Soprano Evelyn Lear shot to international fame with her performances of Alban Berg's vocally treacherous anti-heroine Lulu at the Vienna Staatsoper in 1962. The fact that she had learned the role in a scant two weeks before her first performance of it only helped the singer's acclaim. Throughout her career, she has performed an impressive variety of roles and has made excellent recordings.
This summer she is singing Venus in the US premiere production of Cavalli's ''L'Orione'' here, which continues through late August. Her husband, Thomas Stewart, sings Filotero.
A recent phone conversation found her in bubbly spirits over this role: ''We play what we call the two mature leads. I create a lot of trouble for people. I'm very naughty and conniving. It's so much fun because its a real buffa role and I get a chance to be very funny!''
Miss Lear also informed me that she will be singing the role of Mme. Ranyevska in the world premiere production of Kelterborn's ''The Cherry Orchard'' in Zurich, commissioned to celebrate the reopening of that city's newly renovated Opera House in 1984. So Miss Lear will be able to add another world premiere role to her long list of distinguished achievements - a list that keeps on growing with no sign of abatement.
I had a chance to sit down with Miss Lear in her Santa Fe home last summer. The balcony of that house overlooks the town and provides dramatic views of New Mexico topography. I asked her at what point a singer should drop a role in his or her repertoire. She declared straightforwardly, ''When you get to a role and you're going to tremble with panic - not fear, panic! - you'd better drop it. Or when you've sung it five times and the reaction is cool, you'd better drop it.''
We talked about roles she has dropped in her career, and she started right in with ''Tosca.'' ''Physically and histrionically, 'Tosca' is a perfect role for me. I did it for five years, and then I realized that vocally the part was not right for me, and I gave it up.
''I gave up Mimi - she's got to be a young girl and have that lack of worldliness about her. Pamina I don't sing anymore. Micaela I gave up long ago, even Desdemona, who's more mature: I sang it, and I sang it well, but I never was giving what I considered an ultimate performance. I don't think vocally it had that Italian bloom. I wish that more of my contemporaries - and younger ones - would start to understand about their singing. They have to do everything!''
She bemoans the fact that young singers today are becoming increasingly bland , but she points out emphatically that the system forces it upon them. The young singer does not have a chance to grow because there are so many vying for so few jobs.
Miss Lear has been working with younger singers a good deal of late. She even staged the prologue to ''Ariadne'' in one of the workshops at the Santa Fe Opera last summer. And since she's worked with probably every type of stage director from the sensation-seeking to the totally dedicated, she has learned a good deal about the needs singers have for sensitive directors.
I asked her how she survived the grueling emotions of so many of her toughest - and most successful - roles. ''You have to be secure vocally.'' She used the analogy of a dancer not attempting a big role without being in perfect control of it. But a singer can manage on occasion to go out and sing an important role without the requisite technical backup and still have some sort of success.
''You have to know how to portray it and not be caught up in it. When I'm performing a dramatic, searingly emotional role, I have to find a middle balance with which to deal with this. I find a certain mental concept that will supplant fear, because you can't be thinking fear and strength at the same time. Instead of thinking of emotion, I think of strength. It's a more productive emotion to use.''
I inquired as to her feelings while looking back on her success. ''What is success?'' she riposted. ''It's not dependent on how many performances you do at famous theaters or how many records you make. In my most successful days - the pinnacle of my career - I didn't even enjoy it because I wasn't happy within me. I was always so scared - that they'd find out I wasn't as good as I thought I was or that I wouldn't measure up. I didn't know how to gracefully accept my success.''
She has put many other of her important portrayals to record, including her haunting Marie in Berg's ''Wozzeck,'' her noble Pamina on Bohm's recording of Mozart's ''Die Zauberflote,'' and her touchingly human Marschallin in Strauss's ''Der Rosenkavalier.''
She has recorded recitals alone and with husband Thomas Stewart, ranging in repertoire from Schubert to Sondheim.
This does not begin to give a sense of the roles Miss Lear has performed in the course of her career. At the Met alone she has created the role of Lavinia in the world premiere of Marvin David Levy's ''Mourning Becomes Electra'' and has sung the Composer in Strauss's ''Ariadne auf Naxos,'' Cherubino and then the Countess in Mozart's ''Le Nozze di Figaro,'' Donna Elvira in Mozart's ''Don Giovanni,'' Alice Ford in Verdi's ''Falstaff,'' and the Marschallin from among others.
Miss Lear's career in Europe balanced between the new and established operatic roles, and she has always been known as a versatile singer as well as a splendid actress - not a common combination in the operatic world!
Nowadays, she more than graciously knows how to accept that success, and she is conspicuously happy. Her October Marschallin at the Met was a triumph and will be heard again in 1986; in 1985 she repeats her wrenching Geschwitz, seen on ''Live From the Met'' several seasons ago.