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Soprano Auger Enjoys Challenge of New Roles, New Music

March 05, 1988|DANIEL CARIAGA | Times Music Writer

Having achieved star status in the arena of opera as well as in the worlds of recordings and Baroque music, Arleen Auger might now be expected to relax and repeat some of her successes--say, the huge Bach repertory she has sung over the civilized world, or Handel's "Alcina," the role Los Angeles finally saw her in, courtesy Music Center Opera, in late 1986.

"No, I'm still studying new roles and new music," the California-born, European-matured soprano says good-naturedly. Twenty-two years after her debut, as the Queen of the Night, at the Staatsoper in Vienna, and subsequent engagements all over the Continent, "There's always something to prepare for."

Reached by telephone at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, where she was preparing to sing a recital Tuesday night, Auger listed a few of the upcoming projects for which she is now studying.

"I recorded the 'Figaro' Countess last year, then sang it in a concert version. But now I must memorize it for the stage, in 1989. Before that, I'm learning (Monteverdi's) Poppea for a production this summer. And I'll be singing my first Mahler Eighth--though I don't have to memorize it--later this year, so that's in my plans.

"No matter how carefully you plan, there are always new parts to learn."

A European resident for nearly two decades, Auger--who grew up in Huntington Beach, attended Cal State Long Beach and taught school in Chicago before moving to Austria in 1967--has in the past few years returned to this country with greater frequency. She credits her current management, IMG Artists, with "being responsible for my American career."

In this season of 1987-88, she says, she is singing "more recitals than (orchestral) concerts, and not very much opera." Does she miss singing in opera?

"I don't miss bad opera. I do miss good opera. But I choose to do as little as I do. Opera casting can be a tremendous risk. You sign a contract for two years ahead, then, when you arrive, your colleagues are all people you weren't expecting.

"At least with orchestral concerts, you can expect to see the original principals." Right now, Auger says, she is happy to keep her stage activity down to one new production a year.

"It's a matter of having a meaningful musical experience. I mean, I don't enjoy rushing in, throwing a performance together and immediately going on to the next. You can wear yourself out that way."

Recitals, such as the recital Auger gives Sunday night at Ambassador Auditorium with her friend, Dalton Baldwin, are "very satisfying. One at least has control over some of the elements."

Her program for Sunday is "basically the same one I've been doing this winter"--songs and arias by, among others, Purcell, Mozart, Donizetti, Richard Strauss and Copland--"though some towns want more arias."

In the current week, the 48-year-old Auger will have sung in at least four states in nine days. Does she tire of the routine?

"I'm used to it. As long as I feel healthy I don't mind the travel. But of course I would like to have time to do more things outside my work."

She confides that she has given up her home in New Hampshire because, as she says, "I found I wasn't getting there very often." Now she has "a place outside New York City, where I park my things," and in Europe another headquarters, "for business, near Amsterdam, where my secretary lives and where I keep a lot of my music."

Being as busy as she is, Auger says, involves some trade-offs.

"I love teaching, and get so much pleasure from it, but I've been able to do very little recently, though I have this season given master classes in Cleveland, Princeton and Philadelphia. But the teaching post I had at Frankfurt I had to give up.

"Then I had to cancel the master class we scheduled at Irvine for next week, because a recording project, which has already dragged out over two seasons, just has to be completed. And this is the week. I felt terrible about not being able to get down there."

But her new concentration on song recitals has now made it possible for Auger to delve into an area new to her interest: the music of living composers.

"For years, I was just so busy developing the standard part of my repertoire, I never found the time to look into new music. Now, I'm getting that chance."

She has met a number of composers, she says, and has even commissioned one, Libby Larson, to write a song cycle, "the length of a half-program. It will be 30 to 40 minutes long, but made up of separate songs that do not have to be performed together." On the current tour, Auger says she had the pleasant surprise of meeting Lee Hoiby, the composer of the songs which end her recital this season.

"For someone who sings an awful lot of Bach and Handel, it was almost a shock to meet a living composer. But nice."

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