Ortrun Wenkel (born 25 October 1942, Buttstädt, Thuringia) is a German operatic contralto. She notably portrayed the role of Erda in the Bayreuth Jahrhundertring (Centenary Ring) in 1976 and was awarded with the Grammy Award as a Principal Soloist in 1983.
Wenkel started her studies at the Hochschule für Musik "Franz Liszt" in Weimar. Following her emigration from East Germany to West Germany, she continued at the Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts with Paul Lohmann (masterclass) and then with Elsa Cavelti.
She began her career in 1964 as concert and oratorio soloist when she was still a student. She dedicated herself to 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. In 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 Jahrhundertring (Centenary Ring) in 1976, celebrating the centenary of both the festival and the first performance of the complete cycle, conducted by Pierre Boulez and staged by Patrice Chéreau, recorded and filmed in 1979 and 1980. For her performance of Erda (Rheingold, Siegfried) and First 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 most prominent conductors, e. g. Pierre Boulez, Riccardo Chailly, Colin Davis, Christoph von Dohnányi, Christoph Eschenbach, Bernard Haitink, Marek Janowski, Erich Leinsdorf, Gerd Albrecht, Riccardo Muti, Vaclav Neumann, Seiji Ozawa, Giuseppe Sinopoli, Gabriel Chmura, 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. In 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, Erik Werba, Wilhelm von Grunelius, Cord Garben and Felix-Jany Renz.
On 14 March 1986, Pierre Petit of Le Figaro wrote:
It was Ortrun Wenkel who sang these five great and beautiful songs. A voice of remarkable harmony over a range of two octaves, of warm and dark coulour, keeping the same virtues all over in addition to a quite natural sense of phrasing serving the line of the melody without ever damaging her luminous pronunciation
about the performance of Gustav Mahler's Kindertotenlieder with the Orchestre de Paris, conducted by Erich Leinsdorf.
Vivaldi: Psaume 126 "Nisi Dominus", Carissimi: Canzone "No, non si speri", Caldara: Air de Cantate "Mirti, faggi, tronchi", Monteverdi: Lamento d'Arianna; Ortrun Wenkel, Orchestra PRO ARTE München, Conductor: Kurt Redel (LP 1975, Arion, Paris 1976/1979),
J. S. Bach: St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244; Evangelische Jugendkantorei der Pfalz, Chamber Orchestra of Heidelberg, Conductor: Heinz Markus Goettsche (1976 LP Da Camera Magna, 1997 CD Bayer Records),
Gustav Mahler: Symphoniy No. 3 d minor; London Philharmonic Orchestra, Conductor: Klaus Tennstedt (EMI Records 1980),
Richard Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen; Conductor: Pierre Boulez (1980 LP Philips/ 2005 DVD Deutsche Grammophon),
Krzysztof Penderecki: Te Deum; Chor des NDR, RIAS Kammerchor, Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Conductor: Krzysztof Penderecki (1981, Sender Freies Berlin, LP),
Antonín Dvořák: Stabat Mater; Czech Philharmonic Choir, Czech Philharmonic, Conductor: Wolfgang Sawallisch (1983, Supraphon),
Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony Nr. 14 / Six Poems by Marina Tsvetaeva, Op. 143a; Júlia Várady, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau / Ortrun Wenkel, Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, Conductor: Bernard Haitink (1986, Decca),
Franz Schreker: Five songs for low voice; Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Conductor: Karl Anton Rickenbacher (1986, Koch Records),
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Requiem; Concentus Musicus Wien, Conductor: Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1991, Teldec; DVD 2006, TDK, including Johann Sebastian Bach, Komm, du süße Todesstunde, BWV 161),
Gustav Mahler: Symphony Nr. 8; Frankfurter Museumsorchester, Conductor: Michael Gielen (LP 1981 / CD 1992 Sony),
Johann Sebastian Bach: Cantatas BWV 137 and BWV 21; Thomanerchor and Neues Bachisches Kollegium Leipzig, Conductor: Hans-Joachim Rotzsch (1994, Berlin Classics),
Richard Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen; Dresdner Staatskapelle, Conductor: Marek Janowski (1982 LP, Eterna / 1983 LP Ariola-Eurodisc / 1995 CD, RCA),
Richard Strauss: Daphne; Lucia Popp, Reiner Goldberg, Peter Schreier, Ortrun Wenkel, Kurt Moll; Chor und Symphonieorchester des Bayrischen Rundfunks, Conductor: Bernard Haitink (2011 CD EMI Classics)