Jeannine Altmeyer

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This American soprano, lithe and blond, struck those who heard her early in her career as having the potential to become a formidable singer of Wagner and Strauss. Jeannine Altmeyer has largely fulfilled…
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This American soprano, lithe and blond, struck those who heard her early in her career as having the potential to become a formidable singer of Wagner and Strauss. Jeannine Altmeyer has largely fulfilled that promise, although her instrument did not grow to full heroic proportions. In the less cavernous reaches of European houses, she has produced ample quantities of tone; even in Chicago and New York, it has been evident that hers is a large voice with estimable carrying power and that its sound is firm and often quite beautiful. Describing herself as a California girl, Altmeyer studied first with Betty Olssen and later at the Music Academy of the West at Santa Barbara with Martial Singher and Lotte Lehmann. With the former baritone, she underwent some difficult times as the well-disciplined and stylistically sensitive Singher pushed her to be more focused on her studies and to work harder. After further studies with Lehmann in Europe and with George London, Altmeyer won the Metropolitan Opera National Auditions in 1970 and was engaged to make her Metropolitan debut as the Celestial Voice in Don Carlo on September 25, 1971. Her Chicago debut took place less than two months later on November 13 when she sang the role of Freia in Wagner's Das Rheingold. Patrons listened keenly to her sizeable, lustrous voice as they looked approvingly at what they viewed as a budding Wagnerian goddess. When the Lyric Opera mounted Die Götterdämmerung in 1974, Altmeyer was back, this time as Gutrune and sounding ever more like a future Brünnhilde. For her European debut at the 1973 Salzburg Festival, Freia was again the role as it was for the Zurich Opera in 1975. Beginning in 1975, Altmeyer was engaged in Stuttgart and during her half decade there was assigned the role of Sieglinde for the controversial Boulez/Chéreau Ring cycle celebrating the 1976 Bayreuth Festival centenary. Paired with the thick-voiced but handsome Peter Hoffmann as Siegmund, Altmeyer made a major impression, bolstered by global broadcast of the production followed by commercially released audio and video recordings. Within years of her Bayreuth debut, Altmeyer was singing Brünnhilde, undertaking all three incarnations for Marek Janowski's integral Ring recording for Eurodisc. Her list of Wagner heroines came to include Eva, Elisabeth, and Elsa, as well as Wotan's daughter and Isolde. Her Leonore in Fidelio was heard on-stage at La Scala after having been recorded several years before. Other roles from the German Romantic period, early and late, have reached from Weber's Agathe to Strauss' Chrysothemis. At the Metropolitan Opera, she has sung Sieglinde, the Walküre Brünnhilde, and Leonore. During the 1997 - 1998 season, she was re-engaged for Venus in Tannhäuser. While Altmeyer's voice is sizeable, it has not attained that last degree of full heroic volume and body and the lower register is slighter in dimension than those of such singers as Flagstad, Traubel, and Varnay. During one performance of Die Walküre, the singer gave too much voice in the low-lying fourth scene of Act II on a set without a backdrop and had to abandon the performance. Still, the youthful shine she brings to her work has made her both a compelling Isolde and a vigorous warrior maiden. Among her recordings, her Leonore/Fidelio, her three Brünnhildes, her Sieglinde, and her Gutrune are all faithfully captured and well-sung.