Opera star Evelyn Lear dies at 86 in US

This Feb. 1978 black-and-white handout photo provided by the Kennedy Center shows, from left, Evelyn Lear as Irina Arkadina, Patricia Wells as Masha, and Evelyn Petros as Nina in Pastieri’s The Seagull. American soprano Evelyn Lear, who became an opera star in Europe while singing some of the most difficult contemporary operas before returning to the United States, has died. She was 86. (AP Photo/Kennedy Center)

WASHINGTON - American soprano Evelyn Lear, who became an opera star in Europe while singing some of the most difficult contemporary operas before returning to the U.S., has died. She was 86.

Longtime friend and collaborator John Edward Niles says Lear died Sunday at a nursing home in Maryland. He says she had been ailing for months after suffering a mild stroke.

Lear and her late husband Thomas Stewart, the acclaimed bass-baritone, settled near Washington, D.C., after singing together for decades around the world. They wanted to be closer to their grandchildren.

After being overlooked by U.S. opera houses, Lear won fame in Vienna singing the title character in Alban Berg's "Lulu."

Leaders in the opera world are praising her versatility, beauty, musicality and stage presence.