German-Italian soprano Anja Kampe created a sensation with her portrayal of Sieglinde in the Washington National Opera's production of Wagner's Die Walküre in 2003. "Not a soul had left DAR Constitution Hall" after four-and-a-half hours of singing, noted Washington Post critic Ken Ringle. "Something historic was clearly going on." Kampe was born in a small town in Communist East Germany, where she heard local folk songs from her mother. Turned away from a filled guitar class at age nine, she accepted a vocal class as second choice. As a teenager, she toured Eastern Europe with a music school orchestra and studying singing in Dresden.
Kampe escaped from the totalitarian world when she married an Italian man and moved to Italy in 1989. She became thoroughly Italianized and claims to speak Italian more easily than German. This cross-cultural move put her at risk of falling between the cracks in the vocal world; she was thought of as too German for Italian roles and too Italian for German ones. Her debut came in Turin in 1991, in an Italian-language production of Hänsel und Gretel. Kampe struggled during the 1990s, working as a babysitter and as a translator to make ends meet. In the year 2000, however, her vocal coach urged her to take on Wagner's music, and her career shot upwards. Kampe sang the role of Freia in Das Rheingold at the Wagnerian shrine of Bayreuth in 2002 and followed that up with her widely acclaimed Washington appearance as Sieglinde, opposite Plácido Domingo, the following year.