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100 New Yorkers of the 1970s By Max Millard Characters: 5113

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Don't look for opera posters, photographs or reviews on the walls of Mignon Dunn's Westside apartment. The Tennessee-born Metropolitan Opera star, one of the world's most sought-after mezzo-sopranos since the early 1970s, prefers to keep her two lives separate. She has no scrapbooks and saves no clippings. "I look forward to what I'm doing tomorrow," she explains.

"I don't like those stand-up-and-sing roles. I loves to play wicked women. But you have to make them just as human as possible," she continues, her gold jewelry jingling as she settles onto the sofa. Tall and attractive, with large, expressive features, Miss Dunn is hospitality personified as she talks about her life and career over a glass of wine.

This season at the Met she starred in both Lohengrin and Elektra. In the spring she will appear in Aida on the Met tour, and perform the role of Kundry in Parsifal with Germany's Hamburg Opera. After that she plans some orchestral and opera concerts across the country. Long praised for her dramatic talents as well as her vocal skills, Miss Dunn has already signed contracts for performances into 1984.

Although a few noted operas, such as Carmen, Samson et Dalila, and Joan of Arc, have a mezzo in the title role, most operas feature the higher-voiced soprano in the lead and a mezzo in a character role. "We may not have the main roles, but we have some of the best parts in opera," she says in her rich Southern accent, shouting the last word as if from an overflow of energy. "Not many of the roles I get today are angelic. It's often the 'other woman,' or the woman who causes the trouble."

Married since 1972 to Kurt Klippstatter, a conductor and music director from Austria, Miss Dunn has never had any children of her own, somewhat to her regret. But she and her husband frequently have their nephews and nieces staying for extended periods. "Our niece Evi, from Austria, is living with us now. She's like a little daughter, and I adore her. She's 18, and she's going to go to nursing school." Mignon and Kurt are a very gregarious couple who enjoy throwing huge dinner parties. Mignon's cooking, like her singing, is international.

"I cook Austrian. I cook New Orleans. I cook some nice Italian and

French things. I'm going to be in Paris later this year for six weeks, and

I really seriously want to go to the Cordon Bleu Cooking School, and take

at least a three-week course."

Around the late 1960s she was based in Germany for several years. There, says Dunn, many new operas are premiered each ye

ar, while in the U.S. they are a rarity. "It all comes back to the fact that we don't have government subsidy. We have to worry about selling tickets. Opera is an expensive thing, and until we get this government support - which people for some reason are afraid of - we cannot be as experimental as we would like to be."

Brought up on a cotton plantation in Memphis, she entered her first singing contest at the age of 9 and spent most Saturday afternoons in her girlhood listening with rapt attention to the Metropolitan Opera broadcast on the radio. Immediately following her high school graduation, she was auditioned by Met scouts and encouraged to go to New York. There, after several years of study, she won a national competition that launched her career.

Dunn spent part of three seasons with the New York City Opera before joining the Met. It was many years, however, before her talents were fully appreciated there. "It only took me 11 auditions to get into the New York City Opera, and at least that many at the Met. So take heart, everybody," she says, laughing merrily.

She has made numerous opera recordings, including the role of Susan B. Anthony in Virgil Thompson's The Mother of Us All and Maddalena in Rigoletto. "I don't ever listen to my recordings," she says when asked to name her favorite. "I listen to the playbacks, when I can do something about it. But I don't listen to recordings afterwards because there's nothing that I can do about it, and I know I'm going to find a million things that I don't like."

Mignon and her husband recently bought a house in Connecticut, but they will keep their Westside apartment. "We have three acres," she says proudly. "I hope we'll get a couple of horses and I would love a goat. I love goats. They're so cute. I love animals - we have a Great Dane and a Labrador - and I'm very much into the business with the Animal Protection Institute. Most of the experiments that are done with animals today: there's just no reason for it. … I mean, I don't think we need another shampoo on the market, really."

Her voice rises with feeling as she pursues the subject. "It is really the slavery of today. People don't have any feelings for animals, and I'm just rabid. I really am. It is so disgraceful. Anytime anybody wants me to do a benefit for animals, just call me and I'll do it any day I've got free. I would like to do more benefits. Actually, I'm hardly ever asked to, but if I were asked, I would do it."

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EASTSIDER DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS JR.

A man for all seasons

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