After a Soprano’s Crisis, a Brünnhilde Is Born

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lennygoran
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After a Soprano’s Crisis, a Brünnhilde Is Born

Post by lennygoran » Thu Apr 13, 2017 9:51 am

I enjoyed this article-a NJ gal too! Regards, Len :lol:


After a Soprano’s Crisis, a Brünnhilde Is Born

By MICHAEL COOPER APRIL 13, 2017


TORONTO — She had just immolated herself onstage in one of the most demanding roles in opera: Brünnhilde, the Valkyrie who becomes mortal and redeems the world in Wagner’s epic “Ring” cycle.

But as the soprano Christine Goerke basked in a standing ovation in February with the Canadian Opera Company here, the moment took on extra resonance. With her triumph, she cemented her arrival as the reigning American dramatic soprano of the day — the big payoff on a risky bet she made after a crisis nearly 14 years ago.

Ms. Goerke, now 47, was a rising young star when vocal troubles unexpectedly struck in 2003. “It all happened so fast,” she recalled recently, “that when I hit a brick wall, it was terrifying.”

She considered quitting. Instead she remade herself as a very different kind of singer — a challenge akin to a top pitching prospect’s deciding to become an outfielder. She jettisoned the Mozart and Handel fare she had made her name with for heavier Strauss and Wagner roles that felt right. She struggled through lean years without much work as she reinvented herself, taking on credit card debt for the first time as she and her husband, who works in construction, raised a family in suburban New Jersey.


But she persisted, winning some of the loudest applause in recent memory, paying off her debts, fielding offers from opera houses around the world — and finding her voice as Brünnhilde.

The day before she sang her first “Götterdämmerung” here, an opera that runs more than five hours, she rested her voice. Then, on the big night, she let loose — pausing to post on Twitter before her shattering immolation scene.

Now, with the Toronto run behind her, Ms. Goerke is bringing “Götterdämmerung” to Houston Grand Opera on Saturday, April 22. And she has more Brünnhildes coming up: She will sing “Die Walküre” next season at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and star in a full “Ring” cycle at the Metropolitan Opera in the 2018-19 season.


Two days before her opening in Toronto, Ms. Goerke spoke over tea about her path from the band at Patchogue-Medford High School on Long Island to Wagner’s Valhalla. Music came along at a particularly painful time in her life: Her mother died when she was 12. A high school band teacher, Peter Randazzo, became a source of inspiration.

“As awkward and — believe it or not — introverted as I was at the time,” said Ms. Goerke, now known for her vivacity, “he managed to find ways to drag me out of my shell at every turn.”

It was not until she auditioned for a choir at the State University of New York at Fredonia on a lark — some friends had asked her and, she said, shrugging, “I’m a joiner” — that her vocal talents were first recognized. But she had no dreams of becoming a star; she set her sights on teaching chorus.

After a break to work on her piano skills, she enrolled at the State University at Stony Brook in 1989 to take lessons from one of its most celebrated voice teachers, Elaine Bonazzi, recalling: “She immediately said, ‘Look, I appreciate that you want to be a chorus teacher. But I really think that you should do this.’”

She built up her voice with a steady diet of Mozart and Handel. There were early hints that heavier roles might lie in her future: Robert Shaw, the great choral conductor, pegged her as a dramatic soprano after she sang for him a number of times in her early 20s. But she was loath to push too hard, too soon — a strategy that can wreck voices.

Ms. Goerke began a rapid ascent, winning an audition for the Metropolitan Opera’s program for developing young artists. But she worried that she had not attended a prestigious conservatory or won any major vocal competitions.

“I worked hard,” she said. “But I was always waiting for the shoe to drop and for them to throw me out.”

It did not happen. And soon her career seemed to be taking off.

Then trouble struck. Ms. Goerke was starring in Handel’s “Alcina,” which opened New York City Opera’s season in 2003. “It should have been a perfect fit,” she said. “But I just could not get underneath my sound. Everything felt really tight. Pitch started being really wonky — not something that was a thing for me.”

It got so bad that the director, Francesca Zambello — a friend who had worked with Ms. Goerke on one of her early successes, a 1997 production of Gluck’s “Iphigénie en Tauride” at Glimmerglass Opera — took her out for a difficult lunch.

“I told her, ‘You can just step back, and accept that you have done really well so far,’” Ms. Zambello recalled. “‘Or you can take stock, and go and study, and make this better. If you can work hard on this, you’re going to have to take some time away from the business. It’s not something you can just do tomorrow.’ She was very upset. There were tears.”

Ms. Goerke was not sure which way to go. “I really, really entertained the idea of quitting,” she said.

But first “Alcina” had to go on. Several influential critics expressed concerns — which, in the cutthroat world of opera, where productions must be planned years in advance on the strength of a singer’s reputation, can take a toll. In The New York Times, Anthony Tommasini praised many aspects of her singing, but observed that “her voice did not consistently do what one sensed she wanted it to.”


“She has greatness in her,” he wrote, “but may need help to bring it out.”

Ms. Goerke decided that the time had come to try a new approach, with a new teacher. Walking away from Ms. Bonazzi after more than a decade, she said, was like trying to walk away from family.

“She was so upset and so offended,” she recalled. “I said that it had nothing to do with her — something had changed. She had kept me safe for all this time, and I don’t think for a second that anything she had done had been wrong. But something was not right with me, and I had to try something else or I was going to quit.”


Her choice of a new teacher was unconventional: the admired soprano Diana Soviero, best known for singing Italian and French opera — not the German repertory Ms. Goerke wanted to learn. But Ms. Soviero swiftly understood the problem.

“This grand crisis,” Ms. Goerke said, “turned out to be nothing more than my voice becoming far bigger than I was expecting, far sooner than I was expecting. And because I was singing all of this lyric coloratura stuff, I disconnected incrementally to try to keep it in this small space.”

Within a few months, as her voice blossomed, she and Ms. Soviero needed a bigger room for their lessons.

But lean years followed. Major opera companies tend to cast several years in advance, so when Ms. Goerke dropped the roles she was known for, she had to prove herself all over again — and wait for openings.

“I had to go out and start auditioning again,” she said. “And I had to prove to everybody that I wasn’t broken. Because this had happened publicly. That’s what was terrifying.”

She got married and gave birth to two daughters. (When she is on the road, she tries to call them at 7:30 in the morning New Jersey time, when they are on their way to school.) Then the recession hit — slowing the construction industry, in which her husband, James Holloway, worked as a superintendent, overseeing projects.

“We managed, but that was a really rough time for everybody,” she said, adding that for the first time in her life she accumulated credit card debt: “That nauseated me every single time I thought about it.”

But she got some important breaks along the way back — Seiji Ozawa cast her as Chrysothemis in Strauss’s “Elektra” in Japan, and within a few years she had graduated to the title role. Then came her breakthrough in 2013 singing the Dyer’s Wife in Strauss’s “Die Frau Ohne Schatten” at the Met, which earned her delirious cheers.

At the end of the first night she fought tears, telling a member of the Met’s artistic staff that “no one’s going to ask me if I’m broken anymore.” Peter Gelb, the company’s general manager, offered her the “Ring.”

Successes have followed fast since then. There was a concert “Elektra” with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in 2015 that sparked an ovation that seemed like it might do seismic damage to the venerable hall. (She will sing her first Elektra at the Met next season). Her Brünnhildes in “Die Walküre,” “Siegfried” and, now, “Götterdämmerung” were all praised. She finally paid off her credit cards and her minivan last year: “A weight was lifted,” she said.

And her arrival as a top star solidified last year. The Washington National Opera was performing Wagner’s “Ring” and its Brünnhilde, Catherine Foster, injured herself in rehearsal. The production’s director, Ms. Zambello, who had had that heart-to-heart with Ms. Goerke all those years ago, called her in Houston, where she was singing in “Siegfried,” and asked her to be a luxury stand-in.

She agreed, Ms. Zambello said, and the audience “went insane.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/13/arts ... ic-reviews

John F
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Re: After a Soprano’s Crisis, a Brünnhilde Is Born

Post by John F » Thu Apr 13, 2017 12:00 pm

Many years ago, Christine Goerke used to post frequently in America Online's classical music forum - very likable with an earthy sense of humor. I didn't know about any vocal crisis but did note that she was singing dramatic soprano roles, and that Peter Gelb "discovered" her for the Met's next Ring cycle. It's strange that she's working on this repertoire with Diana Soviero, who in a long career never sang any of it. I hope she doesn't burn herself out, as Lauren Flanigan and Deborah Voigt seem to have done. Voigt is singing very little now and no opera; she appears at the Met only to host some of the HD transmission intermissions.
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lennygoran
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Re: After a Soprano’s Crisis, a Brünnhilde Is Born

Post by lennygoran » Thu Apr 13, 2017 7:58 pm

John F wrote:
Thu Apr 13, 2017 12:00 pm
Voigt is singing very little now and no opera; she appears at the Met only to host some of the HD transmission intermissions.
She's very good as a host-surprised by her last Met performance on March 22, 2014 Matinee Broadcast

WOZZECK {69}
Alban Berg--Alban Berg

Wozzeck.................Thomas Hampson
Marie...................Deborah Voigt

I never would have guessed she had done that. Regards, Len

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Re: After a Soprano’s Crisis, a Brünnhilde Is Born

Post by John F » Fri Apr 14, 2017 3:51 am

Yes, the role of Marie in "Wozzeck" is sometimes taken by sopranos whose voices are no longer what they were. I saw Irmgard Seefried, that wonderful Mozart and Strauss lyric soprano, as Marie in 1967 and her vocal decline was all too audible.
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Re: After a Soprano’s Crisis, a Brünnhilde Is Born

Post by jserraglio » Fri Apr 14, 2017 6:40 am

lennygoran wrote:
Thu Apr 13, 2017 7:58 pm
She's very good as a host-surprised by her last Met performance on March 22, 2014 Matinee Broadcast
Thanks for the article. I am interested to hear more of Goerke's singing.

lennygoran
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Re: After a Soprano’s Crisis, a Brünnhilde Is Born

Post by lennygoran » Fri Apr 14, 2017 8:01 am

John F wrote:
Fri Apr 14, 2017 3:51 am
Yes, the role of Marie in "Wozzeck" is sometimes taken by sopranos whose voices are no longer what they were.
Thanks for the information-I hadn't known that. Would you say it's sort of like what happens with Adriana Lecouvreur? Regards, Len

lennygoran
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Re: After a Soprano’s Crisis, a Brünnhilde Is Born

Post by lennygoran » Fri Apr 14, 2017 8:15 am

jserraglio wrote:
Fri Apr 14, 2017 6:40 am
I am interested to hear more of Goerke's singing.
I saw her at least once a long time ago-just don't remember what it was-it could have been NYCO? Anyway I do remember her performance was incredibly powerful. Regards, Len

PS-wow I found it in my Hallmark wallet calendars-Sept 18 NYCO Alcina. I found a review of it from the NY Times. TOMMASINI is a little critical of her but I remember being very very impressed-she was a sorceress if ever there was one! Regards, Len :D

Arts | CITY OPERA REVIEW
CITY OPERA REVIEW; Hearts Stranded on an Isle By a Sorceress's Wiles

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI SEPT. 11, 2003


Paul Kellogg, the general and artistic director of the New York City Opera, has been spending a lot of time lately trying to win support for his proposal to build an opera house as part of the ground zero development project. Meanwhile he and the company have a 60th-anniversary season to present at their current home, the New York State Theater in Lincoln Center. That season opened ambitiously on Tuesday night with a new production by Francesca Zambello of Handel's ''Alcina.''

Though City Opera has been especially valued for its commitment to 20th-century American works, in the last 10 years it has won gratitude and large audiences for fresh productions of Baroque works, especially Handel's. The new ''Alcina'' offers a young and eager cast headed by the immensely gifted soprano Christine Goerke in the title role. Still, perhaps because of opening-night jitters, or fatigue from a demanding rehearsal schedule, or the greenness of some singers, things never completely clicked in this performance, conducted by Daniel Beckwith.

Ms. Zambello has antagonized innumerable mainstream opera buffs with some of her more convoluted staging concepts, but she won over many doubters last season with an arresting production of Berlioz's epic ''Les Troyens'' at the Metropolitan Opera. If anything, her ''Alcina'' could be faulted as too tame. Her priority here, it would seem, was to unravel the romantic entanglements that constitute a plot in this befuddling story to reveal Handel's astute insights into the nature of attraction.

Alcina, a beautiful sorceress, lures heroes to the enchanted island where she reigns. Inevitably she grows bored with her captives and turns them into rocks, streams, wild beasts and trees. Her latest conquest is Ruggiero, a handsome knight. Mesmerized by Alcina, Ruggiero completely forgets his virtuous fiancée, Bradamante, who arrives at the island disguised as a warrior, supported by her friend Melisso and determined to wrest her beloved back to reality

In this production's most inventive touch the transformed heroes are enacted by a roster of male dancers costumed (by Martin Pakledinaz) as trees. They wear shaggy earthen pants, and spindly branches grow from their fingers. Bare heads and chests make these captive tree-men seem achingly vulnerable. Sean Curran's choreography during the dance episodes (included by Handel to add a jolt of French-style ballet music to his Italian opera seria) involves a poignantly incongruous mix of elfin spins and stick-figure poses. Neil Patel's set, dominated by intersecting brown brick walls to suggest Alcina's imposing palace, impishly blends ancient and modern imagery: in her midnight-blue gown, the sorceress sits in a gleaming silvery throne room framed by tree trunks encased in clear plastic.

Though the roundelay of sexual attractions in ''Alcina'' becomes absurdly complex, Handel's intent is to explore the absurdities of such attraction. If our romantic choices are so prone to confusion and whim, the opera argues, then succumbing to someone else's vanquishing allure becomes the easier course. The heroes are meant to be seen not entirely as victims but as complicitous in Alcina's ploys.

Though replete with bravura runs and coloratura roulades, Handel's writing is usually well suited to the type of fresh, agile, lighter voices that City Opera typically recruits. Still, several members of this cast were hard-pressed to execute the vocal gymnastics. The soprano Lauren Skuce as Alcina's perky but subservient sister, Morgana, was at her best during the anguished aria of dejection she sings when her boyfriend, Oronte (the energetic young tenor Keith Jameson), becomes fed up with her fickleness.


After a tentative start, the mezzo-soprano Katharine Goeldner as Ruggiero got it together when it counted for the Neapolitan-styled showpiece aria of heroic resolve, ''Sta nell'Ircana.'' As Bradamante, the soprano Jennifer Dudley brought innocence and grace, if sometimes pale and faltering tone, to her performance. Joshua Winograde, a strapping bass-baritone, had a solid City Opera debut as Melisso.

Given Ms. Goerke's past excellence, one would have expected her to triumph in the demanding title role. There were admirable qualities to her signing: vibrancy and warmth in her middle register, bursts of clarion power, unfaltering commitment, solid musicianship, flashes of vocal charisma. But her voice did not consistently do what one sensed she wanted it to. At times her sound turned patchy and her pitch faltered. She has greatness in her, but may need help to bring it out.

Be warned: this production is not for Handel purists. The score has been trimmed and a smaller role, Oberto, cut out to keep the opera's length within three hours. Mr. Beckwith conducted a supple performance, though the orchestra sometimes lacked energy and definition. A more intimate opera house would certainly help, if Mr. Kellogg gets to build it. But even at the State Theater the performance should settle in as the run of ''Alcina'' continues through Sept. 26.




http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/11/arts/ ... wiles.html

John F
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Re: After a Soprano’s Crisis, a Brünnhilde Is Born

Post by John F » Fri Apr 14, 2017 10:25 am

I remember that too, and I thought Christine Goerke was vocally miscast as Alcina - her voice was too heavy and not flexible enough for the role, so she was spared the opera's most brilliant aria, "Tornami a vagheggiar." (In one version of the opera, the aria is sung by a secondary character, but Handel changed that and Joan Sutherland as Alcina clinched it.) She was much better a few years earlier in Gluck's "Iphigenie en Tauride," also at City Opera (my, how I miss NYCO), but that's a very different kind of role.

Here's Sutherland singing that aria:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6E88eI2ignM
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Re: After a Soprano’s Crisis, a Brünnhilde Is Born

Post by lennygoran » Fri Apr 14, 2017 8:09 pm

Wow-thanks! Regards, Len

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