Christine Schäfer established one of the most stellar careers of any young German soprano in the 1990s and became known for her sensational acting and her mastery of a wide range of repertory and styles.
She enrolled in the Berlin Conservatory in 1984 and studied with Ingrid Figur, whom she considers her primary teacher and credits with giving her a firm technical foundation and a knack for clear projection of German words. She studied with American soprano Arleen Augér who, Schäfer said, taught her how to give total concentration to the work of understanding a musical compossition. Of composer Aribert Reimann, another of her teachers, she says, "His music is fantastic, and as a teacher he is even more so." From him she learned lieder interpretation. She also had master classes with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Sena Jurinac.
After winning several prestigious prizes, she made a highly acclaimed recital debut at the Berlin Festival in 1988, singing Reimann's cycle Nachträume, and began to establish a promising recital and concert career. She has sung in Europe with the Gächinger Kantorei, the Windsbacher Knabenchor, the Stuttgarter Hymnus Chorknaban, the RIAS Kammerchor, the Cologne Chamber Orchestra, the Amsterdam New Sinfonietta, and Musica Antiqua of Cologne.
Her concert and recital career included a debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Mahler's Symphony No. 4 in Boston and New York with Seiji Ozawa conducting. Other conductors with whom she has worked are Sir Charles Mackerras, Uwe Gronostay, Wolfgang Schafer, Leopold Hager, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Sir Simon Rattle, Helmuth Rilling, and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.
She is active on the festival circuit, with appearances at the Baroque Festival in Würzburg, the Oregon Bach Festival, the Bach Festival of Los Angeles, the Salzburg Mozart Week, and the Ansbach Bach Week.
Her operatic debut was in 1991 as Papagena in Mozart's Magic Flute at the Théâtre du Monnaie in Brussels. Soon she sang Pamina in the same production when it was given in Salzburg, Zerlina (Don Giovanni) and Gilda in Verdi's Rigoletto in Bern, and Berg's Lulu in Innsbruck, with stage direction by Brigitte Fassbaender.
Her American operatic debut was with the San Francisco Opera during their Strauss Festival of 1993, when she appeared as Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier and then as Zdenka in Arabella at the Houston Grand Opera, conducted by Christoph Eschenbach. Her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York was in the 2000-2001 season.
She moved into the first rank of German opera stars when she appeared in Peter Mussbach's controversial production of Lulu at the Salzburg Festival in 1995, her debut role in that Festival. When she returned two years later, it was in a drastically different role, Konstanze in Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Other roles she has sung include the title role in Donizetti's Lucia di Lamermoor (Welsh National Opera); Elisa in Mozart's Il Rè Pastore (Amsterdam); Tytania in Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream (Tel Aviv); Infantin in Der Zwerg by Zemlinsky at the Paris Opéra-Bastille; Zerbinetta in Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos (Houston); and Reimann's The House of Bernarda Alba in Munich.
She has appeared on several discs in Graham Johnson's Hyperion Schubert series and for the label also recorded a solo recital of Robert Schumann songs, also with Johnson.