Category Archives: artists

soprano’s memoir “Call Me Debbie” a 5-star read

Operatoonity.com Book Review: Call Me Debbie: True Confessions of a Down-to-Earth Diva
Author: Deborah Voigt with Natasha Stoynoff
Publisher: Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins
Genre: Memoir
ISBN: 9780062118271
ISBN 10: 0062118277
Publication Date: January 27, 2015
Binding: Softcover (Advance Review Copy)
Pages: 271
5.0 stars

five stars

book cover

One can only peer into those deep blue eyes staring out at you from the cover of Call Me Debbie and wonder how this talented American opera star with the Midwestern good looks could have ever written an engaging memoir? Even into her 50’s, she looks like someone whose life must have been a fairy tale. America’s sweetheart, right?

Memoirs need to be jawdroppingly honest, gritty, and maybe even a little dirty to capture my interest. What could possibly be dirty, gritty, or jawdropping in Deborah Voigt’s life with her gifts and star power? What indeed.

The book’s subtitle Confessions of a Down-t0-Earth Diva does a great disservice to Voigt’s gripping life story. It makes those confessions sound wholesome and entertaining. On the contrary, this book is gutsy and brave. It is startling and, at times, horrifying and deserves loads better than the cheesy subtitle the Harper team slapped on it to attract more readers or a wider reading audience.

Deborah Voigt has one helluva life story to tell and does so with incredible candor and self-effacement. It is a story of emotional abandonment, family-of-origin issues, addiction, size discrimination, self-destructive behavior, promiscuity, self-recrimination, recovery, and rebirth.

Her memoir is divided into three sections: Act I , Piccola; Act II, Accelerando; and Act III, Crescendo.

Piccola is about her growing up in a too-strict household infused with Southern Baptist values, one that saddled her with self-esteem issues that would plague her throughout her adult life. It’s about her natural gifts bubbling to the surface despite her parents’ marital issues and emotional abandonment–the spankings, the jibes, the senseless strictures.

But the memoir really takes off during Act II, per this reviewer, when the reader takes the road with Debbie, vicariously experiencing the intense pressure and the scrutiny of reviewers, audiences, and professional colleagues, while battling the ever-present loneliness that comes with being an international opera star who must travel extensively to work.

While Voigt’s reputation grows because there is no denying her extraordinary gift, so does her size. At one point in the memoir when she is at her heaviest,  she comments that “it’s always open season on fat women.” Listen to this performance of Voigt singing “Dich, Teure halle” from Tannhauser with James Levine conducting, and tell me why it matters in the least what size she is:

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In the opening pages of the memoir, she reveals that she heard God tell her that she was on the earth to sing. After listening to that soaring aria, can any hearing person dispute that God spoke to her like she believes?

Throughout the memoir, Voigt does “kiss and tell”, which makes for occasionally juicy reading, but she also does the equivalent of opening a vein and bleeding out her “sins” and scandalous double-life of binge eating and drinking and one-night stands with men not nearly good enough or decent enough for her.

The hardcover version comes with an 8-page color insert, which sounds ideal. In the Advance Review Copy (ARC) I read which was softcover with no insert, I found myself going to the Internet to see photos of Voigt throughout her professional journey and listening to clips of her arias on YouTube. So, I would recommend the hardcover because of its compelling photographic insert.

Deborah Voigt

Deborah Voigt, before and after her gastric bypass surgery.

As a rule, I don’t read memoir.  It’s extraordinarily hard to write memoir well because you must reveal unflattering things about yourself and your loved ones. Not everyone can do it believably. Most people can’t be that honest and self-effacing.

Besides dropping half her size, if shedding the weight of the double life she was leading (acclaimed artist by day; drunk out of her mind and sleeping around on her days off) led to her recovery, than toi, toi, toi, Ms. Voigt. There are many, many people cheering you on and wishing health, happiness and peace, besides this fan. Please never forget that.

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book coverSpecial Operatoonity Giveaway:
If you’d like to win your own softcover copy of “Call Me Debbie,” leave a comment on this blog below. One winner will be selected by April 15.

Disclaimer: A copy of Call Me Debbie was supplied by Harper in exchange for an honest review.

 

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, artists, Best of Operatoonity, Book reviews, Heartstoppers, North American Opera, Richard Tucker prize winners, sopranos

most popular posts on Operatoonity…

What posts have people come to Operatoonity.com to read most? Since Operatoonity.com just passed its four-year anniversary, I thought it was time to trot out some sexy stats for y’all.

In the last four years, I’ve created 388 posts and logged more than 3.4 million visitors on this site! Not too shabby, eh?

Since I use WordPress, I can also corroborate the most popular posts using my analytics plugin and a nifty report that WordPress sends me each year.

One of the world's best tenors

Roberto Alagna, one of the world’s best tenors

#1 best opera singers in the world today – male persuasion 42 COMMENTS
#2 best opera singers in the world today – female persuasion 45 COMMENTS
#3 today’s top tenors 48 COMMENTS
#4 100 greatest operas . . . really? 7 COMMENTS
#5 Puccini’s best opera? 21 COMMENTS

(Funny thing about the “Best Opera Singers” lists. I created them because I couldn’t find any up-to-date lists online to blog about.)

A goal for 2015 is to update some of my “Best Singers” lists, taking into account all the suggestions in readers’ comments. A lot can change in five years, even in the opera world though I can say, categorically, Roberto Alagna belonged on my original list.

Not convinced? Then you need to watch this aria:

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Filed under artists, Baritones, Best of Operatoonity, blog stats, Favorite arias, lists, opera star power, Performers, sopranos, tenors

Sunday Best with Stephanie Blythe: America’s Mezzo Meets Operatoonity

album art

Stephanie Blythe recorded a new album of the American songbook, ‘As Long As There Are Songs’

If the United States had an order of chivalry like our friends across the pond, surely mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe would be our Dame Stephanie.

Her Wagner, Verdi, and Handel have been heralded the world around. She is our Olympic Gold Medalist in the international sphere of opera, a champion we celebrate with each new success, and one reason why her newest album As Long as There Are Songs is so exciting.

It is sung entirely in English. A classically trained American artist sings a 19th century American songbook featuring beloved tunes by Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, and Irving Berlin that builds on the success of her Live from Lincoln Center — Celebration: Stephanie Blythe Meets Kate, a concert of works made famous by Kate Smith that was broadcast on PBS in 2013.

As Miss Blythe explains in a video about making the album, As Long As There Are Songs connects her to her audience in an immediate way unlike singing French songs or German lieder.

What’s also brave and striking about this album is the way it was recorded. Some highly sophisticated technology afforded a sound so personal and intimate, it’s like Miss Blythe is serenading you and you alone in your living room.

The sound is so honest and real and organic, and is a reflection of how we made this disk. The sound of the disk is the perfect reflection of what we we experienced in the moment in the room. ” –Stephanie Blythe, As Long as There Are Songs

A very warm welcome to Operatoonity.com, Miss Blythe. What were your initial thoughts when you learned you wouldn’t have to use close-field microphones or headphones to record this album?
I was thrilled!  As a opera singer who rarely deals with microphones of any kind, the idea of having the recorded sound captured purely from the room acoustic was intriguing and very exciting.  I have trained for many years to project my voice into the theater, so I don’t believe that close-field mics really capture my voice adequately.  This is the very question that opened my first conversation with John Meyer about recording the voice.

Listening to ‘AS LONG AS THERE ARE SONGS” absolutely felt like being in a concert hall with you. Accompanied by piano only, you laid your voice naked on this CD. Did that feel more comfortable, more like what you are used to in performance?
I have been singing recitals with piano for many years, and have sung these songs with Craig Terry for many audiences across the country.  It is always fun and always comes with the feeling that anything could happen in terms of interpretation.  The intimacy of voice and piano is something that has always made me feel very comfortable, and I was really happy that our first recording with the Meyers was voice and piano.

Your voice is in tip-top shape. It’s strong, supple–sterling! You even belt! You switch from head to chest range seamlessly. How did you prepare to sing an album of songs that demanded so much of your instrument?
This style of singing has always come very easily to me- there is something there that I connected to when I was quite young.  It probably has something to do with being the child of a jazz musician and with having taken part in so many musicals growing up.  I have always had a fairly well developed chest voice, which is helpful in the belting department, but the style is something that has always spoken to me.  I am just so thankful to finally have a platform for performing these songs!

How did you choose the songs for the album? Were many of them already in your repertoire?
Several of the songs come from our Kate Smith Show, a tribute that Craig and I have toured around the country.  Many of the other songs were new to both of us, and some were sitting in my dream vault for a long time.  “The Man That Got Away” in particular. I have always loved that song, and I am very grateful to have this opportunity to program it — I will sing for as many years as I have to sing.  It is just that kind of song.  As far as how we chose the songs — they are all pieces for which Craig and I have enormous admiration for their musical construction and for their lyrics.  They all have that timeless quality that is the hallmark of a great work.

Do you have a favorite track? If so, which one(s) and why?
I think that “How Deep Is The Ocean” a particular favorite because I really took a point of view of the song when we first rehearsed it in my home.  My husband and I had just adopted our Boston Terrier, June, and she was about two months old when Craig came to the house to work with me for a few days.  She was very weepy that afternoon, and I just picked her up and sang that song to her, and she calmed right down — singing to that beautiful little face ensured it will always be June’s song to me.

Are there any contemporary songwriters whose hits you’d like to take on in your next album?
There are far too many to name, but I would like to sing some of BIlly Joel’s work — a dream is to do a song recording with him.  He is one of the most important American voices of this or any generation.

Learn more about how they recorded this album:

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Learn more about “as long as there are songs:”
http://meyersound.com/news/2013/steph…

Purchase the album:
http://www.innova.mu/artist/stephanie…
http://www.amazon.com/As-Long-There-A…

Stephanie Blythe:
http://www.opus3artists.com/artists/s…

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Filed under artists, Best of Operatoonity, Golden Operatoonity, Heartstoppers, Interviews, opera and technology, Performers, Recording, Richard Tucker prize winners

up close and personal with American tenor James Valenti

James Valenti, American tenor

James Valenti opens in ‘Madama Butterfly’ at Lyric Opera in Chicago on October 15 | photo by Dario Acosta

He loves ballroom dancing. He’s a talented athlete in multiple sports. He was a lifeguard, a chorister, and even a baritone at the very start of his musical journey.

He’s learning to tango. He wants to learn to ride a horse so that he can play polo.

He’s East Coast. He’s Chicago. He’s Palm Beach. He’s Milan. He’s Sydney. He’s Zurich and Munich.

His Tweets often include snippets of his worldview from his (well) considered vantage point, condensed within 140 characters: “If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough,” he tweeted on October 4. And once he’s befriended you, it seems you’re his friend for life.

Who is this multi-talented, multi-faceted, loyal, hardworking, world-traveling, philosophical, lifelong-learning, all-American, Type-A, 6’5″ Jersey boy who also happens to be an internationally acclaimed tenor?

None other than the opera star James Valenti. And he’s opening in a new-to-Chicago production of Madama Butterfly on October 15, a coproduction of Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, and Grand Théâtre de Genève.

I spoke with James on a sunny afternoon during a bit of free time from rehearsing the role of Lieutenant Pinkerton. I asked him every question I could think of, all of which he graciously answered for your edification, dear readers.

Welcome to Operatoonity, James! It’s a pleasure to talk with you today. You’re a tenor, but your voice has the resonance of a baritone’s. Can you describe your voice for my readers?
It has a warm, Italianate color–sonorous, it’s been called. It sounds like a full baritonal voice in the lower and middle registers. I call myself a lyric spinto tenor. It’s not really something I cultivated in my voice. It has always leant itself to being like that. When I started formally studying at 18 or 19, I actually sang baritone. It takes time for all the muscles, used properly, to develop. Sometime in my early twenties, I found my tenor register.

Franco Corelli headshot

The late great Franco Corelli, the Prince of Tenors, is someone Valenti’s often compared to because he also cuts a tall, handsome figure on the stage.

You’ve been compared to Franco Corelli. Yes, not just because of the voice. Also, the height and the looks.

Now that we’ve stumbled onto the topic of your appearance, how do you process all the attention that’s paid to your looks? A recent review in the Chicago Reader called you a ‘heartthrob.’  I’d be foolish to not sort of use what I’ve been given. I look nice. I work hard to look nice. It makes my performances more believable. I look the way a leading man is supposed to look. That being said, I don’t want people just to focus on the looks. I don’t want people to be distracted by that. I want them to hear me. If you go to my website–I have a new website–before you even see what I look like, you hear me singing.

How do you mentally prepare to sing a role like Pinkerton?  In some ways, Pinkerton is a man of his time. Do you bring a modern sensibility to the role? I’ve sung the role many times–I like to say I’ve been booed all over the world. I try to get into his head. He’s a young guy in a strange culture. He doesn’t really understand the significance of what he does to Butterfly. When he returns to Japan with his new family, he does feel genuine remorse once he realizes what he’s done. He does care for Butterly. I try to convey that.

James Valenti as Pinkerton

James Valenti starring in City Opera’s ‘Madama Butterfly’

You sang this role for New York City Opera in 2008 and won City Opera’s Debut Artist of the Year. How do you feel about their current woes and likely demise?  They were a great company that offered a great platform for debut artists. They had such a wonderful reputation. In fact, I just saw Anna Nicole–fantastic production. It makes me sad to think about it.

When did you know you wanted to do this? I started singing in high school. I did show choir and musical theater. When I went to hear The Three Tenors, something flipped a switch. It was incredible. It really affected me. So I began listening to a lot more opera. I also have to say how important my teachers were in encouraging me, in high school and college. I’m still close to my high school teachers–they are responsible for helping me become what I am. I do know that had I not had their encouragement, had I not seen The Three Tenors perform, I would have found this life, eventually. This is my calling.

Do you have a favorite house to sing in? Coming back to the Met is always a joy. My family actually gets to see me sing when I’m in New York. They can’t come hear me when I’m performing in Europe. But there’s a lot of pressure that comes with singing at the Met, too. I like the slightly smaller companies like Minnesota Opera and Palm Beach Opera (where I live). I feel as though I do great work there because I am more relaxed.

James Valenti

James Valenti was born in Summit, New Jersey and comes from a “big, amazing Italian family.” He’s a graduate of the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia | photo by Dario Acosta

Now that you’ve mentioned Minnesota Opera, tell us about The Dream of Valentino, the new opera based on Rudolph Valentino, opening in March of next year. Valentino had a very tragic life. He died at age 29. He was the first really big victim of Hollywood. Discovered and destroyed by Hollywood. [Valentino was a dancer in a Broadway dance palace at the start of his career.] I’m taking tango lessons, and I love it. I have a good instructor who said I’m a natural.

James, learning the tango  for Dream of Valentino

James, learning the tango for ‘The Dream of Valentino,’ in which he’s playing the title role

So you like trying new things? There’s a big polo equestrian scene in Palm Beach where I live. I have a friend who’s really into it. I’m going to learn how to ride a horse, so I can play.

How do you like the itinerant life? It has its advantages. Wherever I go, I actually do try to make the most of what this lifestyle has to offer. If  I am performing in a strange city for two months, I really try to get plugged into it, to get a feel for that city. Of course, I always worry about getting enough rest, but there is something great about having the opportunity to share my talent with the world.

How do you stay healthy? It’s hard to have a routine when you travel as much as I do–two-thirds of the year I’m traveling. But I stay active. I do yoga. If the hotel has a pool, I swim. I play beach volleyball when I’m at home. Here in Chicago, I’m going bike riding on Lake Shore Drive. The day of the show I lay low; I sleep in. I suck on raw ginger which is good for the immune system. I guess it boils down to hydration and sleep. I have to get enough of both of those to perform.

When one visits your website, you can’t help noticing that you are devoting a significant amount of your life energy to charities you believe in.  I became a sponsor for Children International back in 2006 and am now an ambassador. I’m happy to be part of it and really passionate about it. I’m in a point in my career where I can get more involved. I’m anxious to give my time as I can, and through my career and my travels, I want to raise awareness of what they do.

James Valenti

James Valenti won the Richard Tucker Prize in 2010, awarded annually to an American singer poised on the edge of a major national and international career.

Ready for the lightning round of questions? I’ll give you a prompt and you answer in a couple words, okay?

Favorite opera: La bohème; Werther
Favorite role: Don Carlos (recently); Rodolfo
Favorite leading lady(ies):  Angela Gheorghiu and Anna Netrebko
Dream role: Andrea Chénier
Massenet or Mozart: Massenet
Beef or chicken: Beef
Mountains or beach: Beach
Guilty pleasure: Swiss chocolate, dark chocolate; hazelnut and pistachio gelato
Bacon or tofu: Bacon
Football or basketball: Basketball (though there’s a lot of big football fans in my family)
London or Paris: Paris

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If you are an East Coaster like me, you’ll be delighted to know that James is singing Madama Butterfly at the Met on April 4, 9, 12, 15, 2014. You can also follow James on Twitter @James_Valenti or become his Facebook fan at https://www.facebook.com/jamesvalentitenor, where he regularly posts content and photos from around the world.

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, artists, Classic Opera, Italian opera, North American Opera, Richard Tucker prize winners, tenors

bucks for a baritone?

Jonathan Estabrooks

Jonathan Estabrooks

Canadian baritone Jonathan Estabrooks has it all–talent, looks, personality, charm. Well, all except one small thing: the necessary greenbacks to make his first album.

Operatoonity devotees may remember reading about Jonathan in his profile here. (Yes, he was adorable then, too.) Here’s a little bio on our boy Jonathan:

My name is Jonathan Estabrooks and I have been a singer and performer all my life and. I grew up around all types of music. Whether it was saturday afternoon opera broadcasts, or listening to Elton John, Roy Orbison, Sinatra or the Beach Boys on vinyl, my young ears were a sponge for music.

I soon joined two local choirs (Opera Lyra Ottawa), with Laurence Ewashko and began performing all over the Ottawa valley with local entertainer Dominic D’arcy and the Company of Musical Theatre, run by Peter Evans. To say I have had an eclectic upbringing in music would be an understatement.

One year after his Operatoonity interview,  he has taken his considerable talents to Kickstarter to raise funds for his first Classical/Crossover album.

Can he do classical and crossover? You bet your sweet bippy, he can!

Here is Jonathan’s Largo al Factotum from Barber of Seville:

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And here is Jonathan singing from Rogers and Hammerstein’s Carousel:

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So, if you have a few extra bucks for a baritone, why not send them his way today? Visit his Kickstarter page for all the essential project info.

Best of luck, Jonathan!!

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, artists, Baritones, fund-raising in opera, North American Opera