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Gun It to Glimmerglass!

Deborah Voigt shows off new sides to her performing personality in the Glimmerglass Festival productions of Annie Get Your Gun and Voigt Lessons. logo
Deborah Voigt and Rod Gilfry
in Annie Get Your Gun
(© Glimmerglass Festival)
The Glimmerglass Festival, located in scenic Cooperstown, New York, has long proven to be an ideal summer destination for a particular type of vacationer: those who like to combine a visit to a bucolic setting with a healthy dose of live performance.

But this summer, the Festival is allowing a different sort of artistic departure: the great operatic soprano Deborah Voigt, as the Festival's artist in residence, is finally getting to try her hand at musical theater, starring as sharpshooter Annie Oakley in Francesca Zambello's delightful production of Annie Get Your Gun.

To quickly deal with the plain facts: Voigt is admittedly a bit mature -- like most of her theatrical predecessors -- to play Annie, a young woman who knows nothing about life and love and just about everything about a rifle. And her operatic soprano, as beautiful as it can be, isn't always perfectly suited to Irving Berlin's glorious Broadway-tinged score. As it happens, neither of these issues ends up being serious problems.

Voigt manages to portray Annie's naivete and lack of guile effortlessly, and once Annie wises up, she's got sass and brass to spare. Indeed, it's on the show's uptempo and comic numbers -- "Anything You Can Do," "I've Got the Sun in the Morning," and "I'm An Indian Too" -- where Voigt shines brightest, tearing into the lyrics with abandon (not to mention excellent diction). She does a lovely job, too, on "Moonshine Lullaby," aided by an adorable passel of children and those three harmonizing trainmen.

The star's big duets with Rod Gilfry, who gives a somewhat stiff performance (intentionally or not) as her rival-cum-love interest Frank Butler, unfortunately lack a little sizzle. Nonetheless, Gilfry possesses a gorgeous baritone, which is consistently a pleasure to listen to -- and which sounds particularly lush on "The Girl That I Marry."

Zambello keeps the show moving at a remarkably quick pace and guides finely tuned comic performances from Klea Blackhurst as Dolly Tate, Drew Taylor as Charlie Davenport, and, especially, Nick Santa Maria, who takes the potentially problematic role of Chief Sitting Bull and imbues him with the perfect combination of warmth and savvy.

Even more than Annie Get Your Gun, her new solo piece Voigt Lessons (which gets two more performances, albeit in abridged form, on August 7 and 14 as part of Glimmerglass' "Meet Me In the Pavilion" series) allows audiences a totally different view of Voigt than opera fans are used to.

Working with Zambello and playwright Terrence McNally, what Voigt has created is not, as might have been supposed, the sort of crossover cabaret act that might play the Carlyle or Feinstein's at Loews Regency. Instead, it turns out to be a highly personal, surprisingly poignant piece -- one that, with some expansion, could turn out to be a worthy successor to Elaine Stritch: At Liberty.

Over the course of 75 minutes, Voigt charts with candor (if a little bit too much brevity) a lifetime journey full of ups and downs, including her early career disappointments, a youthful marriage that lasted 20 years but was apparently far from perfect, her much-publicized struggle with her weight, and her lesser-known battle with alcoholism. These revelations, all forthrightly handled by the star, may not only provide inspiration for audience members dealing with their own imperfections, they also make Voigt incredibly human.

What she doesn't do in Voigt Lessons is discuss her colleagues (although she makes clear her eternal and much-deserved dislike, without naming his name, of the director who fired her from the Royal Opera House's 2004 production of Ariadne Auf Naxos because she didn't fit his physical concept of the role), or, more to the point, sing as much as one might hope.

When she does unleash her instrument, however, her vocal selections come primarily from the pop and theater worlds. There is much to be savored in hearing her takes on "A Song For You," "My White Knight," "Edelweiss," and "Smile." And she throws in a world-famous aria at the end, but it's not one you'd ever expect her to sing! If there's a lesson for all performers to take away from Voigt Lessons, it's that sometimes audiences really love what they didn't know they wanted!

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