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Thomas Stewart, 78; Wagnerian Bass-Baritone Sang at Bayreuth, Met

September 28, 2006|From the Associated Press

Thomas Stewart, the American bass-baritone praised for his portrayals of the god Wotan and other Wagnerian roles at the Metropolitan Opera and the Bayreuth Festival, has died. He was 78.

Stewart died Sunday afternoon after collapsing while playing golf near his home in Rockville, Md.

"He had had heart surgery earlier this year and had not been feeling well for some time, but he was getting along, still active, cheerful and doing things," his wife, soprano Evelyn Lear, told the Washington Post.

"We went out to the course, played for a while, he made par, and then suddenly turned around and fell backward. I tried to resuscitate him, but he didn't respond," she said.

Stewart was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead from a heart attack.

Stewart was known as a commanding singer who took an imaginative approach to his diverse roles, which included Aeneas in Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas," Jokanaan in Richard Strauss' "Salome" and the title role in Mozart's "Don Giovanni."

Matthew Epstein, director of the worldwide vocal divisions at Columbia Artists Management, said Stewart was "deeply musical, able to sing in many different styles and languages, a wonderful actor with a fabulous vocal technique."

Stewart nurtured young artists as part of the Evelyn Lear and Thomas Stewart Emerging Singers Program, in company with the Wagner Society of Washington.

Stewart was born Aug. 29, 1928, in San Saba, Texas. He studied at the Juilliard School and later sang with the New York City Opera and the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

He married Evelyn Lear in 1955. They moved to Berlin, where they sang at the State Opera and throughout Europe. He sang at the Bayreuth Festival, the shrine to Wagner's music in Bavaria, from 1960 to 1972. The conductor Herbert von Karajan called Stewart his favorite Wotan.

After returning from Europe, the couple had long careers with the Metropolitan Opera.

In addition to his wife, Stewart is survived by a son and a daughter.

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