With a nod to David Letterman’s entertaining bit, Brush with Greatness, I often recall my personal encounter with the lovely soprano, Arleen Auger, as a student at the Conservatory of Music, University of Missouri in Kansas City, at my part time job with The Friends of Chamber Music, the producing organization for her local concert appearance. As was typical for many of her American contemporaries, after winning the I. Viktor Fuchs Vocal Competition in Los Angeles in 1967, Auger began her singing career in Europe. However, she started in the big time with a contract at the Weiner Staatsoper.
Not surprisingly for a singer of discrimination and nuance she made her career outside of the United States, although she did debut in 1969, with New York City Opera and later sang at The Holy of Holies, the Metropolitan Opera! Ironically, it would take the great colonizers, the British monarchy, to introduce her to the world at the 1986 Westminster Abbey wedding of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, where she essayed Mozart’s sacred showstopper, Exultate, Jubilate, as if it had been composed solely for her unique gifts. Fortunately, this opened the door and U.S. audiences were the richer for more frequent song concerts.
Of course it was the concert venue where I heard Arleen Auger and although having never experienced her work in the opera house, I suspect, the art song recital allowed her to create at the highest level. At the time I felt cheated as no apparent effort had been made to take advantage of both Auger and her collaborator, accompanist Dalton Baldwin, in a Master class for Conservatory student singers. This was a loss. However, it was my gain to meet and greet Arleen and to experience her lovely art.
Her concert repertoire was extensive, covering the full range of historical styles and time periods and she, like many Baroque “specialists” found contemporary music easeful territory, recording both Bach and Schoenberg, as well as commisioning original work from American women composers Libby Larsen and Judith Lang Zaimont. What a surprise the following day as I was leaving on break to be greeted warmly by Arleen as we were both at the airport awaiting departing flights. She was dressed comfortably for travel in black leather trousers and sport coat – very UnDiva-ish – and said how sorry she was there was no Master class for her to hear my singing – ditto – !!! What a warm and gracious soul, who departed far too soon, but left a legacy of great breadth and supreme artistry.
Richard Strauss – Morgen, with pianist, Irwin Gage
W. A. Mozart from Mitridate, Re di Ponto – Al destin, che la minaccia, (Aspacia’s Aria)
with the Mozarteum – Orchester Salzburg – Leopold Hager – conductor
What to listen for…
…Morgen beautifully demonstrates immediacy of expression and vocal ease.
…Aspacia’s Aria is textbook lesson in “How to maintain a legato line and sing with articulation,” two seeming opposites, but only for students of singing who have been misled.
Both demonstrate a true vocal artist in supreme command of her voice, text and music.
As always, the opinions are my own!