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Deborah Voigt withdraws from Strauss revival

Deborah Voigt | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

Deborah Voigt | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 25, 2011 5:32PM

Voigt leaves Strauss for Wagner, and Wagner steps in for Strauss.

Or something like that.

In a surprise move that could portend other changes in upcoming seasons at the Civic Opera House, Lyric Opera of Chicago announced Monday morning that star soprano Deborah Voigt, who has figured prominently in marketing for the company’s 2011-12 season, has withdrawn from the revival of “Ariadne auf Naxos” by Richard Strauss. The demanding title role in this combination comedy-fantasy long has been a signature part for the star American soprano, who turns 51 next month.

Lyric said that Voigt, who opened a run in the very different title role of Irving Berlin’s “Annie Get Your Gun” at Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown, N.Y., Saturday night, wants to focus on her upcoming debuts in the lead role of Brunnhilde in the third and fourth installments of Richard Wagner’s “Ring” cycle at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Lyric said.

The six November-December “Ariadne” dates in Chicago fall between the Met’s performances of “Siegfried” and “Gotterdammerung.”

The choice was Voigt’s, Lyric said, but the Illinois native made no mention of this plan in a backstage conversation after her Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert July 9 at Ravinia in which her Strauss numbers were the highlight.

A number of industry observers have said that Voigt has been losing the lyric sound that was a trademark of hers for years and that she is shifting to roles calling for a more dramatic style such as Wagner, or lighter work such as musical theater. New management led by general director-designate Anthony Freud and creative consultant Renee Fleming takes over at Lyric on Oct. 1 and has been examining all short- and long-term commitments the company has made.

A request for a direct comment from Voigt or her publicist had not been returned by press time.

In her place, a true rising star, Amber Wagner (no relation to the composer) will make her full-run, major role debut at Lyric. Wagner received raves when she was a last-minute substitute in the part for the opera’s opening night this spring at Toronto’s Canadian Opera Company. Lyric music director Andrew Davis conducted that production, as he is to at Lyric.

Wagner, 31, an alum of Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center, has been a standout since her first days in the training center. A winner of the 2007 Met National Council auditions, and numerous other awards, Wagner was featured in the 2009 hit documentary on the Met competition, “The Audition.” In her scheduled closing night performance as Elsa in Wagner’s “Lohengrin” at Lyric in March, the singer “achieved a total triumph,” the Sun-Times’ Laura Emerick wrote.

“Throughout the evening Wagner displayed the presence and command of an artist of twice her experience,” Emerick wrote. “Her voice poured forth rhapsodically in exquisitely phrased lines while she more than matched the intensity” of her “formidable” fellow cast members.

Wagner is scheduled to be the soprano soloist in the closing weekend performances of Verdi’s “Requiem” with Carlos Kalmar conducting at the Grant Park Music Festival Aug. 19-20.

Andrew Patner is critic at large at WFMT-FM (98.7).

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