Evelyn Lear, the feisty soprano, died Sunday at the age of 86, a few days after going into hospice. Emily Langer wrote a fine obituary for the Washington Post.
Evelyn was a strong presence on the Washington scene until the very end; she was in the audience at the Washington Chorus’s Wagner program at the end of May, cheering on the artists from the Evelyn Lear and Thomas Stewart Emerging Singers Program, which she and her late husband founded together with the local chapter of the Wagner Society. Alumni included the soprano Jennifer Wilson and the tenor Jay Hunter Morris, who jumped onto a wider stage as a last-minute fill-in for the Metropolitan Opera’s “Siegfried” last fall.
Lear was a strikingly beautiful woman and an excellent singer. She was not blind to her own virtues. Her home in Rockville was lined with pictures and posters and records documenting her and her husband in their long prime. Visitors were regularly treated to a brief synopsis of career highlights, on record and on video; she was always amused to show off her cameo in Robert Altman’s 1976 film “Buffalo Bill,” in which she played the opera singer Nina Cavallini.
Above: The soprano Evelyn Lear, who died on Sunday, here sings one of the most achingly beautiful elegies in Western music: “Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit” from the Brahms Requiem.
She adored Stewart, whom she married in 1955 and remained with until his death in 2006, on the golf course across the street from their home, just after making par. She sometimes joked about how his equanimity helped counterbalance her more fiery temperament.
Her diva side notwithstanding, she was a generous mentor to a lot of young artists and was genuinely proud of their successes. “She is the reason I am who I am today,” said Darren Keith Woods, the general of the Fort Worth Opera who had a long career as a tenor before becoming an administrator, adding, “I adored her.”
And her singing career certainly earned her the right to strut a bit. She had the versatility and musicianship not only to survive but to thrive in the crucible of the opera world in postwar Germany, where she and Stewart started out. This meant singing a huge range of repertory, often in German translations, both mezzo and soprano roles: both Cherubino and the Countess in Mozart’s “Le nozze di Figaro;” Octavian, Sophie and the Marschallin in Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier;” the Countess Geschwitz and Lulu in Alban Berg’s “Lulu,” an opera whose fiendishly tough title part became one of her signature roles. She sang Mimi in “La Bohème,” Floria Tosca in “Tosca,” Pamina in “Die Zauberflöte,” Dido in “Dido and Aeneas,” to say nothing of the range of new works she eventually premiered.
She was, in fact, a stage animal, until the bitter end. She was a fixture in the audience at performances of the Washington Concert Opera and her own emerging singers program. Even at the Wagner concert in May, she stood when recognized from the stage and acknowledged the applause -- which would have been even warmer had more people known it would be their last chance to give it.