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Roberta KnieMarch 13, 1938 ~ March 16, 2017 (age 79)
The Washington Post wrote in 1978, “Roberta Knie may today be the foremost soprano for the large Wagner roles. She is the most impressive artist to appear in this repertoire for years.” The dramatic soprano mantle of her generation had been passed to Roberta Knie from distinguished predecessors Kirsten Flagstad, Marta Mödl, Astrid Varnay and Birgit Nilsson.
Ms. Knie did not just appear overnight. From 1964 until 1974 she was carefully nurtured in the opera houses of Graz, Freiburg and Hagen by musicians with direct links to the musical past. Leopold Hager, protégé of maestro Felix Paumgartner, head of the Mozarteum, Salzburg; Peter Lehman, assistant and protégé to Wieland Wagner; Berislav Klobuçar; Lovro von Matiçiç; and Horst Stein were some of the conductors who coached her in many roles. She studied the music, language and style of Richard Strauss with Gustav Cerney, assistant to Clemens Krauss, and she learned and restudied the roles of Elsa, Elisabeth in Tannhäuser, Isolde, Senta and the Ring Cycle Brünnhildes with Maximillian Kojetinsky, Studienleiter in Bayreuth for thirty-five years beginning under Siegfried Wagner.
Ms. Knie’s extensive operatic repertoire included Mozart’s Donna Anna, Fiordiligi, the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro and Elektra in Idomeneo; Verdi’s Lady Macbeth, Leonora in Il Trovatore, Leonora in La Forza del Destino, Elisabetta in Don Carlos, and Desdemona. She sang Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, Tosca, Minnie in La Fanciulla del West, Turandot and Strauss’ Salome, Chrysothemis and Die Feldmarschallin in Der Rosenkavalier as well as all of the Wagner heroines. She performed frequently with major international orchestras including the Philadelphia Orchestra under Zubin Mehta, the Cleveland Orchestra under Lorin Maazel and Erich Leinsdorf and the Paris Radio Orchestra under Giuseppe Patané.
At the Vienna State Opera between 1971 and 1974 Ms. Knie was a frequent guest as Fidelio, Senta, Tosca and Salome. In 1974 she made her debut in Bayreuth as Brünnhilde in Die Walküre, a role she later sang in Paris, San Francisco and Münchener Festwochen. She returned to Bayreuth in 1976 to sing the three Brünnhildes in the centennial production of Der Ring des Niebelungen.
In 1976 Ms. Knie made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Chrysothemis in Elektra. The New York post wrote “She has a healthy, expressive soprano. It was a first class debut and it’s a delight to hear exactly this kind of voice at the Met.” Ms. Knie returned to the Metropolitan Opera in 1980 as Isolde.
Ms. Knie performed her first Tristan und Isolde in a Wieland Wagner production at Ravenna with Hermin Esser as Tristan in 1975. Since then she has sung more than sixty performances of the opera with Tristans including Jess Thomas, Spass Wenkoff, and Jean Cox. It is as Isolde, with Jon Vickers as Tristan that she made her debuts with the Dallas Opera, The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Chicago Lyric Opera and the Canadian Opera Company.
Ms. Knie received glowing acclaim for her performances of the title role in Salome which she first sang in Graz in 1971, and then performed in Vienna, Munich, Buenos Aires, Lisbon, Brussels, Pittsburg, Dallas and New Orleans. Opera News reported, “Her singing was of a splendor, a fascination, a freshness and youthfulness which lacks contemporary parallel. And I wonder if there was ever a Salome quite as right physically as Ms. Knie? As she is today’s Isolde, she is today’s Salome as well.”
As Roberta was studying the role of Strauss’ Elektra, she was diagnosed with a weakened retina in one eye and a detaching retina in the other. She stopped singing in order to keep her sight.
Since 1987 she has devoted herself to teaching, coaching and counseling singers. She was Guest Professor at the Hochshule für Musik und darstellende Kunst in Graz, Austria from 1992 until 1995. In 1995 she returned to the United States and currently maintains a private voice studio in Philadelphia and New York City; is an Artist-in-Residence on the faculty of The Boyer College of Music and Dance at Temple University in Philadelphia; frequently judges vocal competitions; and counsels professional singers and conducts master classes. She offers to her students her first-hand knowledge of voices and repertoire as well as her vast experience in learning roles; developing and using complete mental and physical concentration; and the importance of musical accuracy and stylistic phrasing. She passes on invaluable information regarding the business of singing from her intimate knowledge of the complexities in dealing with conductors, managers, agents, opera houses and their general managers. Ms. Knie’s European students and her American students continue to be hired in major European opera houses, Canada, the New York City Opera and the Metropolitan Opera.
Born and raised in Cordell, Oklahoma, Roberta Knie is a graduate of the University of Okalahoma. She attended London’s Royal Academy of Music and studied with Dame Eva Turner. Subsequent teachers have included Kammersänger Max Lorenz, soprano Eleanor Steber, and Professor Jack Harrold. Ms Knie is a member of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame and is also listed in Who’s Who in Opera (First Edition), Who’s Who in America (Forty- first Edition) and Who’s Who in the World (Sixth Edition).
Ms. Knie can be seen on video and DVD in a release by Video Artists International of the Canadian Opera production of extended excerpts from Tristan und Isolde with Roberta Knie and Jon Vickers in the title roles.
She can be heard on a recently released CD with Maestro Lovro von Mataçiç in an all Wagner program singing the “Liebestod” from Tristan und Isolde and “Starke Scheite” from Götterdämmerung.