17 March 2007

Cruel Trade-off?

Among the Aegyptische Helena reviews now out in print, I found only one that resonated with my thoughts on Deborah Voigt's evolving sound. Justin Davidson of Newsday wrote:

She is a wonder, a self-challenging singer with gentle intensity and a lustrous voice who has learned to be comfortable in a body that is half the size it was before her gastric bypass surgery.

It's hard to square her freshly svelte presence with the hulking image of a few years ago, just as it's hard to compare this one night's sound with an aural memory of her voice. To my ear, her voice has lost some of its buttery depth and sheen, yet her singing has gained in sinuous musicality. It's a cruel trade-off.
I e-mailed him about this particular quote, which I agree with entirely, and he responded with the following (quoted with permission):
I have to say I find this whole before-and-after comparison perplexing. When you're talking about something as changeable as a voice singing, how do you compare an experience with a memory of an experience of the same person's singing. I don't feel that recordings help much. And it's like when you meet someone you haven't seen in a long time: at first you're struck by the difference between what you remember and what you see. But within a minute or two, the contrast has faded, and you're just left with the person you have before you. I guess what I'm saying is that I'm not particularly confident of my judgment in this case - among other things, she could just be getting older. And I certainly wouldn't mean my comments to be interpreted as disapproval of her surgery - that is entirely her affair.
Memory is the frailest evidence, but when clouded by passion, the most dangerous. I've attempted to buttress my current impression of Voigt's sound with a list of memories, organized chronologically, as if arguing for a hypothesis in science (my home base). Perhaps my thesis is nudged further because my memories, I'm finding, are shared by others, now including Davidson. Certainly no evidentiary threshold will ever be met by fans nodding at one another in agreement, but the larger point may that there is a growing number of ears tending the same direction. (The alternative explanation, age, which also crossed my mind but had to reject for a few reasons, is more tragic.)

I'm pleased that (basing on the Helena prima) Voigt has successfully managed the complications of dramatic weight loss, as far as technique and vocal fitness are concerned. She appears to be leading a healthier life, and she looks Fabulous (though to me she looked equally Fabulous when she was large) and vibrant and more comfortable in her new sensual glamour. But to this selfish fan, whose perception erupts from the unknowable intercourse between the senses and shadows of memory, it is essentially a "cruel trade-off". I'm still trying to get used to it.