I learn from Lisa Hirsch that the soporano Evelyn Lear died July 1. Of course, I remember her first and foremost for American Scenes, American Poets, an album of songs by Charles Ives she recorded with her husband, the late baritone Thomas Stewart. It was my first exposure to the songs of Ives and remains both a favorite recording and another one of those Columbia classics Sony has never seen fit to release on CD.
Strange, though — Lear was an American (born Evelyn Shulman in Brooklyn), but for a long time I assumed she was ... well, I know not what. My confusion was due to a minspronunciation on the Ives recording. The song "The Light That Is Felt," with text by Whitter, contains the lines "And only when our hands we lay / In thine, Oh God! the night is day." Maybe she was distracted, maybe she was uptight, maybe she wasn't making sense of the lyric, but for some reason, Lear pronounces "lay" as "lee."
And only when our hands we lee ...
Regardless, it is a wonderful rendition of a wonderful piece. When my mother died in 1999, I hired a soprano to sing it at her funeral — in large measure because of the impression Lear had made on me 25 years earlier.