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Joyce Arleen Auger (September 13, 1939 – June 10, 1993) was an American soprano, admired for her coloratura voice and interpretations of works by Bach, Handel, Haydn, Monteverdi, Gluck, and Mozart.
Auger was born in South Gate, California and lived many years in Europe in Vienna and Frankfurt, finally returning to the U.S. to Hartsdale, New York. She learned piano and violin as a child. She received a BA in Education from California State University at Long Beach in 1963, and her first job was as a kindergarten and first grade teacher. Between 1965 and 1967, she studied voice with tenor Ralph Errolle in South Pasadena, California, and began her professional singing career after winning the I. Viktor Fuchs Vocal Competition in Los Angeles in 1967, which brought her some singing engagements and airfare to Vienna; she also appeared with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra at this time. She was signed by the Vienna Staatsoper soon after her arrival there despite her lack of knowledge of the German language, after impressing Josef Krips, remaining with the company for seven years. Her debut was in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte under Krips. She made her American debut with the same opera in 1969, with the New York City Opera. Her Metropolitan Opera debut was as Marzelline in Fidelio, under Karl Böhm.
Given her background in education, Auger was a natural vocal teacher. She taught from 1971 to 1977 at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, where she moved in 1974, and later taught at the Salzburg Mozarteum. Her debut at La Scala was in 1975 in L'enfant et les sortilèges. From this time, she turned to lyrical roles in opera, preferring to focus on her career as a concert singer, in early music as well as lieder, often accompanied in the latter by pianist Irwin Gage. She performed most of the soprano parts in Helmuth Rilling's Bach cantata cycle of the mid-1970s to mid-1980s, appearing several times at Rilling's Oregon Bach Festival. At the other end of the spectrum, she commissioned new song cycles by Libby Larsen (Sonnets from the Portuguese) and Judith Lang Zaimont.
She performed Mozart's Exultate, Jubilate in Westminster Abbey on July 23, 1986 to over 700 million TV viewers at the wedding of The Prince Andrew, Duke of York and Sarah Ferguson; she later recorded this work along with the Great Mass in C minor under Leonard Bernstein, in 1990. On December 5, 1991, the bicentenary of Mozart's death, she sang his Requiem with Cecilia Bartoli and the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Georg Solti in St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna, by this time Auger already suffering from brain cancer. She made over two hundred recordings, including the complete soprano cantatas of Bach and the works of Schoenberg.
Auger won a Grammy for Best Classical Vocal Performance in 1994 for her performances on the 1993 "The Art of Arlene Auger" (Koch International Classics 3-7248-2H1). The release was also notable for its recording debut of "Sonnets from the Portuguese" by American composer Libby Larsen. Auger also recorded for Delos International. Stereophile's Jason Serinus wrote that her "exquisite album of Love Songs remains one of the finest compendiums of classical song ever issued."
Music critic Tim Page wrote that she was "the sort of artist whose work not only provided pleasure for her audience but also instruction for her colleagues [...] by any standards, hers was an exemplary career [...] She sang beautifully for more than a quarter century, she sang great music, and she never bowed or pandered to public taste. She was an artist, steady and serious to the end."
She retired in February 1992, after being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour, a mass in the right parietal lobe of her brain which turned out to be a giant cell glioblastoma. After three brain surgeries, she died in June 1993 at the age of 53 in Leusden, The Netherlands, where she had lived during her illness. A memorial service in her honour was held at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel where works by Bach, Mozart, Fauré and others were performed by several well-known musicians, including Renée Fleming and Karen Holvik. Married and divorced twice, she was survived by her parents and brother.
- "Auger, Arleen". Who was who in America : with world notables, v. XI (1993-1996). New Providence, N.J.: Marquis Who's Who. 1996. p. 10. ISBN 0837902258.
- Grammy Award for Best Classical Vocal Performance
- Official website of Delos
- New York Times
- arleen-auger-memorial-fund.org[permanent dead link] - information, pictures, music samples
- Bach-cantatas.com: Arleen Auger - pictures
- Stereophile.com Opinion
- Monography with discography, TV productions and broadcast worldwide