April 23, 2010

Frederica von Stade's Farewell Recital at Carnegie Hall

Walking back home from Carnegie Hall, the thought occurred to me that I had just witnessed the passing of an era.   How so?  Frederica von Stade sang and comported herself with such charm, grace and elan - making it look oh so easy-  that one forgot that young singers today often stand on the stage is if they are in their living rooms.  Either that or they bluster their way through.  Not von Stade.  She never puts on airs except for comedic effect, and you get the distinct impression that she knows exactly what she is doing, why she is there, and what the public expects.  And she doesn't disappoint.

Von Stade appeared in a black and white striped evening gown that telegraphed that she was here to have fun and all things French.  This perception was confirmed when she appeared in the second half in a Belle Époque inspired peacock blue-green gown.  The change from light to dark was beautiful.  And this chiaroscuro effect extended to her singing as she ranged from the dusky full tones of Connai-tu le pays from Mignon to a luminescent Early in the Morning by Ned Rorem- the latter taking a bow from the audience.  The composer Lee Hoiby was onstage to play the accompaniment to The Serpent, which was originally written for Leontyne Price.  Von Stade was also joined by Richard Stilwell and Samuel Ramey in a arrangement of Bernstein's Some Other Time from On the Town.   Ramey grabbed Flicka at one point, spinning her around, and interpolated a few bars of Non piu andrai, which elicited a look of genuine surprise and shock from the striped-gowned Cherubino, who took a step back and wagged her finger at the great basso before the song resumed.  The audience ate it up.

The program was threaded around von Stade's life, referencing different times and places.  France figured large in songs by Ravel, Poulence, Bertomieu and an under-appreciated Pauline Viardot, while America was represented by the aforementioned Rorem and Hoiby, as well as Copland, Thompson, Heggie, Hall, and Sondheim- who's Send in the Clowns may have been the most vulnerable and heart-centered moment.  That it came at the end was immensely satisfying. And if there was a zenith to be reached, it was during an encore of Cherubino's aria from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro - a role which made von Stade justly famous.  While she sang everything with clear elegant tone and exemplary diction, the Mozart filled the hall with a lustrous vibrancy that thrilled. 

In a moment between songs, Von Stade remarked that to be an artist one has to have a 'concept of excellence' as well as discipline, generosity and -most of all-  heart.   One sings from the bottom of one's heart (as she was taught by her teacher Sebastian Engelberg at Mannes). 

Could anything be so simple and yet so hard?  This recital was a lesson in life, and a celebration of the same. 

Martin Katz -von Stade's thirty-six year partner at the piano -played with nuance and sensitivity, reminding one that great artists are really great listeners.


  1. Thank you daniel for a wonderful review. I was there as well last night. One question: Do you know the name of the song she sang as one of her encores--the song about "a woman who has had a bit too much to drink"?--Thanks in advance --Michael

  2. Micheal- In the moment I thought it was from Die Fledermaus, but must confess that I don't have a clue. I know a few people who might know though. Let me get back to you on that. Daniel

  3. BTW - the evocative gowns were designed by Rosemarie Umetsu.

  4. I think the aria was from Offenbach's Grand Duchess of Gerelstein.

  5. I loved the whole evening immeasurably. The only time I've ever heard her sing live, alas, before last nt., was a beautiful recital in 1990 @ Royal Festival Hall, London. We love and will miss you, Flicka! (BTW: Daniel: What DO you mean by "nadir" here??? tres confused.) - She sure looked sublime, too! - Yes, the passing of a great, elegant era.

  6. Thanks, Madeleine! - And Happy Earth Day, all (EVERY day should be Earth Day!) and Happy Shakesp.'s B-day!

  7. Virgina- I meant zenith, but wrote nadir. The two get confused sometimes. A nadir is a point underneath the zenith. I will correct this in the text!

    Madeleine- thank you for the origin of the encore. That rings a bell: I sang in a concert version of that opera some years ago.

  8. The "drunken" aria is from La Perichole by Offenbach: von Stade included it on her first aria recital on CBS--Ah! quel diner


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