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Christine Goerke – How A Mozart Soprano Overcame A Vocal Crisis And Became Everyone’s New Favorite Brünnhilde

Apr 18, 2017

Christine Goerke blowing a kiss to the crowd during a curtain call in February after her performance as Brünnhilde in “Götterdämmerung” at the Canadian Opera Company. CreditCole Burston for The New York Times

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.