Born in Sindelfingen, Germany, Marlis Petersen won six important piano competitions before eventually going to the Stuttgart Conservatory where she studied music education, flute and dance as well as voice. She made her operatic debut at the Staatstheater in Nuremberg as Ännchen in Der Freischütz which led to a contract with the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, where she primarily sang in operas by Mozart and Strauss. On 6 September 2007, Petersen sang the role of Aphrodite in the world premiere of Hans Werner Henze's Phaedra at the Berlin State Opera. Another world premiere came in May 2008, when she sang the role of Marta in Manfred Trojahn's La Grande Magia at the Dresden Semperoper. Petersen has also appeared on the stages of Vienna, Salzburg, Munich, London, Paris, Geneva, and Monte Carlo.
In addition to her operatic roles, Petersen is known for her performances in works by Johann Sebastian Bach with conductors Ton Koopman and Helmuth Rilling and for her Lieder recitals with pianist Jendrik Springer. She sang the title role in the premiere of the opera Medea by Aribert Reimann at the Vienna State Opera in 2010.
Ιn March 2010, Petersen undertook the role of Ophélie in Ambroise Thomas's Hamlet at the New York Metropolitan Opera. She spent less than four days preparing for the role, which, a reviewer remarked, "to judge from her beautiful and emotionally vulnerable singing, she clearly relishes."
- George Frideric Handel: Der Messias (Messiah) (Marlis Petersen (Soprano), Margot Oitzinger (Alto), Markus Schäfer (Tenor), Marek Rzepka (Bass); Hanoverian Court Orchestra (on period instruments), Maulbronn Chamber Choir; Jürgen Budday, conductor. (2006 concert recording, sung in German). Label: Maulbronn Monastery Edition.
- Mozart: Il rè pastore (Annette Dasch, Kresimir Spicer, Marlis Petersen, Arpiné Rahdjian, Andreas Karasiak; Balthasar-Neumann-Ensemble; Thomas Hengelbrock, conductor). Label: Deutsche Grammophon (DVD).
- Haydn: The Seasons (Marlis Petersen, Werner Güra, Dietrich Henschel; RIAS Kammerchor, Freiburg Baroque Orchestra; René Jacobs, conductor). Label: Harmonia Mundi.
- Bach: Cantatas Vol 19 (Marlis Petersen, Klaus Mertens, Sandrine Piau, Bogna Bartosz, Johannette Zomer, Christoph Prégardien, James Gilchrist, Sibylla Rubens, Paul Agnew, Caroline Stam, Michael Chance; Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir; Ton Koopman, conductor). Label: Challenge. Marlis Petersen sings the solo cantata BWV 51 Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen with obligato trumpet.
- Bach: Mass in B minor (Stella Doufexis, Marlis Petersen, Anke Vondung, Franz-Joseph Selig, Lothar Odinius, Christian Gerhaher; Bach-Collegium Stuttgart, Gächinger Kantorei; Helmuth Rilling, conductor). Label: Hänssler Classic.
- Haydn: Orlando paladino (Marlis Petersen, Tom Randle, Pietro Spagnoli, Magnus Staveland, Sunhae Im, Alexandrina Pendatchanska, Victor Torres, Arttu Kataja; Freiburg Baroque Orchestra; René Jacobs, conductor. Recorded live at Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin, 8 May 2009.) Label: EuroArts (DVD).
- Ketterson (2008)
- Apthorp (2007)
- Apthorp (2008)
- Schott Music (2010)
- Thomassini (2010)
- Kousteni (2016)
- Apthorp, Shirley. "Dazzling music, murky meaning", Financial Times, September 11, 2007. Accessed 13 November 2008
- Apthorp, Shirley. "La Grande Magia, Semperoper, Dresden", Financial Times, May 15, 2008. Accessed 13 November 2008
- Ketterson, Mark Thomas. "Sound Bites: Marlis Petersen", Opera News, August 2008
- Kousteni, Matula. Interview, Protagon, 28 May 2016 (in Greek)
- Schott Music. "A Magical Moment" Medea Premiered at the Vienna State Opera press of the premiere at Schott, 3 March 2010
- Thomassini, Anthony. "This Prince: What a Piece of Work", The New York Times, 17 March 2010