Christine Goerke might be playing a goddess from the halls of Valhalla in Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle at The Metropolitan Opera starting March 25 in New York City but she is completely grounded in her Long Island roots.
Before she takes the stage, GreaterPatchogue took the time to catch up with one of our own.
A South Shore girl
Before she scored her debut role at The Metropolitan Opera in New York City as Brünnhilde — the Valkyrie goddess in Wagner’s Ring cycle.
Before she appeared on stage at some of the world’s major opera houses.
Or won the Distinguished Alumni Award from Stony Brook University.
Or appeared on Grammy-award winning recordings, Goerke was a band geek at Patchogue-Medford High School.
“Total band geek,” Goerke said. “I was the 6-foot teenager who played the bass clarinet and baritone sax and who was one of the captains of the color guard in the marching band.”
We’re talking big-time band geek.
“And proud of it, may I say,” she added.
In an email interview, Goerke told GreaterPatchogue she grew up in the 70s riding a bike with a banana seat on the streets of Medford. She climbed trees, played kickball with her friends in the court at the end of her street, played in her spacious backyard and had dirt bomb wars with her neighbors.
“We looked forward to spending warm days near the water in Patchogue near the bandshell, and going shopping at Sweezey’s on Main Street.” she said.
Forget about everything you might think you know about world-renowned opera singers.
Goerke will shatter that image.
“You’ll laugh, but when I am traveling and am feeling very homesick I find episodes of the Long Island Medium to watch — just to hear Theresa talk for a while!”
A profile in Opera News described her as “clearly a Long Island girl, with a big voice and a booming personality — a diva with little pretense and lots of volume.”
Goerke went to SUNY Fredonia, where she eventually gave up playing clarinet and made her way back to Long Island to study voice at Stony Brook University. She was accepted at The Metropolitan Opera’s Young Artist Development Program in 1994.
Out of all the training Goerke has received over her career she still fondly recalls her old music teacher.
“Without a doubt the person that greatly inspired me to pursue a career in music was our then-band director at Patchogue-Medford High School, Mr. Peter Randazzo,” she said.
She remembers him most for his infectious style of teaching.
“He was full of life and exuded such joy when it came to teaching and music making,” she said. “It was utterly impossible not to be affected by his huge personality, knowledge, and heart.”
typical working mom
Like many other women, Goerke has to juggle her career with her role as a mom. She insists that, like every other household with two working parents, she and her husband have to maintain a work/life balance.
“My job is just slightly different than a standard Monday through Friday, 9-5 job,” she said.
Her advice on parenting is probably not much different than anyone else’s, either.
“Be there for your family as often as you can. Communicate. Try to be truly present for each other in the time that you have together — and never neglect yourself.”
She is adamant that parents take time for themselves.
“I try to remember to place the oxygen mask over my own head before trying to help others,” she said, though lamented: “I usually fail spectacularly at that particular goal.”
Goerke is also known for her sense of humor. A New York Times article refers to her as a cross between “the great Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson and Tina Fey.”
She doesn’t get recognized all that much for her operatic accomplishments when she’s out in public, which is something she is very much okay with.
“It’s not who I am,” she said. “I love my job so much but I prefer to leave it at the theater.”
She tells a story of shopping at the grocery store a few years ago with her eldest daughter, who was 7 at the time. Her daughter asked why no one wanted to talk to her. Goerke was confused and asked her daughter what she meant.
“She announced loudly, ‘Well don’t they know you’re famous?!’”
Goerke explained to her daughter laughingly that not everyone knows that much about opera.
“The fact that she thought it was important, that she was my fan, that was the best feeling of all,” she said.
a Norse goddess
In Brünnhilde, Goerke embodies a role that only a few other sopranos can do as well, one that draws in fans of the ring from all over the world when a full cycle is performed like it will be at The Metropolitan Opera this year.
“It’s always an honor to sing there,” she said. “But there is a rather short list of ladies who have had the honor to sing this role on that stage. I’m beyond humbled to be given a chance to join their ranks.”
In that same New York Times preview of Goerke, the reporter wrote “great Wagnerian sopranos are few and far between… Ms. Goerke’s success has been big news in the opera world, which is usually grateful for singers who can merely get through such parts relatively unscathed.”
She’s performed the role of Brünnhilde before, but this is her first time singing the role in all three operas as part of the Ring Cycle.
She says her entire past has been preparing her for this big moment.
“Honestly, I have come in knowing my music, having studied my vocal technique, and will place one foot on the stage and ride the wave,” she said. “That’s the joy and magic of live performance. It is never the same. And it is always electric.”
While the role is familiar, performing it at The Met is something different and special. When she talks about it, she looks at it from the perspective of that band geek from Medford.
“As a New Yorker, it’s my ‘home house,’” she wrote in an email. “It’s where I trained as a young singer. All of that, in addition to the fact that it is the METROPOLITAN OPERA. This is the stage on which so many of the greatest singers in the world have stood and offered their art.”
As Goerke describes it, Brünnhilde grows from a “know it all” teenager into a vulnerable, frightened young woman who falls in love for the first time. She develops into a scorned woman full of vengeance before she finds peace and wisdom — opening the way for sacrifice and salvation.
It’s a heroic story arc deserving of a goddess.
“She is a remarkable gift of a character,” Goerke said of the part.
It’s also a cycle that the soprano knows well.
Goerke had to struggle at one point in her career when she almost quit after she had trouble singing the roles she had excelled at early on. She came back stronger than ever and with an even bigger voice, one able to take on Brünnhilde in a full cycle.
Starting on March 25, Goerke will be appearing in what is arguably the most monumental operas ever performed on one of the biggest stages in the world. Yet, no matter where her career take her, she still thinks fondly of her hometown.
“I loved growing up on Long Island,” she said. “It will always be home in my heart, no matter where I am in the world.”
thinking of going?
From the The Metropolitan Opera website:
Opera’s supreme experience returns to the Met this spring for the first time in six seasons, with three complete cycles of Wagner’s Ring featuring a cast of magnificent Wagnerians, led by the thrilling Christine Goerke making her Met role debut as Brünnhilde.
Philippe Jordan conducts Robert Lepage’s breathtaking production, which faithfully presents every detail of Wagner’s immortal libretto. You can get tickets and find out more at www.metopera.org.
Featured photo: Die Walküre
Richard Wagner; dress rehearsal photographed: Monday, March 15, 2019; 10:30 AM at The Metropolitan Opera; New York, NY. Photograph: © 2019 Richard Termine
PHOTO CREDIT – Richard Termine