Deborah Voigt joins Mormon Tabernacle Choir for annual Christmas extravaganza

Music • Deborah Voigt's guest spot was four years in the making.
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The Mormon Tabernacle Choir's Christmas concerts have become a holiday juggernaut, drawing major stars from Broadway, popular music and the opera stage. This year's guest is soprano Deborah Voigt, renowned for her portrayals of Strauss and Wagner heroines — and Annie Oakley.

That versatility makes her a good match for the Christmas concert, which aims for inclusivity, Tabernacle Choir music director Mack Wilberg said. "We sing for everyone — not just the opera crowd and not just the pop crowd," he said.

Even the world's top opera stars don't enjoy the same name recognition in the U.S. as "American Idol" contestants, but Wilberg is confident that audiences will take to Voigt as they have to Bryn Terfel, Nathan Gunn and other past Christmas guests. "People will find her delightful and engaging," he predicted.

"She's one of our great American sopranos — not only in America, but in the world as well," Wilberg said, noting that the choir had to book Voigt four years in advance. "For someone of her status, obviously it takes a while" to secure an open date, he said.

As always, Wilberg is secretive about the program, but he acknowledged it will follow the same framework as in years past. If you've attended one of these concerts or watched one on PBS, you know what that means: The choir and soloist will perform sacred and secular seasonal selections, separately and together; narrator John Rhys-Davies will share an inspirational story and read the account of Jesus' birth from the Gospel of St. Luke; organist Richard Elliott will roll out a new, and likely show-stopping, arrangement of a familiar carol; and Voigt and the choir will close the evening with Wilberg's arrangement of "Angels, From the Realms of Glory."

Much of the repertoire was chosen during a "delightful meeting" with Voigt in New York earlier this fall, Wilberg said. "I brought some ideas, she brought some ideas. It's nice when ideas meld. I think it's going to be a great concert."

Voigt said she has "known about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir pretty much my whole life. I grew up singing in my own church choir and really thought I'd become a choral conductor."

Instead, she became an opera superstar — but her road hasn't always been easy. Her one-woman show, "Voigt Lessons," which The New York Times called "a chatty, witty and sometimes painfully poignant account of her life," candidly addresses her past struggles with weight and alcohol as well as the breakup of her marriage to her high-school sweetheart. In a phone interview from New York, Voigt attributed her resilience to faith and prayer.

"I've really been blessed," she said. "The gifts we are given are not random — and along with them come trials, which happen for a reason as well.

"I was raised in a very religious, Christian household, and that has remained a part of my life. … That's another reason I'm excited about singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. While I do not practice the Mormon religion, we all believe in the same God."

Voigt said she's only been to Salt Lake City once — passing through during her family's cross-country move when she was a teenager. But "I love snow, having grown up in the suburbs of Chicago." Several family members will travel to hear her, but she isn't sure her Yorkshire terrier, Steinway — often seen or mentioned in her Twitter posts — will make the trip. "At 12, touring is a little rough on him." —

Deck the hall

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir presents its annual Christmas extravaganza.

With • Soprano Deborah Voigt, narrator John Rhys-Davies, conductors Mack Wilberg and Ryan Murphy, and the Orchestra at Temple Square.

When • Thursday through Saturday, Dec. 12-14, 8 p.m.; broadcast of "Music and the Spoken Word" with miniconcert to follow, Sunday, Dec. 15, 9:30 a.m.

Where • LDS Conference Center, 60 W. North Temple, Salt Lake City.

Tickets • Free. All have been distributed, but there will be a standby line at the north gate of Temple Square. —

Fit for a king

The King's Singers, the vocal sextet from Great Britain, will pop in for a guest appearance on "Music and the Spoken Word."

When • Sunday, Dec. 8, 9:30 a.m. (audience must be seated by 9:15).

Where • LDS Conference Center, 60 W. North Temple, Salt Lake City.

Watch • If you'd rather not brave the cold, you can tune in the live broadcast on KSL television (Ch. 5) or radio (1160 AM).

Admission • Free; no tickets required.