Thursday, October 18, 2007
Frederica von Stade possesses one of those unmistakable voices that commands immediate recognition on the concert stage, in the opera house and in broadcasts on radio and television. The unique timbral signature that is her voice is accompanied by an equally powerful and infectious personality. Such a combination creates a rare artistic alchemy.
Since her engagement by the Metropolitan Opera in 1970, at the age of just 25, von Stade’s star has remained ascendant. In more recent years, such prominent composers as Dominick Argento, Richard Danielpour and Jake Heggie have written works specifically for her. Flicka – as she is known to her friends – is no stranger to the Monterey Peninsula, having sung here before, most recently to benefit the Monterey County AIDS Project (and as a personal memorial to a cousin who was taken by the disease).
Neither is she a stranger to soul-searching. Her accompanist for this program is Heggie, whose opera Dead Man Walking – based on the Helen Prejean memoir and made even more famous in the Tim Robbins film – will see at least 50 performances in this calendar year alone. Heggie wrote the part of the condemned’s mother for von Stade to create at the San Francisco Opera. “I was just thrilled to be part of it,” she says, and of that role in particular, “It was a part I wanted to play, because the worst thing that’s asked of any parent is to lose a child in any way, at any age. But one step worse is to feel that you’re responsible in some way for your child’s fate.” Heggie also wrote song settings of von Stade’s own texts that reflect on the father she never knew, Charles von Stade, who died at the end of World War II, two months before her birth, when he was just 25.
“Opera is so much about the past and [this] is blatantly current,” she says of Dead Man. “It’s a political issue. To approach it through music is marvelous.” But, she adds, it still must take account of staging to be successful. “Opera needs action, it needs events and it has to have strong feelings about those events.”
Despite her eclectic programming, one might not suspect von Stade of pushing the envelope. But her collaborations suggest otherwise. She recorded The Sound of Music with the late Jerry Hadley and the much-acclaimed Eileen Farrell. She has done entire programs of Dave and Chris Brubeck. Next spring she will star in Heggie’s new chamber opera, Last Acts. First among the demands of any new work, she says, is “to be as loyal as possible to what the composer has written.”
Set for Sunset Center is a soup-to-nuts program of classical and popular songs grouped in six categories, namely Roses, Paris, Religion, Children, Shady Ladies and Moi. The Children’s portion will include a scene from Dead Man. Art songs by Schubert and Strauss will carom off show tunes from Sondheim, Rodgers and Bernstein. Well-known for her French repertoire, von Stade will include songs by Bizet, Fauré, Debussy, Ravel and Poulenc, and even Edith Piaf’s, La Vie en Rose. Americans other than Heggie and the Broadway tunesmiths are Ned Rorem, Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson and William Bolcom. There’s even a song by Alberto Ginastera.
The program is expected to sell out.
FREDERICA von STADE performs at 3pm Sunday, Oct. 21, at the Sunset Center, San Carlos and Ninth, Carmel. $47-$20. 626-9938 or carmelmusic.org