Monday, July 2, 2012

In Memoriam: soprano Evelyn Lear 1926-2012

Great American sop­rano Evelyn Lear died yes­ter­day near Baltimore, MD. She was 86.

As one of the twen­ti­eth century’s most celebrated American opera and con­cert sing­ers, Lear cultivated a long and remarkable career spanning some 5 dec­ades and includ­ing 7,500 operatic and con­cert performances.

Between 1959 and 1992, she appeared in more than forty operatic roles, appeared with every major opera com­pany in the US and won a Grammy Award in 1966 for the record­ing of Wozzeck with Diet­rich Fischer-Dieskau and Fritz Wunderlich.

Evelyn Shulman was born Jan, 8, 1926, in Brooklyn. Her father, a Siberian immigrant, became a lawyer, and her mother was a professional classical singer. Her grandfather was a Jewish cantor. As a girl, Mrs. Lear studied the piano and played the French horn with a Tanglewood student orchestra conducted by a young maestro - Leonard Bernstein.

When she was about 18, she married Walter Lear, a doctor, and shortly thereafter, moved to Arlington, VA. Her nonprofessional opera debut took place, oddly enough, at the Agriculture Department, where she sang in Kurt Weill’s American folk opera Down in the Valley.

After she and her first husband divorced, Mrs. Lear returned to New York in the 1950s and began studying at Juilliard, where she met baritone Thomas Stewart while working on a duet from Porgy and Bess.

Her death comes six years after Mr. Stewart - to whom she had been married for 51 years. Each singer enjoyed a remarkable career; as a team, they were even more formidable and delectable, onstage and off.

Evelyn Lear is survived by children from her first marriage, whom Thomas Stewart legally adopted, Jan Stewart of Arlington and Bonni Stewart of Mississauga, Ontario. She also had two grandchildren.

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