Category Archives: Book reviews

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:

YouTube Preview Image

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.

* * *

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.

 

6 Comments

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

murder at the opera?

a novel by Margaret Truman

Only on the page, I’m afraid.  

Though at least one opera singer in the US was believed to be murdered in the past year (according to one news story I read), real murder at the opera is merely the stuff of fiction. In fact, it’s a Capital Crimes Mystery by author Margaret Truman, set in Washington D.C., at the Kennedy Center, home to the Washington National Opera.  

Like Bel Canto, this opera-based novel is written by a North American. It also takes place in the capital of the United States.  

I found Murder at the Opera while searching for contemporary fiction that used opera or an opera house as a backdrop. Actually, the pickings were pretty slim, and, as a result, Truman’s Murder at the Opera surfaced quickly.  

After flipping through the book, I liked the amount and frequency of dialogue as a model for my own opera-based book. Also, almost from the opening line, the author Margaret Truman exhibits a gentle sense of humor about opera that makes the story more accessible. After discovering the book included scenes with members of the Washington National Opera’s volunteer guild, it jumped to the top of my list.  

Here’s the book’s premise: A rising star from Canada enrolled in the Washington National Opera’s Young Artist  Program is stabbed in the heart during rehearsals for a production of Tosca, the most famous opera for fatal stabbings. An opera guild volunteer and her professor-husband, once a defense attorney, set about trying to solve the murder on behalf of the WNO, alongside the Metro Police. Together working with a retired detective who is an opera buff and a supernumerary for Tosca, that set out to unmask a killer. The case quickly becomes more complex as the crime-fighting couple learns the deceased soprano had connections with international terrorists.  

Pretty scary–a scenario that includes a member of the company’s young artist program. After all, young people come from all over the world to participate in these accelerated opera training academies, trusting they will learn a profession, and not lose their life for their ambition.   

As the daughter of a president, Margaret Truman is very interested and skilled at showcasing Washington, D.C., and knows the area, Washington society and Washington restaurants well. She shows a formidable knowledge and appreciation of opera without pounding her knowhow into readers.  

I liked her dialogue attribution and her dialogue as  well. She worked back story in seamlessly. Right away, she introduces a sympathetic character in one of her main characters as we learn early on that his first wife and child were killed. His new wife is pretty, smart, cultured and very loving and easy for the reader to like.  

Truman has an economical but not sparing writing style which serves her genre well, occasionally lingering over a description here and there. She writes with confidence. She has a gentle sense of humor. She’s more hip than I ever imagined she would be from her name and her picture in which she looks ninety years old.  

I liked the first two-thirds of the book a great deal. Since mystery is a genre dependent on plot, I didn’t think the last third delivered the necessary punch. It became a little convoluted and the outcomes were disappointing.  

To set your mind at ease, unless you are talking about the butchery of a score or killing a production, an actual murder at the opera remains the stuff of imagination only. Let’s hope it stays that way. 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Book reviews

‘Opera Anecdotes’: an Operatoonity Book Rec

a charming book from cover to cover

If you’ve always thought opera to be a colorful career or an opera dressing room a great place to be a fly on the wall, Ethan Mordden‘s delightful romp, Opera Anecdotes, will hardly dissuade you of that notion.

It’s full of whisper-down-the lane retellings of the escapades of the great divas and divos, composers, and conductors no longer with us to confirm or deny these tales.

So why not put credence in them all? It’s more fun that way.

There’s the story about Handel threatening to throw Francesca Cuzzoni out the window for requesting a fresh aria. Or how Beverly Sills managed to get a new costume for her La Scala debut by cutting the existing costume right down the middle with a pair of the seamstress’s shears. 

And of course the wonderful anecdote entitled, “Elephant at the Opera,” about an elephant, Papus, who became the rage of Milan in the production of the ballet Amor, set in ancient Rome.  Initially, Papus didn’t like the world of velvet and jewels and became depressed. “Perhaps [the elephant] didn’t like the music to Amor,” Mordden writes, “for few if any did.” After they brought in a monkey as a companion, Papus perked up. Some critics thought the elephant was the best thing on stage.

After Don Giovanni failed to please the exacting Viennese, there’s the tale of Mozart saying to his librettist, “Give them time to chew on it.”

Sidebar: Can you imagine ANYONE not thinking Don G. is brilliant?

There are sections devotic to the comments and antics of every major artist who defined the form: Gigli, Caruso, Farrar, Corelli, Nilsson, Price, Sills, Pavarotti, and, of course, Callas

As reported in Opera Anecdotes, Maria Callas’s compliments cut like diamonds, including a remark about a broadcast of Renata Tebaldi, about which Callas said, “What a lovely voice! But who the hell cares.”

This little book is packed with hundreds of amusing recountings, which Mordden says have been “derived from lore and literature.” Though he sifted through reference materials for authentification, he acknowledges many of the vignettes could conceivably be fictions in the first place.

Despite a copyright of 1985, this book is still in print and readily available through Amazon and other used booksellers.

My rating of Opera Anecdotes?

Four out of four cavaliers:

Leave a Comment

Filed under Book reviews, Classic Opera, Classical Composers, Performers, Reviews