|| Soprano ||
The dramatic soprano is known for her strength and the rich colors of her voice.
by Henry Stewart.
As Brünnhilde in HGO’s 2016 Siegfried
© Lynn Lane
CHRISTINE GOERKE has, in the past two decades, become the dramatic soprano of choice in opera houses around the world, thanks to the power and shading of a heroic voice matched by a heroic stage personality. Twenty years ago, it seemed she might just have a respectable career in eighteenth-century repertoire. Her break was the title role in Francesca Zambello’s production of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride, first at Glimmerglass in 1997, when she was fresh out of the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Program, then that same year at New York City Opera. But on a 2000 Telarc recording of the opera with Boston Baroque, you can hear both the brightness in her tone and the clouds gathering on its edges. In arias such as Act II’s “Ô malheureuse Iphigénie,” there’s alluring charcoal in her timbre, and her top flutters gracefully, despite its weight, foreshadowing the shift in fach to come.
From Iphigénie, Goerke had successes in Handel and Mozart; she dabbled in Poulenc and others. But in 2003, she took a step back, retooled her technique and reemerged within the next decade as a celebrated heldensoprano with a voice like a bank vault—dark, rock-solid and seemingly housed deep within. She has since triumphed internationally, including as Ariadne at La Scala, Eboli in Houston, Elektra in Madrid and Turandot in Philadelphia. She’s now known not just for her strength but for the rich colors of her lower register and the blinding shine of her high notes.
She secured her superstardom in 2013, when she sang the Dyer’s Wife at the Met in a revival of Die Frau ohne Schatten. For many New Yorkers it was revelatory to hear their one-time Mozartean now thundering over Strauss’s dense orchestrations. In “Schweigt doch, ihr Stimmen!,” as heard on the radio broadcast, her voice sounds like a winter scene in the city, the top shimmering like dusky ice on the hard pavement of her lower register. Her power is piercing, her tone wide and full, and her dramatic commitment allows her to embody each of the aria’s many and disparate emotions. At the end, she still has so much breath it takes yours away, so much strength that yours feels sapped. Such stamina and sensitivity to text are the totality of Goerke’s artistry, and they keep her audience conspicuously rapt; on the Frau recording, the ambient sound of a shuffled program would have been jolting. She’s a powerhouse, but she’s also a spectacular music-dramatist.
She’s a diva, too, but she’s no prima donna. Goerke grew up way out on Long Island and attended public schools, including state colleges; she married a man in the construction business, and they live with their preteen daughters in Teaneck, New Jersey. “She is still clearly a Long Island girl,” opera news reported in 2012, “with a big voice and a booming personality—a diva with little pretense and lots of volume.” On Twitter, where her handle is @HeldenMommy, her bio reads, “Dramatic Soprano and Soccer Mom … not necessarily in that order.” On social media, she posts sardonic selfies and photos of her sheepadoodle, Goldie.
Those are between links to her latest gigs, which include many Ring cycles. She has matured into her generation’s go-to Brünnhilde, with lauded performances so far in Houston, Toronto and D.C. Met general manager Peter Gelb has said she will sing the role when the company revives its Robert Lepage Ring, expected in 2018–19. “I don’t want anybody else stealing her from us,” he told TheNew York Times—which makes sense: you can imagine impresarios everywhere lining up to sign her. —Henry Stewart