Christine Goerke has proven to be the most notable American dramatic soprano of this young 21st century. And fortunately for Miamians, she will be teaching master classes at the brand new Wagner Institute at the Miami Music Festival, as well as performing in a not-to-be-missed concert alongside eminent bass baritone Alan Held on July 16 at at the New World Center.
It’s been said that culture and summer are like oil and water–making the coming months an unlikely time to explore and celebrate the work of Richard Wagner. But the famous Bayreuth Festival–a mecca for Wagner fans–takes place in July and August during the unpredictable German summer, without air conditioning, in the theater designed by the composer. So why not a touch of Wagner in Miami, with air conditioning and a super soprano capable of exciting even the unaware (not to mention her fans, who are already awaiting both events anxiously).
Why Miami has the good fortune of having such artists in town during the summer months is a question for festival director Michael Rossi. What is certain is that Goerke offered a memorable master class last year, and Rossi wasted no time in suggesting the Wagner Institute as part of the festival–something she accepted delightedly. Considering Goerke is one of the busiest sopranos around, this was a masterful move in looking to train a select group of singers on the dramatic German “Fach” system of classifying singers.
This training is possible thanks to the exemplary, anti-diva attitude of Goerke. With her feet firmly on the ground, she knows the sacrifices that a singing career entails. The stature she now enjoys was achieved through long years of hard work, and in a cut-throat field, she is a rare figure who incites little criticism or opposition.
Goerke grew up on Long Island, New York. She wanted to be a clarinetist until a teacher noticed her vocal talents. She hadn’t seen opera and was dazzled by the Met telecast of “Francesca de Rímini” and, later, by the always effective “Boheme,” which completed her falling in love with the genre. The 1990s were a time of intense advance studies at Glimmerglass Festival, Wolf Trap Opera, the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and eventually New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1995, where she played a small role in “The Ghosts of Versailles.” She then added to her resume important Baroque heroines from other lyric houses, by George Handel and Wolfgang Mozart and Richard Strauss. Locally, she even sang Strauss’s “Four Last Songs” with the New World Symphony at the Lincoln Theatre–until an unexpected vocal crisis put her career in danger. The venerable soprano Diana Soviero came to her rescue, offering vocal coaching that helped Goerke reshape her new, gigantic, dramatic voice.
In 2001, Goerke won the coveted Richard Tucker Award. From then on, her triumphs have continued to multiply. Audiences in Paris, Madrid, London, Chicago, Berlin, Toronto, San Francisco and Santa Fe have witnessed her Ariadne, Eboli, Donna Elvira, Madame Lidoine, Norma, Kundry, Senta, Leonore, Isolde, the Dyer’s Wife, Elektra and Brünnhilde, among other ladies to be reckoned with.
Fans will notice that Goerke combines roles for sopranos and mezzo-sopranos. Her voice has the color of a mezzo, but climbs easily to soprano heights. It’s a quality that gives her a versatility that evokes her idol, the legendary Astrid Varnay, whom she recently brought to mind when she stunned the Semper Opera in Dresden, Germany as Salome and Elektra in a recital directed by conductor Christian Thielemann. Last season, she also realized a lifelong dream: performing “Turandot” with the Metropolitan Opera at her feet.
Whatever the role, Goerke shines. If Turandot proclaims that “the riddles are three, but there is only one death,” fans of Goerke have good reason to say that “the challenges are three, but there is only one Goerke.” Do not miss her–it will be the best reward for having stayed in Miami in July.
Christine Goerke will perform with Alan Held and conductor Michael Rossi at New World Center on July 16 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available online.