Renata Babak

SILVER SPRING, Md. (AP) _ Renata Babak, an internationally known mezzo-soprano with the Bolshoi Opera who defected from the Soviet Union in 1973, died Wednesday of pancreatic cancer. She was 69.

She died at her suburban Washington home, her daughter said.

Babak gave recitals until last year, singing in a sweet but powerful and well-controlled voice described by critics as among the best in the world. Her last opera was in 1997, when she performed in Tchaikovsky's ``Iolanta'' with Opera Camerata of Washington.

Babak was an international star with 10 years' experience at the Bolshoi when she defected while the opera company was playing at La Scala in Milan, slipping out of a hotel lobby wearing a wig and dark glasses. She immigrated to Canada and went into hiding for two years.

Babak's U.S. debut at Carnegie Hall in 1975 was met with enthusiastic reviews. She moved to New York and then to Washington in the hopes of working with George London, then general director of the Washington Opera. Babak joined the faculty of the Washington Conservatory of Music when London was disabled by a stroke.