DEBORAH VOIGT – A Captivating “Fanciulla del West”

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

LA FANCIULLA DEL WEST now at San Francisco Opera until July 2nd is the production to see. It has all the theatrical elements that made the original 1905 play by author and director David Belasco a Broadway success. It starts with the Leading Lady. Soprano Deborah Voigt is the perfect choice for the role of “Minnie”, a saloon keeper and dedicated virgin in the really-remote mining camp of Cloud Mountain – somewhere deep in the hills of California around 1850. The only other woman in view is her occasional housekeeper, “Wowkle” – known as the squaw of one of the miners, “Billy Jackrabbit”, and she’s busy nursing their illegitimate baby. In this otherwise all-male conclave, Minnie keeps one very watchful eye on her virtue and liquor inventory, and with the other – the unseemly advances of “Sheriff Jack Rance”. She keeps a loaded rifle on nights she takes watch over the miners’ gold deposits. It’s all in a keg, downstairs. In short, Minnie is, has and holds the key to just about everything. Deborah Voigt is today’s golden girl of the Golden West. She follows with distinction an impressive list of operatic greats who have embraced the role since Czechoslovakian soprano Emmie Destinn debuted it in 1910. Deborah Voigt’s predecessors would quickly recognize and absorb the inescapable evidence of Star Treatment – her entrance upon a white horse.

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Roberto Frontali, Deborah Voigt, and Salvatore Licitra
Photo, Cory Weaver

The production was shepherded by SF Opera’s General Director David Gockley in co-operation with Fondazione Teatro Massimo di Palermo and Opéra Royal de Wallonie. It is classic melodrama, beautifully and sensibly realized by director Lorenzo Mariani. His chorus of miners – the most fantastically harmonious men of SF Opera Chorus – are just a bunch of regular hard working dudes who hang out at Minnie’s tavern where you drink the whiskey straight, keep your cards on the table, and – though you may couple-up for a little polka once in a while – you’re damn ready to go out and hang the thieving bastard who stole Minnie’s first kiss. It’s 100 years since that first kiss happened at the Metropolitan – with the composer in the audience and Toscanini at the podium. With her origins in San Francisco as a former Adler Fellow and Merola Opera Program alumna – Debora Voigt’s dramatic soprano, artistic dynamism and radiant beauty glorify Puccini’s strong-willed, determined and independent heroine. She is a compelling actress, always true to the moment, formidable, vulnerable, and camera-ready.

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Deborah Voigt (Minnie) and Salvatore Licitra (Dick Johnson)
Photo, Kevin Berne

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GIACOMO PUCCINI, Composer and NICOLA LUISOTTI, Conductor

Tenor Salvatore Licitra as “Dick Johnson” – the notorious highway robber known as “Ramerrez” – comes to San Francisco Opera with a long line of powerful and romantic leads, including the title roles of Verdi’s Ernani, Il Trovatore, Don Carolos, and Giordano’s Andrea Chénier. This season he makes his role debut as “Calaf” in Puccini’s Turandot at the Metropolitan. His vocals are a wonderful match for Deborah Voigt and a swift sail over the occasional swells from Conductor Nicola Luisotti. “Minnie” becomes totally smitten with the stranger from Sacramento and by the end of Act 1 it’s clearly now or never. The chemistry is percolating between Voigt and Licitra – and through the opera glasses, it’s “I only have eyes for you” and “C’mon a my house, c’mon.” He does.

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Salvatore Licitra (Dick Johnson, aka Ramerrez) and Deborah Voigt (Minnie)
Photo, Cory Weaver

By the middle of Act II, Ramerrez has stolen her first kiss, been in her bed, sampled her pastries, and then summarily tossed out into the snow after revealing himself as the much-wanted outlaw. He is wounded by Jack Rance’s posse, stumbles back to the anxious Minnie who then hides him in a loft – temporarily out of view from the heavy-breathing, rifle-toting Sheriff banging on the front door. There’s no other choice but to employ those long-suppressed feminine wiles. She lies. “Search all you like. He’s not here.” But drops of blood fall onto the Sheriff’s hand. So! The Sheriff is shocked at his betrayal and astounded that Minnie – who reads holy scripture to the lonely miners – is harboring the criminal bent on draining the boys’ nuggets dry. The solution? Poker. Best hand, two-out-of-three. If Minnie wins, Ramerrez goes free. If Rance wins, Ramerrez still goes free – but Minnie will submit to marrying Rance, even though Rance is already married. She hides a few Aces and wins. That’s what love can do to a girl. Ramerrez is back on the lam.

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“Deal!” – Deborah Voigt and Roberto Frontali.
Photo, Cory Weaver

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BLANCHE BATES and EMMY DESTINN

This production of LA FANCIULLA DEL WEST is a most fitting tribute to composer Giacomo Puccini. It captures the heart of the era and brings forward the collected theatrical genius and know-how of its initial creators. Blanche Bates, the very first “Minnie” in the 1905 play, was very frank in observing that an American soprano should have been assigned to the opera’s Premiere. As the decades flew by she might have marveled at performances by such American sopranos as Florence Kirk, Dorothy Kirsten, and Carol Neblett. For this anniversary production, Blanche would recognize the integrity of Belasco’s intentions and cry, “Drinks on the house!” for the Minnie of our time, Deborah Voigt.

Click here to order tickets to the remaining performances: LA FANCIULLA DEL WEST
Thursday, June 24th, 7:30 pm
Sunday, June 27th, 2:00 pm
Tuesday, June 29th, 7:30 pm
Friday, July 2nd, 8:00 pm

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DEBORAH VOIGT

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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