The main focus of Marlis Petersen's repertoire is the field of classical coloratura, however, she has also made a name for herself as an interpreter of contemporary music. After studying at the Conservatory in Stuttgart and with Sylvia Geszty, she supplemented her training in the areas of opera, new music, and dance. She began her career as a member of the ensemble of the City Stage of Nuremberg, where she sang parts such as Ännchen (Der Freischütz), Blonde (Die Entführung aus dem Serail), Adele (Die Fledermaus), Oscar (Un ballo in maschera), Rosina (Il barbiere di Siviglia), the title role of Lulu, and Königin der Nacht (Die Zauberflöte). Guest performances have taken Marlis Petersen to the opera houses of Berlin, Bremen, Düsseldorf, Hanover, Munich, and Frankfurt. At the beginning of the 1998-1999 season she was engaged by the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, where she debuted as Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro and sang in Donizetti's The Daughter of the Regiment, Der Rosenkavalier (Sophie), Don Pasquale (Norina), The Cunning Vixen, Manfred Trojahn's As You Like It (Viola), Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Constanze), and Ambroise Thomas's Hamlet (Ophélie).
Marlis Petersen made her debut at the Vienna State Opera with Lulu. She has also sung this role, which central to her repertoire, in Peter Konwitschny's much admired staging in Hamburg, at the Chicago Lyric Opera and in a new production in Athens, where she also appeared as Donna Clara in Der Zwerg by Zemlinsky and in the title role of Thaïs (Massenet). She met with acclaim as Zerbinetta (Ariadne auf Naxos) at Covent Garden London; at the Bregenz Festival she appeared as Oscar (Un ballo in maschera); in Geneva she was the Nightingale in The Birds by Walter Braunfels; she was Adele in Strauss' Die Fledermaus at the Opéra Bastille in Paris, at the Metropolitan Opera and at the Chicago Lyric Opera. The Salzburg Festival engaged Marlis Petersen for Mozart's Il re pastore (Elisa) and Le nozze di Figaro (Susanna); she was a guest at Théâtre de la Monnaie and at the Festival of Aix-en-Provence as Constanze (Die Entführung aus dem Serail); she sang at the State Opera Berlin in Haydn's Orlando Paladino. At the Munich Opera Festival 2008, she gave her debut as Zdenka (Arabella) at the Bavarian State Opera. Among the important world premieres in which Marlis Petersen participated are Hans Werner Henze's Phaedra in Berlin and Brussels, Manfred Trojahn's La grande magia at the Semperoper Dresden and, just recently, with enormous success, the title role of Aribert Reimann's Medea at the Vienna State Opera. She sang her first La traviata in Peter Konwitschny's production in Graz as well as Marguérite in Meyerbeer's Les Huguénots in Brussels.
In concert, the soprano works closely with Helmuth Rilling and the International Bach Academy Stuttgart, as well as with René Jacobs. In addition she has given concerts with the orchestras of RAI Turin (The Creation under Jeffrey Tate), Santa Cecilia in Rome, as well as with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Opera appearances will take Marlis Petersen to Vienna (Contes d'Hoffmann, Idomeneo at Theater an der Wien and La Traviata at the Vienna State Opera), Stuttgart (Alcina), Munich (Lulu) as well as to Chicago (Norina in L'elisir d'amore) and New York (Le nozze di Figaro and Lulu).