Born: January 8, 1926; Died: July 1, 2012.
Evelyn Lear, who has died aged 86, was one of the two American star sopranos – the other was Catherine Gayer – nurtured by Peter Diamand during his directorship of the Edinburgh Festival. Quick to make use of her extraordinary talents, he booked her in 1966 for his very first Festival programmes, when Alban Berg and Robert Schumann were the featured composers.
Lear had already won fame as Lulu, the femme fatale of Berg's unfinished opera of that title, learning the fiendishly difficult music at short notice for Vienna in 1962.
By 1966 she was one of its great exponents, though the work was still a rarity, and Diamand would have displayed her virtuosity in the role had he not already been committed to featuring another lascivious Lulu, the lissom Anja Silja, as part of a package deal he had planned with the Stuttgart Opera.
But Lear was allotted other notable Berg performances in Edinburgh, including the big orchestral concert aria Der Wein (which had caused him to delay the composing of Lulu) to words by Stefan George, and the Seven Early Songs as part of a specially compiled recital in which Schumann was also featured.
While Lear's Lulu in 1966 never came closer to Edinburgh than London, where she sang it at Covent Garden, her portrayal attracted critics from far and wide. Reviewing it on that occasion, I remarked that, quite apart from her voice, her legs possessed a personality of their own. In her final encounter with Jack the Ripper, her off-stage scream was surely the most blood-curdling ever heard in a British opera house.
By the time Friedrich Cerha's brilliant completion of the score reached the stage in 1979, Lear's career had moved on (even Catherine Gayer, who sang Lulu in Edinburgh in 1975, made do with the fragmented version). But with her husband Thomas Stewart, a distinguished Wotan in Wagner's Ring, she was still a star with a repertoire ranging from Fiordiligi in Cosi fan tutte to the ill-fated Marie in Wozzeck. Born in Brooklyn, she studied at the Juilliard School and made a farewell appearance as the Countess Geschwitz (the lesbian amid Lulu's maelstrom of lovers) in Florence in 1987.
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