from Voigt’s excellence appealing to gay good
taste, her personal narrative speaks to queers: The
Fat Girl Makes Good. Ridiculed all her life for being
overweight, Voigt quietly struggled with her
self-image as she forged ahead. Like her waistline and hips,
her terrific voice couldn’t be hidden, as far
back as the high school musicals she performed in. Her
stabs at opera were not taken seriously at the start
-- and she was actively discouraged in some quarters -- but
she started entering opera competitions and winning.

Her breakthrough
role was Ariadne auf Naxos in Chicago in 1991,
when TheNew York Times gave her a rave. She was now on
the map, and has since tackled the most demanding
roles created by Strauss and Wagner. She has also
mastered her share of Italian roles. There was no stopping
her.

Ironically,
Debbie’s size continued to be a problem in the very
world where “it ain't over until the fat lady
sings.” In 2004 she was fired from the very
role that made her name. Since she couldn't fit into a
slinky little cocktail dress in a trendy production of
Ariadne at London’s Royal Opera Opera, she was
dismissed. Apparently, looks had become more important than
vocal excellence -- shallow but not an irrelevant
trend in the opera world since the '80s, when slimmer
figures with pipes were making headlines.

Tags: Music

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