By Louis Lebherz
ON SUNDAY AFTERNOON, February 12, at the Sunset Center, Frederica von Stade appeared in a valentine recital accompanied by internationally acclaimed American opera composer/pianist Jake Heggie. The event was sponsored by the venerable Carmel Music Society, now celebrating its 90th season. Flicka, as she is popularly known, made her New York Metropolitan Opera debut in 1970, 47 years ago! She has performed with nearly every major opera company in the world, and on every great concert stage. She has received numerous awards, honorary doctorates, and the adulation of millions of fans. Her charm, vitality and generosity are legendary.
This recital was a journey through the artist’s life as America’s favorite mezzo-soprano. (Pictured, Flicka with adoring fan David Ligare.) The repertoire included arias from her great opera roles, in two of which Frederica plays young lads. In the opera Mignon by Ambroise Thomas, Frederic, a student, is smitten by the actress Philine. He climbs through a window into her dressing room and sings the charming rondo “Me voici dans son boudoir.” It was here that von Stade’s voice found a placement that glistened as she portrayed the youth’s excitement and fantasy. Later, singing Cherubino’s love song “Voi che sapete” from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, she found the same lovely, youthful voice that she had so often possessed in her numerous productions of the opera.
The recital opened with four songs about roses which she dedicated to Peter Thorp, co-president of the Carmel Music Society board of directors. Included in this set was a stunning rendition of “La vie en rose,” famously sung by the legendary chanteuse, Edith Piaf. Then followed a set dedicated to her daughter, starting with Carol Hall’s Jenny Rebecca, and a cycle of four songs by Jake Heggie entitled Paper Wings. This was pure charm and the maternal love of Frederica poured over the audience like warm honey.
How does one review such an artist? To have had one more opportunity to see, hear and experience the magic that is Flicka was a great gift recognized by all in attendance, and especially by this critic who had the great honor of singing with her many times. The smile, poise and charm are still magnificent to behold. The singing voice is a gift, but like the rest of the body it ages. In this case, one was occasionally aware of the technical limitations brought on by the years, but like fine wine, the artistry has only bloomed and grown with the wisdom of experience.
Frederica von Stade can be seen next Saturday afternoon, February 18, in a special matinee performance of Street Requiem, with The Choral Project and the San Jose Chamber Orchestra, in Santa Cruz. (See PAMB’s Calendar for details.) In 2015, this powerful piece was selected as a semi-finalist and awarded a Special Citation for dignifying the homeless through song by The American Prize Professional Choral Composition. A deeply spiritual work it evokes a sense of hope in the face of challenging times. Cathartic in character, it takes us on a journey through the streets to remind us of our humanity and interconnectedness and to renew our optimism in the light at the end of even the darkest tunnel.