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CLASSICAL  July 2006

CLASSICAL July 2006

Subject:

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson Obituary

From:

Joan Boorstein <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 5 Jul 2006 19:14:02 -0400

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   From the New York Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/05/arts/music/05hunt.html

   Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Luminous Mezzo, Dies at 52
   
   By ANTHONY TOMMASINI
   Published: July 5, 2006

   The mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who won near universal
   praise from critics and audiences for her courageous, insightful
   and deeply affecting artistry, died on Monday at her home in
   Santa Fe, N.M. She was 52.
   
   Her death was reported by Alec C. Treuhaft, senior vice president
   of IMG Artists, speaking on behalf of the singer's husband, the
   composer Peter Lieberson. Mr. Treuhaft would only say that Ms.
   Hunt Lieberson had died "after a long illness."
   
   For the last 18 months she had sung only sporadically, canceling
   most performances, citing lingering problems from an injury to
   her lower back as the cause. Yet she had had a public bout with
   breast cancer some years ago, which caused her to withdraw from,
   among other major performances, the premiere of Kaija Saariaho's
   opera "L'Amour de Loin" at the Salzburg Festival in 2000. Mr.
   Treuhaft said that even close associates of Ms. Hunt Lieberson,
   an intensely private person, did not realize that her illness
   had become so critical in recent weeks.
   
   If she rarely spoke of her private life, few artists have brought
   such emotional vulnerability to their work, whether it was her
   sultry portrayal of Myrtle Wilson, the mistress of wealthy Tom
   Buchanan in John Harbison's "Great Gatsby," the role of her 1999
   Metropolitan Opera debut, or her shattering performances several
   years ago in two Bach cantatas for solo voice and orchestra,
   staged by the director Peter Sellars, seen in Lincoln Center's
   New Visions series, with the Orchestra of Emmanuel Music, Craig
   Smith conducting.
   
   In Cantata No. 82, "Ich Habe Genug" ("I Have Enough"), Ms. Hunt
   Lieberson, wearing a flimsy hospital gown and thick woolen socks,
   her face contorted with pain and yearning, portrayed a terminally
   ill patient who, no longer able to endure treatments, wants to
   let go and be comforted by Jesus. During one consoling aria,
   "Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen" ("Slumber now, weary eyes"),
   she yanked tubes from her arms and sang the spiraling melody
   with an uncanny blend of ennobling grace and unbearable sadness.

   Still, vocal artistry alone could not account for the impact of
   Ms. Hunt Lieberson's performances and her consequent desire to
   keep her private life private, as Mr. Harbison, quoted in an
   article in The New York Times last year, explained. "Lorraine
   gives so much of her inner soul," he said, "that that's what she
   owes the public."
   
   Ms. Hunt Lieberson had a maverick career. She brought uncompromising
   integrity to her choice of roles and repertory, was a champion
   of Baroque operas and of living composers, and preferred to work
   in close-knit conditions with directors and ensembles who shared
   her artistic aims, especially at festivals like Glyndebourne in
   England and Aix-en-Provence in France.
   
   That she began her professional life as a freelance violist and
   did not focus fully on singing until she was 26 may account for
   the musical depth and intelligence of her vocal artistry. One
   of her closest colleagues, Craig Smith, the Boston-based conductor
   and choir director, said as much in a 2004 profile of Ms. Hunt
   Lieberson by Charles Michener in The New Yorker. "There's something
   viola-like about the rich graininess of her singing, about her
   ability to sound a tone from nothing," he was quoted as saying,
   adding, "There's no sudden switching on of the voice, no click."
   
   Though her work seldom drew less than raves from critics, her
   singing eluded description. Despite the gleaming richness of her
   sound, her voice somehow conveyed poignant intimacy. Although
   she paid scrupulous attention to rhythm, phrasing and text, she
   came across as utterly spontaneous. Her person disappeared into
   her performances. And yet in a Handel aria, a Britten cantata
   or a song by her husband, she could be so revealing you sometimes
   wanted to avert your eyes for fear of intruding.
   
   It was typical of the self-effacing Ms. Hunt Lieberson to be drawn
   to the secondary role of Myrtle in "The Great Gatsby" for her Met
   debut. Her second appearance in a Met production came in 2003 when
   she sang the role of Dido in the new staging of Berlioz's epic "Les
   Troyens." With this luminous, stylistically informed and emotionally
   true portrayal she showed that she could galvanize the Met's stage
   in a major role. She was scheduled to return this coming season in a
   new production by Mark Morris of Gluck's "Orfeo ed Euridice," singing
   Orfeo.
   
   Lorraine Hunt was born on March 1, 1954, in San Francisco to musical
   parents: Randolph Hunt, a music teacher and a conductor of community
   ensembles and operas, and Marcia Hunt, a contralto and a voice teacher.
   Her parents survive her, along with two siblings, Stan Hunt Hunt.
   Another sister, Alexis, died of cancer six years ago.
   
   Her taskmaster father was single-minded in his desire to develop
   her musical gifts, arranging first for her to study the piano
   and then the violin, she said in the New Yorker profile. At 12
   she switched to viola and began playing in youth orchestras and
   singing in the high school choir.
   
   She studied voice and viola at San Jose State University and,
   upon graduation, became a freelance player in the Bay Area
   noted for her expertise in contemporary music. She played in a
   cutting-edge string quartet called "Novaj Kordoj" (Esperanto for
   "New Strings"). When a French horn player she was dating got a
   job with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, she moved with him to
   Boston, soon becoming a valued freelance musician. She was
   particularly drawn to the music program at Emmanuel Church in
   the Back Bay section of Boston, where Mr.  Smith conducted the
   orchestra and choir. But during these years she also studied
   voice at Boston Conservatory.

   Her breakthrough as a singer came with the Pepsico Summerfare
   festival in Purchase, N.Y., in 1985 when she was cast by Mr.
   Sellars in his production of Handel's "Giulio Cesare." Her role
   was Sesto, the avenging son of Pompey, though in this production,
   zapped to the present day Middle East, Sesto was a terrorist
   armed with an Uzi. While Mr. Sellars's work was predictably
   controversial, Ms. Hunt Lieberson emerged as an exciting vocal
   talent.
   
   For the next decade her career thrived as she collaborated with
   the early-music conductor Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia
   Baroque Orchestra on a series of Harmonia Mundi recordings of
   Handel operas and oratorios ("Susanna," "Theodora," "Ariodante");
   took part in Mr. Sellars's updated production of Mozart's "Don
   Giovanni" and, later, his triumphant staging of "Theodora" at
   Glyndebourne; and worked with William Christie and other major
   musicians.
   
   She met Mr. Lieberson in 1997 when he selected her to sing in
   the premiere of his opera "Ashoka's Dream" at the Santa Fe Opera.
   The story tells of an Indian emperor in the third century B.C.
   who renounces violence after converting to Buddhism and inspires
   trust and generosity among his people. Ms. Hunt Lieberson sang
   Triraksha, Ashoka's consort.
   
   She and Mr. Lieberson, a practicing Buddhist since his
   graduate-student days at Columbia, were immediately drawn to
   each other. At the time he was married with three daughters.
   After an understandably upsetting divorce for Mr. Lieberson, he
   and Ms. Hunt Lieberson were married in 1999. Their closeness was
   apparent to anyone who observed them onstage at Symphony Hall
   in Boston in November during the ovations for "Neruda Songs,"
   Mr. Lieberson's setting of five Spanish sonnets by Pablo Neruda,
   each a reflection of a different aspect of love.
   
   The performance, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted
   by James Levine, was repeated a few days later at Carnegie Hall.
   Every phrase of this emotionally unguarded, intricate and haunting
   work seemed fashioned by the composer for his wife's distinctive
   voice. It would be her last New York performance.

Joan Boorstein <[log in to unmask]>

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