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Minnie owns a bar, she plays poker, she packs a gun—is this role a blast for you?
She is a lot of fun to play. I’m lucky that a lot of the characters I play are fun, but Minnie is a chick of a different feather. I also have to handle more props than with any other role I sing. She works at a bar, so there are the glasses, and she hands out cigars, and she’s got Bible lessons to teach, and she has guns to tote. I found it very prop-complicated when I did it for the first time [at San Francisco Opera].
You’re so well known to Met audiences as a Strauss and Wagner singer. What kind of vocal adjustments do you have to make to sing Puccini?
I know that people assume that because the repertoire is so different there must be huge vocal shifts. But I don’t really feel that way. I am a singer who sings by sensation, and if it feels good in Strauss or Wagner, it’s going to feel good in Puccini.
Do you think there’s a perception: “Debbie Voigt sings Isolde, so Minnie must be a breeze for her”?
She’s not a breeze by any means! Minnie is very chatty, and there are enormous vocal leaps between intervals. She has a couple of really perilous high Cs that come out of nowhere. And she does a lot of reflecting, both about her childhood and about what she wants out of life, and she gets a bit melancholic about love, which requires a certain change in color or timbre. The word “voice-wrecker” comes up a lot when people talk about Minnie! But I think that may be because a lot of the women who eventually sing the role come from more lyric Italian repertoire. And so, for them, it’s a hugely dramatic step. But, as you say, when you sing Isolde and when you’re preparing Brünnhilde and you sing Salome and roles like that, Minnie becomes a little bit more lyric. I didn’t find her to be as big a voice-wrecker as I kept hearing she could be, and I think that’s because my repertoire goes beyond that.
This is the centennial run of performances and the second performance is on the actual hundredth anniversary. Does that add an extra layer of excitement or pressure for you?
I’m just feeling really excited that I get to sing it that night. It’s an American story, an American house, so I’m definitely feeling like, “Well, I am the girl for the job!” —Matt Dobkin
This interview was first published online in November 2010 and in the Met's Playbill in December 2010.