Kaaren Erickson, Seattle Soprano Who Sang At Met

Only a few days before her death this past weekend, the soprano Kaaren Erickson spent the entire night - from before midnight until after 6 a.m. - singing arias and songs from her extensive repertoire.

She knew there wouldn't be time to sing them again.

Ms. Erickson, a Seattle-born international star who won first prize at the Munich Competition and starred at the Metropolitan Opera, died early Saturday morning (Aug. 30) at the age of 44, after a two-year battle against cancer. Her husband, opera singer Edward Sooter, called Erickson "the ultimate fighter" who was "a giver right to the end."

Ms. Erickson, who cherished her Seattle connections and continued a lifelong relationship with the Woodland Park Presbyterian Church, returned with Sooter and their daughter, Esther, 9, from their Tennessee home to Seattle last month for a farewell trip.

The three sang at the church in an emotional service, then went on to say goodbye to friends and to take one last ferry ride and then a final trip to Mount Rainier.

While Ms. Erickson made regular concert and opera appearances in Seattle, both with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and the Seattle Opera, her impact in the opera and concert world reached far afield to Europe and Asia.

She began her professional career in Europe. After winning the Munich Competition and returning to this country, she made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Susanna (in Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro") during the 1985-86 season.

Ms. Erickson also appeared regularly around the world in concerts, singing Strauss' "Four Last Songs" at Carnegie Hall under the baton of Neville Marriner and performing the solos in Mahler's Symphony No. Eight with both conductor James Levine (at the Ravinia Festival) and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich and the Washington Symphony.

Many of Ms. Erickson's career milestones came with Gerard Schwarz, music director of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, who invited her frequently to perform with the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York and also at the decade-long "Schubertiade" of the 92nd St. "Y" in New York.

Although she was well known for her Mozart and Handel, she also was a noted exponent of contemporary music. Composer Gordon Getty chose her to record his song cycle based on poems of Emily Dickinson, "The White Election."

Two years ago, when Ms. Erickson underwent cancer surgery at Sloan-Kettering Memorial Institute, Sooter returned to the hospital after singing a Good Friday service to discover superstar tenor Placido Domingo in his wife's room.

The famous visitor brought "every nurse on the floor, who suddenly wanted to check on Kaaren," Sooter recalls, "and the doctor did his rounds two hours early that day.

"Domingo, who must be the most wonderful man in opera, was worried that Kaaren might be bored in the hospital, so he brought her half a dozen discs to listen to - Placido Domingo discs, of course," he said.

Sooter said the reality of Ms. Erickson's death would take awhile to set in because her performing career meant that she was periodically absent from the family.

"She was gone a lot, singing," he remembers, "and Esther is used to that. But when a period of time goes by and Kaaren doesn't return, I know it will really sink in. We are getting a lot of wonderful support from the community in Maryville, Tennessee, where we live. But it's going to be hard."

Ms. Erickson's mother, Annette Herr, said her daughter's "wonderful spirit" will long remain in the memories of all who knew her.

"I had so hoped that she would live long enough to sing in Benaroya Hall," Herr added. The new home of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra is set to open in September of 1998.

In addition to her husband, daughter and mother, Erickson is survived by two sisters, Heidi Herr and Jennifer Herr, both of Chelan, a niece, two nephews and a grandniece. She was preceded in death by her father, Dr. L. L. Herr. A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday in Woodland Park Presbyterian Church, 225 N. 70th St.

Melinda Bargreen's phone message number is 206-464-2321. Her e-mail address is: mbar-new@seatimes.com