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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Concert Review: A Diva's Earth

"Anything you can do..."
Paulo Szot and Debbie Voigt at Carnegie Hall.
Photo by Erin Baiano © 2011.
Deborah Voigt Sings Broadway at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul Pelkonen

"It's good to be back among the mortals, and on a stage that isn't moving." So said soprano Deborah Voigt as she opened "Something Wonderful," a benefit for the Collegiate Chorale at Carnegie Hall on Thursday night.

Ms. Voigt's relief was audible at this concert, which also featured baritone Paulo Szot. The two Metropolitan Opera veterans led the audience on a 90-minute excursion through Broadway songbooks, backed by the American Symphony Orchestra and the 180 voices of the Chorale.

Although Ms. Voigt regularly powers her way over the giant orchestras of Wagner and Strauss without electronic help, she sang much of this concert with help of a microphone. The opera star seemed uncomfortable with the amplification for much of the evening. A voice of her power and magnitude does not need improvement, and she seemed to have difficulty adjusting to the lower volume levels required.

From the opener ("It's a Grand Night for Singing") Ms. Voigt chose not to announce the program, surprising the audience with numbers from Meredith Wilson's The Music Man, Jerome Kern's Sweet Adeline and the little-heard Rodgers and Hammerstein collaboration Allegro.

A number from Mame (accompanied by an anecdote of the diva's first high school stage appearance in the role of the secretary Ms. Gooch) was an early highlight. "Something Wonderful" floated beautifully, and Ms. Voigt seemed about to abandon the mic. "Can't Stop Loving That Man of Mine" (arranged for jazz quartet) was more problematic. A brief halt came in the middle, and Ms. Voigt was heard to gather herself with a murmured "hojotoho" before continuing.

Mr Szot made hearty contributions throughout the evening, and his obvious comfort level with the Broadway songs seemed to cheer and inspire Ms. Voigt. They were at their best in the excerpts from Annie Get Yor Gun, the Irving Berlin show that Ms. Voigt is scheduled to sing this summer at Glimmerglass. A rip-roaring performance of the title song from Oklahoma! brought out the best in all the singers--including the choristers.

The finest part of the 90-minute set was its conclusion, with soaring performances from "a show they'll never do onstage", Porgy & Bess. her best in the excerpts from Porgy & Bess.. It was fascinating to hear Ms. Voigt soar through "My Man's Gone Now", using her experience in the operas of Richard Strauss to bring out the long melodic lines in Gershwin's music.

The encores featured two tributes to Herbert von Karajan's 1960 recording of Die Fledermaus, with Ms. Voigt emulating another Brunnhilde, Birgit Nilsson, in "I Could Have Danced All Night." Mr. Szot then returned, and the two Met stars did the opera version of "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better," complete with a full-out, effortless Valkyrie battle cry at the peak of "I can sing higher."

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