Arleen Auger, soprano

Arleen Auger

Arleen Augér performed in the fields of opera and art song, but as her career evolved she began to focus her musical energies on the latter, preferring the intimacy of recitals to the bustle involved in staged operatic performances. Her voice was sweet-toned and pure, but also capable of a good deal of warmth and expressiveness. She was much loved as a teacher. Renee Fleming, who was one of her students, said that had she lived longer, would undoubtedly have become one of the great lieder teachers. Her early death cut her career short, but she left a wide recorded legacy.

Born near Los Angeles, she graduated from the University in California in 1963, having studied not only voice but piano and violin. After graduating, she moved to Chicago, where she studied with Ralph Errole. Returning to Los Angeles, she won the I. Victor Fuchs Competition, and with it, an audition for the Vienna State Opera, where Josef Krips, the director, offered her a contract despite her lack of stage experience. She made her operatic debut in 1967 there, as the Queen of the Night in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, and made her Salzburg Festival debut in 1969. In 1970, Erik Werba invited her to perform the soprano part of Hugo Wolf's Italienisches Liederbuch in a series of performances which he was producing at Wolf's own summer house. She began to focus more and more of her attention on song, oratorio, and church music, and she left the Vienna State Opera in 1974. By that point her 1975 La Scala and 1978 Met debuts were almost afterthoughts, for she was clearly turning away from the operatic world. She came to worldwide fame when she sang Mozart's Exsultate, jubilate at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of York in 1986, which was seen by an estimated television audience of 300 million. (The couple left the selection of music and performers up to Simon Preston, director of music at Westminster Abbey.) In 1993, she died of cancer.

Fortunately, she made a number of recordings during her career, of art song, sacred music, and opera. She made an excellent Constanze in the Böhm Die Entfí¼hrung aus dem Serail, and also recorded a very fine sampling of Handel and Bach arias. Her collection of Schumann lieder on Berlin Classics shows her sensitvity to nuance and emotional expressiveness.