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Obituaries : Katherine Hilgenberg; Once Premier Contralto of S.F. Opera

March 30, 1988

Katherine Hilgenberg, who was reigning contralto of the San Francisco Opera Company before joining the University of Michigan's music faculty in 1968 and whose versatility propelled her into roles as disparate as the Mother Abbess in "The Sound of Music" and the innkeeper in "Boris Gudounov," has died.

An announcement received from the Ann Arbor campus this week said she was 67 when she died March 18 at a hospital in that city. A campus spokesman said she died of natural causes.

A church soloist in her native Chicago when she was 12, Miss Hilgenberg began to study voice after moving to Los Angeles. Six months after she began her studies as a teen-ager, she won the national Atwater Kent Auditions with its then-sizable $1,500 prize.

She came to the attention of Alfred Wallenstein, then conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and her appearances with that orchestra led to work with such other conductors as Otto Klemperer, William Steinberg, Artur Rodzinski and Igor Stravinsky.

She made her debut with the San Francisco Opera Company in 1955 and over a 6-year period mastered more than 30 operas, a larger total than any woman in the organization's history. They ranged from "Girl of the Golden West" to "La Sonnambula," "Carmen," "Faust," "Boris Gudounov" and "Die Meistersinger."

She also appeared in recital in Los Angeles, sang Bach at the Hollywood Bowl and toured in national companies of "The Sound of Music" and "Carousel."

At the university, Miss Hilgenberg was noted for working with budding singers and drew the praise of university regents on her 1986 retirement for "earning distinction as a pedagogue that matched that of her earlier accomplishments as a performer."

Survivors include three children, four grandchildren, four brothers and two sisters.

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