As Brünnhilde in Harry Kupfer’s 1988 staging of Richard Wagner’s Ring der Nibelungen in Bayreuth, Deborah Polaski emerged as one of the world’s most promising dramatic sopranos. In two consecutive Ring cycles on the “Grüner Hügel”, (the first with Daniel Barenboim, the second with James Levine), she sang this role more than any other soprano since the Second World War. Although she had already sung in opera houses such as La Scala, Munich and Berlin, it was after her debut in Bayreuth, that she received offers to sing in all of the world’s major opera houses: Paris, London, New York, Sydney, Barcelona, Dresden, Vienna and Salzburg, to name just a few.
In addition to Brünnhilde, Polaski’s other Wagner repertoire consists of demanding roles such as Tannhäuser’s Venus, The Flying Dutchman’s Senta, Lohengrin’s Ortrud, Walkyrie’s Sieglinde, Parsifal’s Kundry and Tristan’s Isolde. These are some of the longest and dramatically most complex roles ever composed. After much reflection Deborah Polaski adds to each of these roles her own special mixture of lyric beauty, strength and depth of character, vulnerability, power, sensitivity and effervescence.
Irrefutably she is also renowned as one of the greatest Isoldes. In 1984 she confronted the role in Freiburg, later then in Amsterdam and Stuttgart. Ultimately, however, the production in Dresden in 1995 provided the opportunity to consummate the role. Since then she has sung Isolde in Salzburg and Tokyo with Claudio Abbado, in Florence with Zubin Mehta, in Berlin with Daniel Barenboim, in Barcelona with Bertrand de Billy, in Hamburg with Simone Young and in Vienna with Franz Welser-Möst. Recorded excerpts of her performance can be heard on Oehms recording label. Many of her Wagner performances are also released on DVD.
The great heroines in Richard Strauss’ operas such as the Marschallin, the Dyer’s Wife and Ariadne have dominated her career throughout. Her exceptional and publicly acclaimed Elektra is, however, her most predominant Strauss role. Since her role debut in 1984, Polaski has set new standards singing Elektra almost 200 times worldwide with some of the most important conductors and directors in Berlin, Paris, Sydney, Munich, Chicago, Dresden, Milan, Florence, Leipzig, Cologne, Dresden, Salzburg, London, Zurich, New York, and Vienna. She has recorded it twice, once with Barenboim and an uncut version with Semyon Bychkov. At the opening premiere of the 2013-14 season of the Bavarian state opera, Polaski will sing her first Amme in Die Frau ohne Schatten, conducted by Kirill Petrenko.
Other significant roles include Marie in Wozzeck, Kostelnička in Jenůfa, Kabanicha in Kátja Kabanová, Zia Principessa in Suor Angelica, Cassandre and Didon in Les Troyens, Madame de Croissy in Les Dialogues de Carmélites, Leonore in Fidelio, into which she psychologically probes and explores the mind of each character. With such lesser known works such as Dukas’ Ariane et Barbe-Bleu, Dallapiccolas’ Il Prigioniero and Schoenbergs’ Erwartung she has, most recently, augmented her already extensive repertoire.
In concert she has been invited to sing with the most celebrated orchestras in the world. In Avery Fischer Hall in New York, under the baton of Lorin Maazel, she has appeared with the New York Philharmonic. In Carnegie Hall she sang with Pierre Boulez and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and with Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In Vienna she performed in the Musikverein with Georges Prêtres and Fabio Luisi and in the Vienna Konzerthaus with de Billy. Further collaborations include performances with Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic and Levine and the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra.
Her affiliation with Barenboim has included concerts with the Staatskapelle in the Berlin Philharmonie and in the Berlin Konzerthaus, and performances with the home orchestras in the Chicago Symphony Hall and in La Salle Pleyel in Paris. As a recitalist she collaborated with Barenboim and with Charles Spencer, which culminated in a CD recording of Brahms Songs. Together they have performed in some of the finest recital halls worldwide.
In 2003, in recognition of her accomplishment as an artist of distinguished quality and subsequent contribution to Viennese cultural life, the Austrian government rendered her the prestigious title of Kammersänger. In 2010 she received an Honorary Doctorate in Performing Arts from the University of Cincinnati.
In collaboration with Dana McKay, 2012