Cheryl Studer

Cheryl Studer (born October 24, 1955) is an American dramatic soprano[1] who has sung at many of the world's foremost opera houses. Studer has performed more than eighty roles ranging from the dramatic repertoire to roles more commonly associated with lyric sopranos and coloratura sopranos, and, in her late stage, mezzo-sopranos. She is particularly known for her interpretations of the works of Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner.

Early life and education

Studer was born in Midland, Michigan, to Carl W. Studer and Elizabeth (born Smith) Studer, as one of three children.[2]

She studied piano and viola as a child, and began voice lessons at age 12 with Gwendolyn Pike, a local opera singer and voice teacher.[3]

She attended Herbert Henry Dow High School,[4] then transferred to the Interlochen Arts Academy for her junior and senior years and graduated from there in 1974. Following high school, Studer studied at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music but left the program after a year, deciding to move with her family to Tennessee. She continued her studies at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Vocal Performance in 1979.[3] Studer won several awards and competitions during this time, including the High Fidelity/Musical America Award in 1977 and the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 1978.[5]

In the summer of 1979, Studer attended a course for foreign students on the art of the German Lied at the Schubert Institute in Baden bei Wien, Austria. In this program, Studer's teachers included Irmgard Seefried, Brigitte Fassbaender, and Hans Hotter. Hotter convinced Studer to remain in Europe to study further with him at the Hochschule für Musik und darstellende Kunst, Vienna. Studer studied with Hotter for one year before launching out on her professional career.[6] In 1979, she won the Franz-Schubert-Institut-Preis for excellence in Lied interpretation.[7]



In 1981, Studer was hired as a permanent member of the Bavarian State Opera by Wolfgang Sawallisch. She remained with the company for two consecutive seasons, singing mostly minor roles in their productions. Her lead roles at the Bavarian State Opera included the title role in Carl Maria von Weber's Euryanthe and Mařenka The Bartered Bride.[8] It was while working with the Bavarian State Opera that Studer was first encouraged to study the works of Richard Wagner and the dramatic soprano repertoire. Up to this point she had focused mostly on the bel canto repertoire, with her only foray into German repertoire up to that point being through Lieder. She made her professional opera debut with the company as Helmwige in Wagner's Die Walküre.[9]

At the end of the 1981-82 season, she left the Munich ensemble to join the Staatstheater Darmstadt for two seasons. In the spring of 1983, Studer took her first major role as Violetta in Verdi's La traviata with the Staatstheater Braunschweig. This was followed by two more important roles the following summer: Irene in Wagner's Rienzi and Drola in Wagner's Die Feen, under the direction of Wolfgang Sawallisch at the Bavarian State Opera's Summer Music Festival. In 1984, Studer left the Staatstheater Darmstadt to become a permanent member of the Deutsche Oper Berlin ensemble. She stayed with the company for two full seasons. She made her US opera debut the same year with the Lyric Opera of Chicago as Micaëla in Carmen.

In 1985, Studer performed as Elisabeth in Wagner's Tannhäuser under Giuseppe Sinopoli at the Bayreuth Festival. Positive reviews of this performance quickly led Studer to more prominent leading roles.[10]

In 1986, Studer made her debut at the Liceu as Freia in Wagner's Das Rheingold and her debut at Opéra de Paris as Pamina in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte. That same year, she made her debut with the San Francisco Opera as Eva in Wagner's Die Meistersinger. In 1987, Studer made her debut with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, as Elisabeth in Wagner's Tannhäuser and her debut at La Scala as Donna Anna in Mozart's Don Giovanni. In 1988, Studer made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Micaëla in Bizet's Carmen. That same year she returned to La Scala to perform the role of Mathilde in Rossini's William Tell. She sang Agathe in Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischütz at the Théâtre Musical de Paris.[11]

In 1989, she made her Vienna State Opera and Salzburg Festival debuts playing the same role, Chrysothemis in Richard Strauss' Elektra. That same year, Studer received the Grand Prix du Disque – Prix Maria Callas. Also in 1989, she returned to La Scala to perform the role of La Duchesse Hélène in Verdi's I vespri siciliani and made her debut with the Opera Company of Philadelphia in the title role of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor.[12]


In 1990, Studer returned to the Metropolitan Opera to sing the role of Donna Anna in Mozart's Don Giovanni. That same year, Studer sang the role of Elsa in Richard Wagner's Lohengrin at the Vienna State Opera. In 1991, Studer performed two more roles at the Met, Elettra in Mozart's Idomeneo and Violetta in Verdi's La traviata. She sang the role of Gilda in act 3 of Verdi's Rigoletto at the Metropolitan Opera's 25th Anniversary Gala, opposite Luciano Pavarotti and Leo Nucci.[13] In 1990, she also sang Odabella in Verdi's Attila at La Scala and Countess Almaviva in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Vienna State Opera.

In 1995, she sang the role of Princess von Werdenberg in Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier for the first time at the Salzburg Festival. Also in 1995, Studer appeared in concert with her hometown orchestra, the Midland Symphony Orchestra, in Midland, Michigan, during the orchestra's 60th anniversary season.[14] In 1996, Studer sang the same role at the Vienna State Opera. That same year, Studer returned to the Royal Opera to sing the title role of Richard Strauss' Arabella and revisited the title role in Aïda opposite Waltraud Meier as Amneris in performances at the Bavarian State Opera. She sang Leonore in Beethoven's Fidelio at the Salzburg Festival in 1997 conducted by Sir Georg Solti.[9]

In 1998, she sang Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus and Sieglinde in Die Walküre at the Bavarian State Opera.[15] That same year she also sang Primadonna/Ariadne in Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos at the Munich Nationaltheater.[16]

In February 1998 Studer performed with Thomas Hampson, Jerry Hadley, and Craig Rutenberg for the program I Hear America Singing at the Barbican Centre in London. In July 1998, she sang a Liederabend for the Richard Wagner Society at the Markgräfliches Opernhaus (Margravial or Margrave's Opera House) in Bayreuth celebrating the 250th anniversary of the house. During the late 1990s, Studer had a period of vocal problems that led to the Bavarian State Opera canceling her contracts in 1998, but after a brief time off the stage, her performances indicated a return to form and the Bavarian State Opera renewed her contract for fourteen more performances.[17]


In 2000 Studer returned to the Metropolitan Opera to sing the role of Princess von Werdenberg (the Marschallin) in Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier. That same year, Studer sang the title role of Richard Strauss' Arabella at the Zürich Opera. She also filled in as a last minute Sieglinde in Die Walküre at the Bayreuth Festival substituting for an ailing Waltraud Meier.[9]

In 2000, she also sang Richard Strauss' Four Last Songs with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by David Zinman substituting for an ailing Claudio Abbado. She also sang the Walküre Brünnhilde' in concert in Budapest with the Budapest Festival Orchestra under the direction of Iván Fischer. In February 2001, Studer sang the role of the Kaiserin (Empress) in Richard Strauss' Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Dresden Semperoper conducted by Giuseppe Sinopoli. She revisited the role at the Vienna State Opera in 2002 in the Robert Carsen production. Around this time, Studer also sang back-to-back performances of the Kaiserin and the Marschallin at the Semperoper conducted by Dietfried Bernet. In June 2001, Studer sang Elisabeth in performances of Werner Herzog's production of Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser at the Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.[18]

Studer can be heard singing the "Ave Maria" from Verdi's Otello in the soundtrack to the 2001 Hollywood film, O.

In February 2002 she made a rare U.S. appearance singing Isolde's Liebestod with the Indianapolis Symphony.[19]

In January 2003, Studer sang the soprano part in Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in Berlin during UNESCO's official designation of the symphony's manuscript as Memory of the World.[20] In January 2003, she sang the Marschallin in Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier at La Scala in Milan in performances conducted by Jeffrey Tate. In May 2003, she sang her last performances as Senta in Wagner's The Flying Dutchman at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. Later that year, in another series of rare U.S. appearances, Studer performed excerpts from Richard Wagner operas with the St. Louis Symphony, tenor Mark Baker and bass Eric Halfvarson under the direction of Asher Fisch. St. Louis Post-Dispatch music critic Sarah Bryan Miller praised the performances which included act 1 of Die Walküre and Isolde's Liebestod. A week after the concerts, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an article by Bryan Miller criticizing the management of the St. Louis Symphony for "dropping the baton" in promoting the performances.

Also in 2003, she gave a Liederabend "In Memoriam Maria Callas" in Athens, Greece with pianist Charles Spencer,[21] featuring songs and Lieder by Verdi, Wagner, Barber, Richard Strauss, and Copland.

In March 2004, Studer sang her first complete Isoldes in three concert performances of the work, in Münster, Germany, opposite the Tristan of tenor Wolfgang Schmidt. Before these complete Isoldes, she had sung excerpts from all three acts of Tristan und Isolde in Gießen, Germany (in 1999), opposite the Tristan of tenor Heikki Siukola.

In October 2005, Studer sang the role of Sieglinde in Richard Wagner's first-ever Ring Cycle in China, at Beijing's Poly Theatre. The cycle was produced by Stephen Lawless for the Staatstheater Nürnberg and the performances were conducted by Philippe Auguin. In November 2005 it was reported, but never confirmed, that Studer had suffered a mild heart attack, forcing her to cancel a number of scheduled concerts in Spain.[22]

In June 2007, Studer gave a series of Masterclasses and an all-Richard Strauss Lieder recital with pianist Semyon Skigin in St. Petersburg, Russia. In August 2007, also with pianist Semyon Skigin, she sang an all-Richard Strauss Lieder recital at Villa Wahnfried, Bayreuth. In February 2008, Studer gave a Lieder recital at Teatro Villamarta in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain with pianist Jonathan Alder, featuring Lieder by Schumann, Brahms, Mahler, and Richard Strauss.[23] Later that year in October 2008, Studer gave another Lieder recital at Drake University with pianist Nicholas Roth, featuring songs and Lieder by Rossini, Ravel, Massenet, Albéniz, Brahms, Barber, and Richard Strauss.[24][25]

In November 2008, she gave another recital in Germany with Dutch pianist Fred Oldenburg featuring Lieder by Schumann, Brahms, Mahler, and Richard Strauss.[26] In August 2009, Studer sang Richard Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder in Berlin, Germany as part of the short-lived Berlin International Music Festival. Michael Wendeberg conducted the Festival orchestra.[27]


On 9 July 2010, Studer made her directorial debut in a new production of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia at the Bayerische Kammeroper in Würzburg, Germany.[28]

In May 2011, she won the Terras sam Sombra International Prize.[29] Later that year, in November 2011, she appeared in concert in Nuremberg and Antwerp, Belgium, with the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra and its Chief Music Director, Alexander Shelley. The all-Wagner concerts, also featuring Belgian bass-baritone Wilfried Van den Brande,[30] were recorded and will be released as part of the orchestra's "Nürnberger Symphoniker Live" series.[31]

Studer has begun a transition into a lower voice range. In December 2011 she appeared as Gertrud in performances of Engelbert Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel at the Hamburg State Opera.[32] She revisited the role in 2013, also in Hamburg. In 2012 she was a recipient of the Ovation Award by the Interlochen Center for the Arts.[33]

In 2014, she played Adelaide in Richard Strauss' Arabella at the Hamburg State Opera.[34] Also in 2014, she presided over the 38th International Maria Callas Grand Prix for Opera to be held in Athens, Greece.[35]

In October 2016 Studer sang the Overseer/Confidant (Die Vertraute/Die Aufseherin) in the late Patrice Chéreau's production of Richard Strauss' Elektra at the Staatsoper Berlin, conducted by Daniel Barenboim.[36] In December 2016, she sang the role of Nettie Fowler in Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical Carousel at Theater Basel in Switzerland, in a run of performances through April 2017.[37] In September 2018, Studer sang the contralto role of Mamma Lucia in a new production of Pietro Mascagni's opera Cavalleria rusticana at Oper Graz in Austria.[38]

Masterclasses, opera workshops, adjudication

Since October 2003, Studer has a lifetime professorship from the Bavarian State and teaches at the University of Music in Würzburg.[39] She is also honorary professor at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing.[40] Studer conducts a yearly series of master classes and opera workshops at her own North Aegean Music Festival in the island of Lesbos, Greece.[41] She conducts Master Classes internationally (USA, Greece, South Korea, China, Spain, Italy and Germany).[42]

Personal life

Studer is married to Greek tenor Michalis Doukakis and has lived in Germany for most of her life. From previous marriages, Studer has two daughters, Elsa and Senta, named after characters from Richard Wagner operas. The elder, Senta, is a pop music singer. Her first solo album, Happy, was released in January 2014.[43]


Complete opera recordings

Concert recordings

Solo recordings


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  40. "Central Conservatory of Music /". Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  41. "North Aegean Music Festival". Retrieved 5 June 2015.
  42. "Cheryl Studer Masterclasses". Retrieved 5 June 2015.
  43. "Senta Studer website". Retrieved 5 June 2015.
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