Voigt's two great pre-op roles were Ariadne and Sieglinde - I can't say she ever knocked me out as anything else. (Though the first time I heard her Helena, from Row C in Fisher Hall, I was certainly blissed out.) (Also: a couple of giggling queens had sneaked down to the front row center and copped some empty seats there. As Debbie came grandly, diva-lich onto the stage, one of them shouted, "Debbie!" She looked, broke pose, cried (soundlessly), "Oh, YOU!" with a big, friendly grin - then went seamlessly back to august hieratic diva pose. I thought: She's a jolly girl who enjoys her friends. AND she can sing.)
But can she?
While I’ve enjoyed la Voigt’s Elisabeth and Kaiserin and Helena, even some of her Amelia, since the operation, I have noticed (without ever speculating on cause, as I am neither a doctor nor a voice specialist, just ears in the audience) a certain flaccidity in her vocal production recently and a fading of brilliance below the staff. Also she doesn’t seem to have thought roles through — her Four Last Songs and her cabaret act and that first Isolde at Fisher Hall a few years ago were deeply disappointing evenings. On Friday, she sounded like stones in one of those polishing machines, rumbling against each other. High notes were still brilliant, but rare, and seemed to demand more of her than she had to give. (Her eyes bugged out when she got them.) Below A, she had no brilliance and no effect - the narration meant nothing, the curse went for naught, there was no tension until the confrontation with Tristan, and that was extra-vocal. She was beginning to warm up FINALLY at the very time she decided to call it quits and fled the stage. Whether this was a one-day illness or part of a long decline cannot now be said. I have never been an uncritical fan of this instrument or artist, but I’m very sad that its potential has perhaps been squandered.
The operation may or may not have been a bad idea. (What would she have done before the surgery became available? Exercised it out like Callas?) The Little Black Dress scandal is the best thing that ever happened to her publicity-wise — suddenly she was famous around the world (who had been unknown outside opera fan circles before); the gallant Brits took her to their hearts at Wigmore and elsewhere as a woman unchivalrously scorned; and to fat ladies everywhere, she became a heroine. This is fabulous capital in our culture nowadays. But it does not make her a major Wagnerian, and I’ve seen few signs of the intellectual rigor, the ability to give meaning to vocalism, or lately just the vocalism for Isolde, a psychologically complicated role with a whole lot of singing over a very wide range - unlike the Kaiserin, you can’t make it on high notes alone. (This is true of all Wagner roles, actually - as GBS used to point out, he used the whole voice, not just the pretty top.)
It may be time for Debbie to rethink her entire career and approach to singing and choice of roles - just because impresarios offer you a spot, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. (They don’t care if you foul up. They just want to sell tickets.)