Fairy Tale Opera Leads to Fairy Tale Career Break
The machine is coming back to the Metropolitan Opera, which plans to mount a revival of Robert Lepage’s high-tech, polarizing and glitch-prone “Ring” cycle in the 2018-19 season to showcase its next Brünnhilde: the soprano Christine Goerke. She was offered the role after her breakout success last week in Strauss’s fairy tale opera “Die Frau Ohne Schatten.”
Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, said he decided to cast Ms. Goerke as Brünnhilde after hearing her sing the role of the Dyer’s Wife on Thursday in “Frau”: a portrayal that was greeted with what he called “one of the great ovations I have heard in recent years at the Met” and that won lavish praise from several leading critics.
“After she sang in ‘Frau’ the other night, it just made me realize that we’d better invite her sooner rather than later,” Mr. Gelb said in an interview. “Because I don’t want anybody else stealing her from us.”
Ms. Goerke’s portrayal of the Dyer’s Wife — which she will repeat several times this month — was hailed as a “breakthrough night” by Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times. Alex Ross, a critic for The New Yorker, wrote on his blog that “she proved herself the most potent dramatic soprano to appear at the Met since — well, let’s not jinx her by naming names.” The Met’s orchestra posted a note of congratulations about the huge ovation to Ms. Goerke on Twitter — where her handle is @HeldenMommy — writing, “That was a ROAR.”
Mr. Gelb’s announcement dispelled any lingering doubts about whether the Met would bring back Mr. Lepage’s $16 million “Ring,” which featured dazzling projections, stunt doubles and what came to be known as “the machine”: a 90,000-pound set of 24 long planks that rotated around an axis and had a stubborn habit of creaking and, at times, of malfunctioning.
It was a polarizing production, so vast in scale that its ups and downs were chronicled in a documentary, “Wagner’s Dream.” Critics gave it decidedly mixed reviews. Mr. Tommasini called it “frustrating,” praising breathtaking moments but warning that many of the effects were not worth the distractions they created. Mr. Ross called it “the most witless and wasteful production in modern operatic history.”
But Mr. Gelb said that while the production was disliked by some critics, he believed that large segments of the public enjoyed it immensely. And he said that the production would be fine-tuned, and possibly re-engineered, “to make sure it is functioning in tiptop shape when it returns, hopefully this time with its mechanism a little quieter than before.”
Ms. Goerke (pronounced GERK-eh) is scheduled to sing Brünnhilde in Houston and in at least one other house before bringing the role to the Met. The Met plans to cast her in several major parts in the coming seasons, Mr. Gelb said, including the title roles in Puccini’s “Turandot” and Strauss’s “Elektra” and the role of Ortrud in Wagner’s “Lohengrin,” for which they plan to revive the stylized Robert Wilson production.
“We’re really looking at her as kind of the go-to dramatic soprano for these big Strauss-Wagnerian roles,” Mr. Gelb said.
Although the deal to cast Ms. Goerke as Brünnhilde was essentially made on Friday — after Sarah Billinghurst, the Met’s assistant manager for artistic affairs, called Ms. Goerke’s manager — she did not learn of it until Monday, when she received the news at the Metropolitan Opera Guild’s luncheon celebrating James Levine’s return to the Met.
“I am overjoyed,” Ms. Goerke, 44, said in a brief interview, just minutes after she had heard that she had been asked. “I said: ‘Oh, that’s interesting — please tell him yes! And thank you so much!’ ”
For Ms. Goerke, the chance to sing one of the most celebrated — and challenging — dramatic soprano roles will be a milestone. She was part of the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program in the 1990s, won the Richard Tucker Award in 2001, and initially made a name for herself singing Handel and Mozart. After having some vocal problems a decade ago, which she spoke about in an interview with Opera News, she worked on a new technique and emerged as a major dramatic soprano.
The first time she sang Wagner, she said, it was as the Third Norn in “Götterdämmerung,” conducted by Mr. Levine, weaving the rope of destiny until it breaks at the beginning of the opera.
“You know, we busted our rope and skulked offstage, but in fact, while the other two were in their dressing rooms, I was just standing on the side of the stage, listening to the Prologue, just thinking, ‘Some day, some day, some day,’ ” she recalled. “And holy moly, some day is here.”
Mr. Levine praised Ms. Goerke at the Opera Guild lunch, where she sang “O don fatale” from Verdi’s “Don Carlo,” filling in at the last moment for Dolora Zajick, who was indisposed.
“Did you hear that first performance of ‘Frau’ the other night?” he asked, during his remarks. “If you didn’t, run, do not walk, to hear one, at least one.” He said that her emergence as a dramatic soprano “just thrills me to bits.”
But she did not seem to have many prima donna airs. When some gusts of air-conditioning sent sheets of music in disarray as Craig Rutenberg, the Met’s director of music administration, accompanied the bass-baritone Eric Owens on the piano, Ms. Goerke jumped onto the stage. With no fuss, she served as Mr. Rutenberg’s page turner.