Opera Soprano Christine Goerke Returns to Houston to Sing Brünnhilde in Die Walküre

Houston Grand Opera, Lohengrin, October 2009. Christine Goerke as Ortrud
Houston Grand Opera, Lohengrin, October 2009. Christine Goerke as Ortrud
Photo by Felix Sanchez

In composer Richard Wagner's Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), Brünnhilde is the favorite daughter of the god Wotan (Odin) as well as a Valkyrie, one of the women who according to Norse myth determine who lives or dies in battle.

In this, the second of the four operas that make up The Ring of the Nibelung, Brünnhilde, trying to do the right thing, disobeys her father when he orders her to make sure his son Siegmund dies in battle and as a result, loses her immortality and is put into an enchanted sleep surrounded by a ring of fire by her really upset dad.

That's the abbreviated version (there's also adultery and incest and an immortal wife not too pleased with her husband's extracurricular activities). Yes, this is dysfunctional.

But what is highly functional is the arrival of American soprano (and frequent Houston Grand Opera visiting artist) Christine Goerke who will sing the Brünnhilde role and who just did it in Toronto to great acclaim.

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Goerke who previously was known for singing Mozart and Handel was annointed by The New York Times in November 2013 when she sang the Dyer's Wife's role in Strauss's Die Frau Ohne Schatten.

She told us that she'd been building up to tackling heavier voice roles starting ten years ago. "I was ready to start getting my feet wet about eight years ago but the minute someone realizes you are a viable option in this repertoire, unfortunately we have cast it five years out. So you go to the back of the line. You cover and you study. And in the last three to four years I've actually gotten to do a lot of it, but HGO was the first one to ask me to do a Ring."

She credits HGO Artistic Director Patrick Summers with being "one of the only people who really saw from the beginning where I was going and believed in me and held my hand all the way through."

And she loves her character, flawed and all and says she's honored to sing the role ("You can count on one hand the singers who've gotten to sing her.") "She's so cool. This is only a third of her story. In this particular opera she's a teenager, she's a know it all, over-zealous, well-meaning over energetic, very caring teenager but she doesn't understand a thing that she thinks she understands."

Then there's also the music. "It's so epic. You can say what you will about Wagner (a noted anti-Semite) personally. But I firmly believe this music came through him from some place else. This seems like God speaking through people. You, of course, get all the big bombastic stuff that makes your hair stand on end. But you also get moments when there is nothing and you whisper in this music."

One thing you might watch out for in the third act - Goerke says she gets so emotionally caught up in Wagner's music that she tends to cry and can't count the number of shirts she's ruined that her leading men were wearing.

Die Walküre runs April 18 - May 3. With this five-hour opera, please note the earlier start times at night. 6 p.m. Saturdays, Wednesday and Thursday and 2 p.m. Sundays. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. Sung in German with projected English translation. For information visit houstongrandopera.org or call 713-228-6737. $20-$396.

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