Tag Archives: memoir

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.



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

my nearly first exposure to opera . . . one blogger’s confession

I was accepted into AMDA in 1975

In the fall of 1976, I moved to Manhattan to study musical theater. Manhattan was a lonely place but everything was new and my life was busy, so I was distracted from my isolation. During my first semester at the American Musical Theater Academy, the program director assigned all the students to a voice teacher. That I was placed with Mrs. Florence Bower was providential. Mrs. Bower was the best teacher, and rumor had it, she  was always awarded the best singers.

I loved my singing lessons with my Julliard-trained teacher, who was precise and demanding but kind, always kind. I was less enthused by the pieces Mrs. Bower picked out for me to sing—everything was always high soprano. I thought I was a mezzo. Thanks to Mrs. Bower, I found a two-octave range I never knew I had.

To listen to Mrs. Bower speak, one might think she was British because she had an affected pronunciation reminding me of Katherine Hepburn—the well-bred American girl intonation. Maybe it was a lifetime of using open vowel sounds of classically trained singers. Or maybe she had grown up on Long Island.

“Gale, deah, I desperately need some help keeping my apartment clean. Morris is just fed up with all the cluttah,” Mrs. Bower said one day before my lesson started, because at seventy-three, she taught at the academy and gave private lessons at home and was too busy to clean her apartment herself. “I would need them every other Saturday, say elevenish, to two or three. Could you ahsk around, say something to your friends?”

“I could do it. I’d like to help you,” I said.

For the rest of the school year and into the next, I, an eighteen-year-old Broadway-actress-wannabe, was nurtured by Mrs. Bowers’  bi-weekly respite. Every other Saturday, our routine was the same. I dusted and tidied the front rooms, we had lunch together, then I cleaned the rooms in the back of the apartment. Mrs. Bower liked routine, so I could expect to finish up by three o’clock.

Typically, I would get in no more than thirty minutes of cleaning when Mrs. Bower’s well-supported vocal tones called me to the kitchen.

“Gale, deah, why don’t you take a break? Let’s have some lunch togethah?”

Mrs. Bower fixed us each a sandwich on fresh bread, a deli salad, always a Kosher pickle, and a Cadbury bar, usually with fruit and nuts.

“What are your challenges, my deah?” Mrs. Bower asked.

“I’d like to learn how to sing over the break in my register,” I explained, enjoying my sandwich. “This is good. What is it? Salami?”

“It’s tongue. Do you like it?”

Loaded question. I liked tongue but thought Mrs. Bower had no interest in discussing French kissing over her dinette set that afternoon.

It was more the idea of eating something of an animal’s that could eat you back that bothered me, much more than the taste of the tongue itself, which tasted pretty good. I would be polite and finish my sandwich. My dad had spent seventeen years making me eat things against my will—burnt pigeon stew, chicken-fried groundhog, puff mushroom steaks, liver and onions—so I was a pro. Because Mrs. Bower had been nice enough to make it for me, I would finish my plate.

“Between my chest voice and my head voice. There’s an obvious difference in vocal quality,” I explained.

“You are a stage singah,” Mrs. Bower would allow. “But you should sing everything in your head range. You could sing classically, if you really wanted to study.”

Saturday afternoon at the Met

On a bi-weekly basis, Mrs. Bower preached to me about the virtues of classical music and opera: Hadn’t Mrs. Bower and her daughter Bijou traveled the world thanks to opera? The proselytizing continued after lunch with “Saturday at the Met” which played from the clock radio in the bedroom every Saturday I cleaned for her.

Though I didn’t dare confess it, I had never wanted to be an opera singer, never taking to opera despite Mrs. Bower’s best efforts. Nevertheless, I did grow to love some of the music Mrs. Bower introduced me to, especially The Brandenberg Concerti and other works by Bach, Vivaldi, and Wagner.

Once in scene study, I was assigned a Tennessee Williams’ one-act that called for me to say the line, “Vivaldi is a very thin shadow of Bach.” I couldn’t wait to share that line with Mrs. Bower.

The next day, I raced up Central Park West. I looked out-of-place running along a residential street, weaving in and out of the strollers and walkers streaming from the park, chanting to myself. People usually ran in the park, not down the facing sidewalk in street clothes. But it was New York after all—strangeness was not only tolerated but expected. The Big Apple was a magnet for uncommon ejaculations: “Ooh,” passing Lincoln Center at night. “Ahh,” watching the laser show in the Museum of Natural History planetarium theater. “Oh,” waiting in the rain for a crosstown bus. “Eew,” stepping into something that squished on the sidewalk.

“So what does that line mean?”I asked Mrs. Bower. “‘Vivaldi is a very thin shadow of Bach.'”

“Uttah nonsense, my deah. I never heard such a ridiculous statement in all my life,” Mrs. Bower said.

That gave me an idea for the next practice. I would play that character on the foolish side, as a woman who forms strong opinions in ignorance without taking the time to be fully informed.

Now that I had heard both Vivaldi and Bach, I had my own views on the subject.

But the most wonderful thing about Mrs. Bower was that one person out of a million and a half people on the isle of Manhattan cared enough to have a Cadbury bar, usually with fruit and nuts, waiting for me every other week.

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