SFOpera - SPOTLIGHT ON ‘Rusalka’ star Rachel Willis-Sørensen

SPOTLIGHT ON ‘Rusalka’ star Rachel Willis-Sørensen

As a child, Rusalka star Rachel Willis-Sørensen loved the Disney film The Little Mermaid. She loved it so much that she would sing along with the heroine Ariel, whose voice enraptures the human prince she hopes to marry.

But one day, it was Willis-Sørensen’s voice that proved enrapturing. (Take a listen here.) Her parents suddenly realized she had real talent, Willis-Sørensen told OperaWire earlier this year.

Since then, Willis-Sørensen, a soprano from Washington state, has seen her star rise in the field of opera. “Willis-Sørensen’s ascent has been rapid and without misstep,” Opera News declared in a feature naming her one of their “18 to Watch.”

Along the way, she’s accumulated a full slate of awards, from top honors at the prestigious Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions to first place at Operalia, the competition founded by Plácido Domingo.

Willis-Sørensen returns to San Francisco Opera this June, four years after she first performed here as Eva in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. It’s an opportunity to make a dream come true, she told OperaWire: Her performance in Dvořák's Rusalka this summer will allow her to revisit the story she loved so much in The Little Mermaid.

In the opera, a water nymph named Rusalka faces an impossible choice: She can choose to sacrifice her voice and her immortality for a chance to win a human prince’s love, but if she fails, she will be doomed to haunt the shores as a phantom of death.

The role, a debut for Willis-Sørensen, requires her to undergo a dramatic transformation by the opera’s end, one that challenges the audience’s assumption about what a fairy-tale heroine should be.

“What a journey she takes, right?” she told OperaWire. “It’s amazing to play a good guy and a bad guy in the same show!”

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