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Ortrun Wenkel (born 25 October 1942, Buttstädt, Thuringia) is a German operatic contralto. She notably portrayed the role of Erda in Patrice Chéreau's 1976 Ring production which was conducted by Pierre Boulez and won 1983 a Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording as prinipal soloist for the recording of this production (Deutsche Grammophon).
The German contralto, Ortrun Wenkel, started her studies at the Franz Liszt Hochschule für Musik in Weimar. Following the emigration from the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) towards the Bundesrepublik Deutschland, she continued at the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Frankfurt am Main with Paul Lohmann (masterclass) and then with Elsa Cavelti. Ortrun Wenkel began her career in 1964 as concert and oratorio soloist when she was still a student. She dedicated herself above all to the Baroque music, and appeared at major international festivals (English Bach Festival, Festival du Marais, Flandern Festival, Holland Festival) and also for concerts at the Salle Pleyel (Paris), the Royal Festival Hall (London), Tonhalle (Zurich) and the Wiener Musikvereinssaal. However, she decided then also to turn to a stage career. In 1971 she made her stage debut at the City Theatre of Heidelberg as a title role in Orpheus by Gluck. 1975 she became a member of the Bayerische Staatsoper where she called attention to Wolfgang Wagner who immediately engaged her for Erda in Richard Wagners Ring des Nibelungen at the Bayreuth Festival 1976 (“Centenary Ring”, Patrice Chereau/Pierre Boulez). For her performance of Erda (Rheingold, Siegfried) and 1. Norn (Götterdämmerung) in this production she was awarded 1982 a Grammy as “a Principal Soloist”. Ortrun Wenkel appeared at the most important opera houses of the world (Deutsche Oper Berlin, Opéra Garnier Paris, Milan Scala, Royal Opera London, as well as Rome, the opera houses of Munich, Stuttgart, Zurich, Geneva, Lisboa, Venice, Prague, among others), concert halls include the Berlin Philharmonie, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Accademia di Santa Cecilia Rome, Teatro Colón Buenos Aires, Kennedy Center Washington and Carnegie Hall New York. During the 1980- ies, she appeared repeatedly in Marcel Parwys TV productions “Gute Laune mit Musik” and “Ihre Melodie”.
Since her concert debut 1964, Ortrun Wenkel is continuously performing, and she worked with many of the prominent conductors, e. g. Gerd Albrecht, Pierre Boulez, Riccardo Chailly, Colin Davis, Christoph von Dohnányi, Christoph Eschenbach, Bernard Haitink, Marek Janowski, Erich Leinsdorf, Riccardo Muti, Vaclav Neumann, Seiji Ozawa, Giuseppe Sinopoli, Ulf Schirmer, and Klaus Tennstedt. During the past years, she had several noteworthy role-debuts, e. g. Fricka, Waltraute at the Graz Opera, Klytämnestra (Richard Strauss Elektra) at the Budapest Spring Festival and Freiburg, 2002/2003 the title role in Aribert Reimann’s Bernarda Albas Haus in the Swiss First Night at the Bern Opera, and 2012 Filipjewna (Eugen Onegin) at the Staatstheater Saarbrücken. Besides the classical-romantic repertoire of Operas, Oratorio and Lieder, Ortrun Wenkel dedicated herself also towards works of contemporary music, working together with Hans Werner Henze, Kryzsztof Penderecki and Aribert Reimann. Hans Werner Henze composed for her the revision of Richard Wagners Wesendoncklieder for Alto and chamber orchestra, and she performed the First Night under his direction at the WDR in 1977. 1999 she performed Magda Schneider in Gerd Kühr’s/Peter Turrini‘s “Tod und Teufel” world premiere during the Steirischer Herbst in Graz. Ortrun Wenkel is also renowned for giving recitals all over the world, accompanied e. g. by Geoffrey Parsons, Rudolf Jansen, Phillip Moll and Erik Werba.
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