Thursday, May 28, 2009

The show must go on...

Gluck’s Alceste requires an impressive soprano in the somewhat taxing title role. This time, the impressive soprano was Deborah Voigt who sang Alceste with the Collegiate Chorale and the New York City Opera Orchestra conducted by George Manahan. The house at Jazz at Lincoln Center was packed with people who were there to see Ms. Voigt - not just because of her star power, although her star is certainly bright, but because she was singing Alceste for the first time. Well, on a night like this, you can be certain that Mr. Tommasini from the NY Times will be there. His report is ... well, you have to see it for yourself. In part, though:
"Sadly, Ms. Voigt came down with the flu. She sang as scheduled, but through an announcement requested the audience’s indulgence. It would not have been easy to find a substitute on short notice, so it was valiant of her to perform.

And she did some impressive work, singing with power, gleaming sound and sensitive phrasing, though she clearly struggled. Often her voice sounded congested and her top range tight. At one point, late in Act II, about 90 minutes into the performance, her voice nearly gave out, and she had to drop down an octave to get though a phrase.
I feel for her - BIG TIME. Once upon a time, yours truly was singing in the apprentice artist program at San Diego Opera. When you sing with a program like that, you perform non-stop. We were singing two "Kid's Shows" everyday, six days a week and also singing in the chorus at night. Needless to say, if you don't take your vitamins, you get sick. At least I did.

I happened to have this nasty case of Lung-Thrax at the same time that we were engaged to sing for a high school, and not just any high school. As you may know, Ian Campbell is the General & Artistic Director of San Diego Opera - and we were singing for his son's High School. Ian would not only be there, but he would be introducing each of us. And, as young apprentice artists, we were in the business of impressing Ian Campbell.

For days and days, I treated my illness with medication and plenty of sleep. But, I kept performing. On the morning of this performance, as I stepped to the microphone in the High School gym to sing the Toreador Song from Carmen, I knew it wouldn't work. But, by GOD, I was gonna sing this gig as if it was the last one on earth. I opened my mouth and the sound that came out was horrific. I served up a big ol' plate of Harvey Fierstein and Joan Rivers with a large side of fog horn.

A red-hot mess.

It became clear that I either needed to stop, mid aria, or make it work. Well, perhaps wrongly, I chose to try to make it work. "TRY" is the important word there. I sang the entire Toreador Song - all of it - down an octave.

Mortified. I was mortified. I knew we were to have a meet and greet after the concert and I would have to answer to Ian Campbell. I will never forget what he said in response to my profuse apologies: "Well, you do what you have to do. But, next time, you should really consider canceling. Please!"

We live and learn, right?

Disclaimer: PLEASE don't think that I am comparing singing with the Collegiate Chorale in Alceste to singing the Toreador Song in a high school gymnasium. They are not the same by a long shot. I shared this story in order to illustrate the fact that I understand her need to complete the obligation.

[Photo - Deborah Voigt, even with the flu, led a Collegiate Chorale concert performance on Tuesday. By Katie Orlinsky for The New York Times]

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