Deborah Voigt: Off The Scales

Opera Star Talks About Lifelong Battle With Weight

The biggest worry about the operation was whether it might affect Voigt's voice. A major test came at a concert in Cincinnati. Voigt and Canadian tenor Ben Heppner were performing Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde," music as demanding as it is glorious. Judging from the curtain calls, Voigt had nothing to worry about.

Conductor James Conlon says that, as far as he's concerned, Voigt is as good as she was and maybe even better.

How is she better?

"You can sustain yourself, you can sustain your breath better. You are, you have less work to do just to move around," says Conlon.

Lunch these days for Debbie involves avocado salad with chicken instead of a cheeseburger. She's learning to deal not only with what she eats, but why she spent so much of her life eating too much.

"And the reasons that can bring it on run the gamut from 'I'm depressed, if I eat something it'll make me feel better.' If I'm happy. If I'm bored," says Voigt. "And so you have to learn how to deal with those sorts of emotions without your drug, which for me was food."

How did she learn that?

"Therapy," she says with a chuckle.

Between engagements, she unwinds at home in Florida, girding herself for the new opera season, which takes her and her constant companion, her dog Steinway, to Berlin, Barcelona, Santa Fe, Moscow, Vienna.

She sings for her supper with a gathering of friends. And the new Debbie Voigt even has a new role to look forward to, one that would have been out of the question in her previous life.

This fall, she'll portray the opera world's most famous sex symbol: Salome, the temptress in Richard Strauss's opera.

"I'm so excited about it. It's such a personal triumph for me to even be considered for this, let alone feel confident enough to accept it," she says.

When it comes to the dance of the seven veils, Voigt says she'll do some version of it.

Fittingly enough, the 60 Minutes crew left Voigt on a shopping trip. In her heavier days, she used to joke that if she ever did sing Salome, it would have to be the Dance of the 77 veils. But all her extra-extra plus sizes are in mothballs now. And her foray into Saks Fifth Avenue in New York netted Debbie a variation on the very thing that got her in trouble with the Royal Opera: a little black dress.

"Very nice," she says. "Look how skinny I look!"

By David Browning