- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2003

Attired tastefully in a sporty light-green linen jacket and a black top and slacks embroidered with a floral

motif, Boston-born American soprano June Anderson flashes a warm, inviting smile that lights up a room. She’s in town this month to star as Rosalinde in the Washington Opera’s gala season-opening performances of “Die Fledermaus,” the fizzy, tune-filled operetta penned by the Waltz King himself, Johann Strauss the Younger.

Blond, trim and relaxed, Miss Anderson hardly seems like the moody diva some commentators have painted her to be. “I’m a perfectionist,” she admits without a hint of defensiveness. “I’ve never been difficult to work with, but I’m a hard worker, actually, very serious.” She reflects for a moment, her green eyes looking pensive. “Perfectionism, I don’t think, is a bad thing. If you don’t aim for perfection, you won’t even achieve mediocrity.”

Somewhat better-known in Europe than in the United States, Miss Anderson has specialized in bel canto and coloratura operas ranging from the title roles in Bellini’s “Norma” and Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” to lighter characters such as the hapless Cunegonde in Bernstein’s “Candide.”

Whatever the role, she has always made negotiating the most challenging vocal passages seem nearly effortless. “What is most remarkable about June Anderson,” states Peter Katona of London’s Covent Garden, “is that she is at her best where other voices stop. She has more high notes than anyone can expect.”

Miss Anderson took to music early in life, but as a dancer, not a singer. “I began taking dancing lessons very young,” she says, “but I hurt my knee and couldn’t continue. So my mother made me take voice lessons.” She studied classical music and “some Italian opera,” she recalls. “I’d walk through the house just singing everything. I lived my life in recitatif.”

No intellectual lightweight, she majored in French at Yale University while continuing with her music on the side. Ever practical, she began to think it might make more sense to attend law school upon graduation. “But my boyfriend at the time said, ‘Keep doing music — you can always go to law school.’” The boyfriend is long gone, but Miss Anderson took his advice and headed for New York to study with “a wonderful teacher, Robert Leonard.” Unlike many modern opera stars, she never went the conservatory route.

Soon she began singing small opera roles in such cities as Milwaukee. Frequently, she’d be called upon as a last-minute sub. “Sometimes I’d go on without even a single rehearsal,” she says. Although she had managed to make her first professional appearance as the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s “Die Zauberflote” (“The Magic Flute”) with the New York City Opera in 1978 — a role she fleetingly reprised in Milos Forman’s popular film version of “Amadeus” — she found that “things just weren’t really happening for me in America.”

When she was invited to sing Rossini’s “Semiramide” with the Rome Opera in 1982, she left the United States on a semipermanent basis. Soon her career took off, as she became a regular in legendary venues such as La Scala and Covent Garden.

Later in the 1980s, “I did a summer concert series with Luciano Pavarotti, who was impressed with my voice,” she says. “He asked me if I could do ‘Rigoletto.’” When she told him she could, Mr. Pavarotti paved the way for her debut in Verdi’s masterpiece in 1989 at the Met, where she also sang her first “Die Fledermaus” (“The Bat”) in 1995.

The Washington Opera’s new production of the work will be sung, as the opera often is, in English. “But I’m going to sing the ‘Czardas’ (the famous Act II dance tune) in Hungarian,” she says. “I think it’s more authentic — the English is incomprehensible.”

She enjoys singing the tricky role of Rosalinde. “She’s very clever, a mature woman, not a young girl, and her husband, Eisenstein, proves to be a very large challenge as the night unfolds,” she says.

Miss Anderson is mum about the rumored surprise guests in the opera’s famous Act II ballroom scene on opening night, but at least one cameo is virtually assured. Placido Domingo, in a press conference earlier this year, said, “You can imagine that I will be one of them.”

Rumored to be an inveterate shopper and bargain hunter, Miss Anderson readily confesses, indicating a major interest in Georgetown, which she visited for the first time last week. “I don’t consider myself a shopaholic,” she says. “I’m actually really shy, and shopping is one thing you can do by yourself. But I’m careful to avoid retail.”

With homes in Paris and New York, Miss Anderson has close friends and acquaintances in both places and in Italy as well. She frequently contacts them via e-mail. “Initially, I wouldn’t have anything to do with computers, but the Internet changed everything. Now I’m always in touch with my friends and am never lonely,” she says.

Is there a current romance in her life? A stunningly attractive boomer, Miss Anderson quickly rejects the notion, although not without some sense of regret. “Prince Charming? No, it never happened. I’ve met a lot of Prince Charmlesses, though,” she says with a laugh. “Most men, I think, are still afraid of a successful woman.”

“[Tenor] Jon Vickers once told me to get out of the business because I didn’t have the right kind of personality,” she recalls. “I’m actually very open. I’m confident, but I’m shy. I love rehearsing, but during performances, I’m usually not a happy camper. I just get nervous. But then at the final curtain, I’m all relieved and as happy as can be. When you’re young and starting out, you don’t really have anything to lose. Later in your career, though, there are expectations, and you can’t disappoint people. I envy artists who take things more in stride.”

When not singing or hanging out with her friends, Miss Anderson is a vintage film buff with a particular affection for the period of 1929 to 1947, “the era of great movies.” She has an extensive collection of DVDs, many of which she lugs with her on tour. She is a fan of director Ernst Lubitsch, who directed “Trouble in Paradise,” (above) “Ninotchka,” and other classic romantic comedies, and admires Preston Sturges, Frank Capra and Billy Wilder. “And what would I do without Turner Classic Movies?” she asks rhetorically.

After her Washington gig: “I’m singing quite a lot in concert this season,” she says. But she’s also preparing to appear in more difficult operatic works, including Richard Strauss’ “Capriccio” and “Daphne” and contemporary German composer Hans Werner Henze’s challenging opera “The Bassarids” (1964-65, revised 1992). Based on a play by Euripides, “The Bassarids” is difficult to sing, according to Miss Anderson, given its modernist intonations and low vocal range. Nonetheless, she continues to seek out new challenges in Europe and elsewhere as she bravely stretches far beyond the bel canto repertoire that first brought her to fame.

WHAT: “Die Fledermaus” by Johann Strauss II

WHO: The Washington Opera

WHERE: DAR Constitution Hall

WHEN: Tonight at 6:30 p.m.; Tuesday, Thursday and Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m.; Sept. 13 at 2 p.m.; Sept. 15 at 7 p.m.

TICKETS: $42 to $260. Gala higher. Limited availability

PHONE: 202/432-SEAT or contact www.ticketmaster.com

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