A Pair of Firsts for Roberta Alexander

Roberta Alexander may be remembered best by local audiences for her Mimi in a 1985 Hollywood Bowl concert “Boheme.” She also made her Covent Garden debut in the role, and has sung Mimi two years in a row at the Met.

She would not like to be characterized by the part, however. “I think that somehow in this day and age, you get put in boxes, fached as they say in Europe,” Alexander says from New York. There she was singing her first Antonia in “Les Contes d’Hoffmann” at the Met, in a production that was televised nationally last month.

Alexander herself seems in no danger of being put in an inconvenient pigeonhole. The lyric soprano’s opera roles range from Fiordiligi (“I sing a lot of Mozart”) to Jenufa and Bess, and she appears frequently with symphony orchestras and in recital.

Thursday, Alexander will sing Strauss’ Four Last Songs with Andre Previn and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She has performed the songs often before but these concerts will be her first with Previn, and her first at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Debussy’s “Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune” and Walton’s “Belshazzar’s Feast,” with baritone John Shirley-Quirk and the Los Angeles Master Chorale, complete the program.


Then April 11, Alexander and Shirley-Quirk will sing selections from Mahler’s “Des Knaben Wunderhorn,” accompanied at the piano by Previn, at Gindi Auditorium of the University of Judaism. That Los Angeles Philharmonic Chamber Music Society program also offers Mendelssohn’s String Quintet in B-flat, Opus 87.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Alexander says of her Strauss with Previn and the Philharmonic. “Mozart and Strauss are very close in the precision needed--no scooping there!”

Alexander is no stranger to the Strauss operas, either, having sung the title role in “Daphne” at Santa Fe. For the future, she says, “I would like to turn my hand at some point to Arabella and eventually even the Marschallin.”

Though Alexander was born in Virginia and trained at Central State University in Ohio and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, she has lived for the last 15 years in Amsterdam. She moved there when she was married to Dutch conductor Edo de Waart. After their divorce, “I just stayed there,” she says. She learned to speak Dutch in her first year there, and now finds refuge from the pace of her far-flung engagements in a garden of tulips and crocuses.


The diversity of Alexander’s music-making is both a matter of choice and of convenience. For building a career, she concedes, “It’s born out of necessity, but on the other hand, both my parents are musicians and we always listened to many different things. I think younger singers are stretching themselves now. I like that a lot.”

HEIFETZ TRIBUTE: All five of the Chamber Music/LA ’88 concerts--May 8, 12, 15, 19 and 22 at the Japan America Theatre--will be dedicated to the memory of Jascha Heifetz, who died in December. The programs feature the premieres of five unpublished Heifetz transcriptions. The artists gathered include many with strong connections to the legendary violinist, ranging from his protegee (and Chamber Music/LA founder-director) violinist Yukiko Kamei, through longtime Heifetz accompanist Brooks Smith, to soprano Carol Neblett, whose mother was Heifetz’s secretary.

ETHNIC ARTS: UCLA Extension is offering a one-day exploration of the art, architecture, music and dance of Thailand and Burma on Saturday. Then in September, the department will sponsor a two-week travel/study tour of those countries. Information: (213) 206-8503.

The 11th Annual CalArts World Music Festival begins Thursday and continues through April 17. The music ranges from Irish to Balinese, from ragtime to experimental. Ethnic dinners will be served before the concerts. Information: (818) 362-2315.

INSTITUTE FINALE: Saturday evening, the Dutch Schoenberg Quartet gives the final concert of the spring season at the Schoenberg Institute, playing Schoenberg’s String Quartet No. 4 and the Second Quartet by Schoenberg’s teacher, Alexander Zemlinsky. Friday at 11 A.M., the ensemble offers a free performance forum on the music of the Second Viennese School at the USC School of Music. Information: (213) 743-5362.

CHANGES: Karl Munchinger will not conduct the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra on April 19 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa as originally announced. Munchinger, 72, has been ill and was advised by Columbia Artists, which represents him in New York, not to undertake a tour at this time, according to Erich Vollmer, executive director of the Orange County Philharmonic Society, which is sponsoring the event. Patrick Strub will conduct instead.

Strub, 41, is from Bavaria. He founded the Tubinger Chamber Orchestra in 1976 and became conductor of the Stuttgart Youth Orchestra in 1979. He is a regular conductor of the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, which Munchinger founded.

Pacific Northwest Ballet and the Minnesota Dance Theatre have dissolved their joint operating agreement, after less than a year in effect. Lack of an appropriate performance facility and financial support in Minnesota for a nonresident company were cited as reasons for the split.