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Arts Desk

Soprano Deborah Voigt Tells All

DeborahVoigt509px.jpg
Soprano Deborah Voigt

Opera star Deborah Voigt has always been a straight-shooting diva, openly discussing her weight problems, the surgery she underwent to address them, and the possible effects that had on her voice. Yet as The Philadelphia Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns reports, the singer goes well beyond that in her new autobiography, Call Me Debbie.

David Patrick Stearns: Majestic singers are often assumed to lead majestic lives. And though Deborah Voigt has many joys to convey in her rise to operatic Valhalla over the past 25 years, she discovered that the triumph of her weight-loss surgery was followed by full-blown alcoholism that landed her not only in emergency rooms, from Chicago to Beijing, but on suicide watch.  She didn't have to share this in her autobiography

Deborah Voigt: Sometimes I'd stop and say, 'I can't say that but I can take it out in the edits.' When it came down it it, it all fit. I'm trying to tell my story, and trying to tell a story about opera, an opera career but also the underlying emotional issues, which, by the way have helped make me a compelling artist on stage, if I may be so bold.

DPS: Her family has been alerted, the names of ex-boyfriends have been changed, and she realizes much of the world still fails to understand the disease of addiction. Yet she's not exactly bracing for repercussions.

DV: It will be very shocking to people who only a Debbie who is very positive and would never know there are all these demons and issues. I didn't know what else to do. If I leave out this part about myself, I'm not telling the truth.

DPS: If her admirers never suspected, especially while she so adeptly hosts Metropolitan Opera HD simulcasts, it's because this girl from Wheeling, Illinois seems to be able to go from the ER to the rehearsal hall without missing a beat, or at least not too many.

DV: I am very resilient. Reading through the whole thing again, I realized that God gave me some kind of inner-core belief in myself that has just kept me going and going and going. I don't now what else it could be.

DPS: It's not all dire. She discusses her magical rapport with conductor James Levine, and her humorous survival of a Florida hurricane while on Xanax. Did she leave anything out?

DV: We did leave some bits out.

DPS: Really?

DV: Oh yeah. We probably could've gone into more detail. We'll just let people use their overactive imaginations.

DPS: Overall, much of her book is about the heavy cost of having an extraordinary voice - building it, maintaining it, and meeting the steep expectations that come with having a huge reputation. Putting a singer on a diet is like changing the varnish on a Stradivarius violin. How might the sound change? You'll find little agreement about weight-loss surgery in the opera world. Even a seasoned operatic conductor such as YannickNezet-Seguin can't take any firm position.

Yannick: The problem is a complex one. For me, the only relevant thing is if someone is taking care to be in the best health possible to deliver. But this is not easy for anyone, let alone singers.

DPS: Academy of Vocal Arts voice guru Bill Schuman is mainly against the surgery. But, what if, as in Voigt's case, it's a last resort - she toppped out at 330 pounds.

BS: Without the surgery, she would likely be in extremely poor health. Even now in her slimmed-down state, she's recovering from a hip replacement. She's not the first singer to confront the tradeoff between singing and living.

DPS: Luckily, these days, Voigt does more than a bit of both.