Her success at the Met helped Mrs. Lear solidify her reputation in the world of modern opera. She sang leading roles in “Wozzeck,” also by Berg, and “Erwartung” by Arnold Schoenberg, the Austrian composer who revolutionized 20th-century classical music with his twelve-tone composition style.
Yet Mrs. Lear also excelled in 18th- and 19th-century music. Especially after a vocal crisis in the late 1960s, which left her unable to sing for a time, she pursued the relatively contained (although by no means easy) roles of traditional opera.
They included Cherubino in “Marriage of Figaro” and Donna Elvira in “Don Giovanni,” both by Mozart, and the title character in Puccini’s operas “Tosca” and “Manon Lescaut.” From the early 20th-century German repertoire, her roles included several parts from Richard Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier.”
Mrs. Lear gave a farewell performance at the Metropolitan Opera in 1985 but continued performing in operas and concerts for a number of years. She taught at the University of Maryland for about a decade and gave master classes around the world. She joined her husband in founding the Evelyn Lear and Thomas Stewart Emerging Singers Program in partnership with the Wagner Society of Washington. One of the program’s most prominent participants, Jay Hunter Morris, sang at the Met in “Siegfried” in 2011 and in “Götterdämmerung” in 2012.
Mrs. Lear’s recordings with the classical label Deutsche Grammophon, particularly the Berg operas, are considered classics. The recording of “Wozzeck,” featuring Mrs. Lear as Marie, won the Grammy Award for best opera in 1965.
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 maternal 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 Leonard Bernstein.
When she was about 18, she married Walter Lear, a physician, and moved to Arlington. Her nonprofessional opera debut took place at the Agriculture Department, where she sang in Kurt Weill’s “Down in the Valley,” an American folk opera with libretto by Arnold Sundgaard.
After she and her first husband divorced, Mrs. Lear returned to New York in the 1950s and began studying at Juilliard, where she met Stewart while working on a duet from “Porgy and Bess.”
Stewart died in 2006 after 51 years of marriage. Survivors include two children from her first marriage, whom Stewart legally adopted, Jan Stewart of Arlington and Bonni Stewart of Mississauga, Ontario; and two grandchildren.
“Lulu” seemed to retain a special place in Mrs. Lear’s memory. Asked why she agreed to take on the opera in Vienna on such short notice, she once told an interviewer: “The American never says no!”