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As Brünnhilde in Harry Kupfer’s 1988 staging of Wagner’s Ring des 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” (with Barenboim 1988, with Levine 1994), 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.
Polaski’s other Wagner repertoire consisted 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.
She is renowned as one of the greatest Isoldes. In 1984 she debuted as the Irish maid in Freiburg, later sang this role 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 Abbado, in Florence with Mehta, in Berlin with Barenboim, in Barcelona with de Billy, in Hamburg with Young and in Vienna with Welser-Möst. Recorded excerpts in this role can be heard on Oehms recording label. Many of her Wagner performances are also released on DVD.
Her career was also dominated by some of Strauss’ great heroines—the Marschallin, the Dyer’s Wife and Ariadne. 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 Bychkov. At the opening premiere of the 2013-14 season of the Bavarian state opera, Polaski sang her first Amme in Die Frau ohne Schatten, conducted by Petrenko.
Other significant roles included 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. She augmented her extensive repertoire with lesser-known works such as Dukas’ Ariane et Barbe-Bleu, Dallapiccolas’ Il Prigioniero and Schoenbergs’ Erwartung.
During the last decade of her professional singing career, Deborah Polaski accepted invitations to give masterclasses at numerous music festivals, renowned music schools, conservatories and opera institutions. At the conclusion of her active stage career in 2015, she intensified her commitment to teaching, both in masterclasses and in her private studio. Her continuing goal is to pass on her knowledge and experience to assist and guide singers in their individual careers. Deborah Polaski is also a much sought after jury member for vocal competitions.
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 Austrian Kammersängerin. In 2010 she received an Honorary Doctor in Performing Arts from the University of Cincinnati. In 2015 she was named “Member of Honor” of the Berlin State Opera.