International opera goddess Debbie Voigt is a gift for us all | VailDaily.com

International opera goddess Debbie Voigt is a gift for us all

Deborah Voigt is an opera star for the ages, and if watching her perform and hearing her sing isn't on your bucket list, you need a new list.

She's in town this week for a pair of shows at the Vilar Performing Arts Center.

Monday's performance is Voigt Lessons, a one-woman theatrical performance developed by Voigt with award-winning playwright Terrence McNally.

"From Carpenters to Brahms. It will be entertaining. That one isn't all opera," Voigt said.

On Wednesday, An Evening With Deborah Voigt will feature some of Voigt's finest operatic repertoire, along with some of her favorite arias and songs. Both shows are with her pianist, Matthew Stevens — two geniuses making amazing music.

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About your bucket list and Voigt's place near the top of it.

Voigt is not performing as much as she used to. These days, she's teaching full time at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for kids between the ages of 17 and 24.

"The goal is to pass that knowledge on to these young singers, the same way my master teachers who passed it along to me," she said.

She started teaching full time in San Francisco in September, moving her entire life from New York to the West Coast.

"Generally, if they're at the conservatory, they have the ability. I try to be honest with them about the possibilities of earning a living as an opera singer," she said.

There are more opportunities in Europe. When some try their wings, they fly a long way. Others sometimes need a little push out of the nest.

"I sometimes have to light a little fire under them to get them motivated," Voigt said.

It had to be opera

Voigt has lived all that and more. Her early teacher was an opera singer and steered her in that direction.

"If she'd been a country and western singer, I suppose I might have become a country singer," Voigt said.

But she didn't.

Opportunities presented themselves, and she took advantage of them. She went to school, worked some apprenticeships, and before long she was on her way, flying like a rocket to the top of the opera world.

Rockets, like careers and lives, have their ups and downs. Voigt's did, and is soaring again.

Deborah Joy Voigt was born in 1960 into a religious family and raised in Wheeling, Illinois, just outside Chicago. She loved to act out and dress up. Like many of the greats, she started in church.

At the tender age of 5, she joined the church choir and began learning the piano. Her mother sang and played piano at church. Her two younger brothers sang in rock bands.

"We would be in the house singing and listening to the great classics, and they'd be in the garage belting out rock tunes," Voigt said.

She said she loves to listen to all kinds of music, but for her it had to be opera.

Call me Debbie

She tries to keep her students from becoming the kinds of divas she has encountered throughout her career.

Her book, "Call Me Debbie: True Confessions of a Down-to-Earth Diva," is an often-hilarious romp through some of those behind-the-scenes diva moments.

"Call Me Debbie" also recounts her battles to overcome the addictions and self-destructive behaviors that nearly destroyed her life. It's a tale of success, addiction, music and faith.

Voigt's self-portrait is a delightful combination of great gossip, portraits of the artists with whom she has worked, memorable on-stage moments and her secrets to great singing.

She's frank about the events that led to gastric bypass surgery in 2004, the alcoholism that followed, all-night blackouts and suicide attempts. Voigt emerged from the darkness and is completely sober, thanks to a 12-step program and a recommitment to her Christian faith. Like most successes in life, it took some getting used to.

"When I started losing weight, my instrument started to change. I didn't know how much to engage the abdominal muscles. Because when you have all that weight on you, it happens automatically. It took a good couple of years to feel comfortable. But at the same time, I was suddenly fitting into clothes that I never imagined I would wear and was looking so much more beautiful on stage and feeling so much more able to express myself on stage," she said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

If you go …

What, when and cost: Voigt Lessons, 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 13, $75; and An Evening with Deborah Voigt, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 15, $150 for adults, $25 for students.

Where: Vilar Performing Arts Center, 68 Avondale Lane, Beaver Creek.

More information: Tickets are available now at the VPAC box office, by calling 970-845-8497 or at http://www.vilarpac.org.