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Wednesday, November 22, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Leon Lishner's Bass Voice Captivated Opera Audiences -- As Deities And Devils, He Sang For Decades

Seattle Times Staff Reporters

When composer Gian Carlo Menotti wrote his opera "Amahl and the Night Visitors," it was Leon Lishner's bass voice he had in mind for one of the three kings.

Decades later, when Seattle composer Carol Sams wanted to cast the voice of God in her opera "Heaven," she turned to Mr. Lishner as the embodiment of divine authority.

Mr. Lishner - who died of cancer yesterday at 82 - played deities and devils on world opera stages for six decades. He sang well past his 80th birthday. His last recording, "Our Town Is Burning," was issued last year.

"All his family will remember him as a musician, but remembers him most as a loving and supporting father, and as a caring human being concerned with others and the state of the world," said his daughter, Denise Lishner of Seattle.

Mr. Lishner belonged to Educators for Social Responsibility.

Few exceeded him in the song he made his own, the Yiddish art song. Born in New York City to Russian immigrants, he recorded two volumes of such songs, some of which he had sung with his brother and sister in the family kitchen long ago.

Mr. Lishner made Franz Schubert's song-cycle "Winterreise" (Winter Journey), a personal statement of resignation and hope, and he sang it in many recitals in Seattle.

He performed more than 85 roles with opera companies worldwide. He also taught music at the University of Nebraska and at Oberlin Conservatory.

While serving on the University of Washington faculty from 1964 to 1979, he left his mark on generations of students, some of whom have international singing careers.

Mr. Lishner himself was educated at City College of New York and at the Juilliard School of Music.

His opera work - he was famous as the evil basso in Benjamin Britten's "Billy Budd" - was immortalized in television and radio broadcasts. Even after retiring from the UW, Mr. Lishner assisted with UW Opera productions and stagings elsewhere.

Mr. Lishner credited good fortune and genetics with his ability to sing with strength decades after the age most opera singers retire.

"He had an incredibly long career for a singer, including many world premieres," said Arthur Grossman, UW associate dean of arts. "He was a dear friend and someone who really lived life to the fullest."

Mr. Lishner's other survivors include his sons, David; Paul, Seattle; Daniel, Los Angeles; Michael, Orcas Island; and grandson Alexander Leon Lishner. His two marriages ended in divorce.

No public services are planned. Remembrances may go to Group Health Cooperative Hospice Program, 83 S. King St., Suite 515, Seattle, WA 98104.

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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