Tuesday, September 27, 2011
MY BUDDY THE OPERA STAR REACHES FOR THE SUMMIT IN STRAUSS' ELEKTRA
Soprano Christine Goerke has been like a kid sister to me since we met in San Francisco in 1997. Then just out of the Metropolitan Opera's Young Artists' Program, this Long Island-born singer had won praise in Gluck's masterful IPHIGENIE EN TAURIDE. She was singing the first soprano soloist in Mahler's epic Eighth Symphony with the San Francisco Symphony, and her big and warm soprano soared above the combined forces of a huge orchestra, a beefed up chorus, seven other vocal soloists and a huge organ. Afterwards, we cemented our friendship over a glass of champagne. Christine is a very funny lady with a big warm heart. I've since seen her in concert, and in opera houses in London, Turin, Florence, Seattle, Santa Fe, Houston, Philadelphia, New York and at Tanglewood (summer home of the Boston Symphony).
Christine's big sound was always there and it's size is much prized by opera lovers and casting directors. When I first met her, Christine's rep was mostly in the Mozart/Handel operas. One of the biggest successes of her early career was at the New York City Opera where her dazzling comic skills, and flexible voice captivated audience and critics alike. That was also the year she won the Richard Tucker Award with a big cash prize, and gained admittance to a group of American singers of stature such was Renee Fleming, Joyce diDonato, Aprile Millo, Matthew Polenzani, Stephanie Blythe, Patricia Racette, and others. But it was clear from the beginning that her voice was meant for the big Wagner and Strauss roles--Isolde in TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, Brunnhilde in Wagner's RING cycle, Otrud in LOHENGRIN and Kundry in PARSIFAL. She has already sung the last two roles in Houston and Turin, with great success. I saw both performances and she was thrilling.
This Friday, Christine takes on the toughest challenge for the dramatic soprano--the role of ELEKTRA in Richard Strauss' searing drama at the Teatro Real in Madrid this week. Many dramatic sopranos have sung the part--well actually, yelled it, would be a better description. For more than an hour, Elektra is almost always on stage, and has memorable confrontations with her sister Chrysothemis (soprano and a role that Goerke has sung in Japan, Italy and Washington, D.C.), her mother, Klytemnestra and her brother, Orestes. The role is a terrifying exploitation of the soprano voice. Elektra's emotional state is almost always extreme. It requires a massive amount of sound, a wide range (all the way up to a few athletic high Cs), and a soft and emotionally wrenching Recognition scene with her brother, whom she has not seen since they were teenagers. Suddenly after hitting the decibels, Elektra must switch vocal gears and sing softly with with great beauty. There is much angry declamation and the demands on the voice are simply inhuman. Oh did I also mention, she has to dance herself to death at the end of the opera? ELEKTRA is my favorite opera. I've seen the work many, many times and only two were truly satisfying--Birgit Nilsson and the underrated Olivia Stapp. I found her to be a thrilling Chrysothemis and have the CDs to prove it. I'm certain she will be the Elektra of her generation.
Christine tells me she's ready to sing this killer part and can't wait to get out there. She's singing a dress rehearsal today as I write this, and posted several photos of her in costume on Facebook a few days ago. Christine shows her comic side in these photos, looking more like the witch in HANSEL UND GRETEL than ELEKTRA. Keep in mind that Elektra has been banished outside the walls of the palace where her mother rules after she's conspired to have Agamemnon (her husband and Elektra's father) killed. She's living in filth and deprivation, which explains the mud in her hair and the unkempt dress. But Christine a great tragic actress as well, and Madrid is in for a vocal and acting tour de force.
Another Strauss heroine is in Christine's future--the Dyer's Wife in DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN at the Metropolitan Opera, and she is the Houston Grand Opera's Brunnhilde in the company's first staging of Wagner's Ring cycle.