From Mozartian Classicism to the coloratura of Rossini and Donizetti, and the lyricism of Wagner to the intimacy of Lieder, American soprano Cheryl Studer has encompassed a range of styles and repertoire unmatched by any other singer of her time. Her distinctive voice, with its radiant sheen and pin-point accuracy, has excelled in roles as diverse as Mozart's Queen of the Night and Carlisle Floyd's Susannah.
Born in Midland, Michigan, Studer learned piano and viola from an early age, but it was the records brought home by her radio engineer mother that put her on the path to a singing career, most notably Maria Callas's Callas à Paris disc, which fulfilled Gramophone magazine's assertion that "Records like this change people's lives" by inspiring her to take vocal lessons. After studies at Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and before completing her degree at the University of Tennessee, she was spotted by Leonard Bernstein, and spent three summers at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood. Studer's love of Lieder then took her, in 1979, to a course in Austria, where her tutor, the legendary bass-baritone Hans Hotter, recommended that she continue her vocal studies in Vienna. Her first professional operatic engagements, with the Bayerische Staatsoper, followed soon after, but her first major role was Violetta in La traviata in Braunschweig in 1983. She very quickly joined the ranks of the world's leading sopranos with debuts at Bayreuth, Paris, La Scala, Covent Garden, and the Met in a range of roles: Elisabeth in Tannhäuser, Mathilde in Guglielmo Tell and Micaëla in Carmen. Soon in demand in Vienna, she added a host of Strauss heroines to her repertoire, from Chrysothemis in Elektra to the Empress in Die Frau ohne Schatten, as well as continuing to shine in the bel canto roles of Lucia and Semiramide and singing her first Aida.
While Studer has been a professor at the Hochschule für Musik Würzburg since 2003, and in recent years sung mezzo roles, a rich legacy of recordings from the 1980s and 90s preserves her legendary versatility, among them two Grammy Award-winners, Susannah and Götterdämmerung. But Strauss was the composer whose music she explored most, and as she herself acknowledged in mid-career, "My voice is naturally suited to Strauss. His music always reminds me of the sheer enjoyment of singing – it's just one soaring phrase after another."