Frederica von Stade's long-time accompanist, Martin Katz, sums up the mezzo's essence which has made her such a loved figure:
She has an intense belief that people are good, and that all comes into her work. It's like bottled sunshine.”
As starts to wind down her career she talked with San Francisco Chronicle music critic, Joshua Kosman. Here are her words.
“There was a point where all of a sudden I started feeling like I was dressed up in my daughter's prom dress with a big bow on the back. I was getting tired of all the stuff that goes with the business. I always love singing, but getting there and doing the dress and the hair – that just started to grate on me.”
“That's a role that I sang way past the point of decency. I just didn't want to give it up. I think it's Mozart's character in many ways. I love doing operas where I'm super busy, running around pretending to be a boy. Octavian (in Richard Strauss' ‘Der Rosenkavalier') is another one.”
“I think to do that piece, you have to be able to just toss it off. And I was always concentrating too hard, just trying to make it be what I wanted to be.”
“In general, I don't feel I've had a handle on singing. That used to not be OK with me, but now it is. The type of singing I love is what Susie Graham or Janet Baker do, that kind of smooth, easy sound that lets you just be free with the music. I never had the technique to make all the colors I wanted to, or do things with words that I would've liked.”
“I was living the New York life, working as a secretary and going out every night. And someone said, ‘I bet you could get into that music school.' So I learned an aria and got in. But I always felt I'd backed into it. I got some money from winning the Metropolitan Opera auditions and I went to visit a boyfriend in Australia. I didn't take any of it very seriously.”
“I'd never sung Handel before, and I was busy with other things and didn't prepare the way I should. I thought, ‘How hard can it be? Everything repeats!'
“Well, I went out there and immediately got lost in my first big aria. I came offstage and told my manager, ‘I'm here to tell you that you don't actually die from shame. You might like to, you might wish you could – but you don't.' ”
“I never wanted to do Carmen, or any other role, really, that I didn't sing. Maybe Tosca, just for the dramatic angle. But my career took too much energy for what I did do for me to worry about what I wouldn't.
“I remember when I was first beginning to sing, being around artists who were ending their career, and they always seemed so disappointed and bitter. I feel like my entire career has been one big Christmas present.”
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.