On 6 February in Houston Federica von Stade gave her last operatic performance. She sang the role of Mrs. De Rocher, the murderer’s mother, in Jake Heggie’s ‘Dead Man Walking’, a role was written for von Stade, and she originated it for the world-premiere San Francisco production.
In a recent interview von Stade said:
Playing Mrs. De Rocher lets me explore the fears that things you’ve done or not done have brought sorrow to your child. It’s something every mother goes through in different ways, because you can’t do everything right. She’s not a stupid woman, but she adores her son, and she has to believe him. It’s an opera that really tears you apart. Yet to leave with Sister Helen’s words ringing in my ears – a woman of such wisdom and kindness – is a fantastic experience to carry with me.”
The end of the last performance was very emotional. Leslie Loddeke writes:
As if many in the audience weren’t already in tears at the ending, we were further tested, as was von Stade, when HGO general director and CEO Anthony Freud, composer Jake Heggie, and HGO music director Patrick Summers came forward to laud her career. Freud noted that two years ago, von Stade had decided that her performances in Dead Man would be her final operatic appearances.
“All of us are truly honored that Flicka should choose Houston Grand Opera for her final farewell,” Freud said, referring to von Stade by her nickname. “Over her 40-year career, Frederica von Stade has become one of the world’s most distinguished and beloved artists. All of us who have had the privilege of working with Flicka regard her as the epitome of a great artist and the personification of integrity.
I recognize that I’ve written quite a lot about Flicka’s influence on me (and I honestly don’t expect to stop any time soon) but her final show was something indescribable. She was brilliant. She was fine. She was composed. I suspect she was quite ready for this and embraced it with a dignity and a beauty that will serve as an inspiration for many people for a long time to come. It was the REST of us that were a mess! Tears were flowing and emotions were raw and high, including the majority of the audience. I can’t quite describe (again, words failing me!) what it was like to share her final phrases with her in our brief duet, and then to watch as she rose beside me and took her final exit into the dark but famliar wings. My throat swelled and the notes definitely did not flow as I would have liked, but a moment like that takes hold and you simply have to go with it. She stood in the wings and watched us close out the show, and yet I think all of us were consumed with thoughts that it simply seemed impossible that this was it for her, she who still sings like an angel. However, it was a moment, a glorious unforgettable moment, where a star taught us mere mortals what it means to let go and head straight into the next chapter, with enthusiasm, generosity and joy. It is something I shall never forget, and I know I am not alone.
Von Stade comments on concluding the operatic part of her career:
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It has been an easy decision, really. I’ve been singing over 40 years, and to ask any more of my career, which came as a surprise to me, would just be greedy. I’ve been around so long that half the people think I’m gone already. It kind of winds down over a period of years, saying goodbye to this role and that company. And with many of the roles I did, which were 15-year-old boys, it became a little obscene to keep going on with them! And really, you can’t compete with kids who are 25 years younger. There comes a time when you feel like you’re dressed up in your daughter’s prom gown.
I came into this business knowing nothing. I would sit at the Met and listen to the great singers — Renata Tebaldi, Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo – and I would have my jaw down on my chest in amazement. What’s terrific is that I’m leaving with the same feeling, because I’m so deeply impressed with Joyce DiDonato and Susan Graham and all the young artists coming up now. There is a musical excellence that is as deeply impressive as the memories I have, and that’s kind of fun.