A longtime Pittsburgh resident who was a cantorial soloist at a local synagogue, Lerener sang in Europe at La Scala, Glyndebourne, the Th_ê¢tre du Chê¢telet, the Netherlands Opera and La Monnaie and with North American companies including the Metropolitan Opera, Seattle Opera, Canadian Opera Company, Houston Grand Opera, Dallas Opera, Santa Fe Opera and Washington Opera.
She was also chair of the voice faculty at Carnegie Mellon, where she received her masters degree in voice. But, writes the Post-Gazette, she was defined by her strength in the face of illness; she decided to begin piano lessons just a few months ago.
Lerner was a latecomer to the operatic world, according to the paper, but a highly influential musician with a devoted following on the Pittsburgh music scene. She was born Mimi Lipczer into a Jewish family in Sambor, Poland, in 1946. For several years before her birth, her parents were forced to literally hide in the woods from the Nazis. Her grandparents died in concentration camps, but her immediate family escaped and emigrated to the U.S.
She studied music education at Queens College and in 1967, met her future husband, a flutist with the Pittsburgh Symphony; after graduation she moved to Pittsburgh and they married in 1969.
The Post-Gazette writes that she didn't become seriously interested in singing until taking lessons in her new hometown, which inspired her to undertake graduate studies in voice.
She was diagnosed with cancer — a tumor in her heart — in 1995; in July 2000 she underwent surgery that involved the removal, rebuilding and replacement of her heart. In late October 2001, Lerner returned to the stage for an intimate recital in Kresge Recital Hall at Carnegie Mellon University.
Critic Robert Croan described that performance in the Post-Gazette as "a triumph of artistry, technique and sheer determination over tremendous physical — and surely also emotional — adversity. She vocalized her part as a personal statement, as if she were composing the words and music herself on the spur of the moment. Yes, there were some moments of evident struggle, but there were also stretches of extraordinary beauty — none more so than her final repeated pronouncements of the word 'ewig' (eternally)."