Frederica von Stade

The Bay Area Celebrates Frederica von Stade

Jason Victor Serinus on October 31, 2011
Frederica von Stade
Frederica von Stade

After 41 years onstage, Frederica von Stade is winding down her career. To celebrate the many glorious performances she has given here over the years, as well as her extraordinary generosity of spirit, San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Performances, Cal Performances, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, and San Francisco Conservatory of Music are staging a one-night tribute to her at Herbst Theatre on Dec. 3. This unforgettable celebration, which starts at 7:30 p.m. because the evening is so rich, is sure to sell out many times over.

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It’s not just a night of “Flicka,” as the singer is known to all who love her and her artistry. Also performing will be a number of illustrious personages, including sopranos Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Susannah Biller (an extremely gifted Adler Fellow); mezzo-sopranos Joyce DiDonato, Susan Graham, and Zheng Cao; baritones Sir Thomas Allen and Richard Stilwell; bass Samuel Ramey; and pianists John Churchwell, Bryndon Hassman, and Jake Heggie; violinist Kay Stern; cellist Emil Miland; and clarinetist Jose Gonzalez Granero. In addition, stage coordinator Bruce Donnell and legendary artist manager Matthew Epstein have organized a number of spoken remarks and recollections that are sure to delight as well as touch.

“This is absolutely a farewell,” Flicka told SFCV with a fair amount of certainty. “I gave my last opera performance singing the Mother in Jake’s Dead Man Walking in Houston. You know, if someone asked me and I were around and they were willing to wing it, I would maybe do something more. But I’m pretty settled on the idea that was my last official opera performance. To finish up with Jake and that incredible cast was just magic for me. I can’t ask for more.”

While she certainly didn’t ask for yet another evening honoring her career, the fact that it was organized as a benefit for her favorite local organizations that nurture young musicians convinced her to say yes.

“When it all came up,” she said, “I told David [Gockley, San Francisco Opera’s general director], ‘Listen, you’ve already done so much for me. I was honored by the Guild a year ago or so. You don’t have to do anything. I’ve been honored and honored and honored.’ But when he said that he was going to give the proceeds to the Young Musician’s Program at UC Berkeley and St. Martin de Porres, I said, ‘Okay, honor me!’ I’m so grateful that he, Ruth [Felt, of San Francisco Performances], Cal Performances, all the other organizations, and my colleagues would do it. All the artists have waived their humble honorariums so that the money goes to the kids. I think that’s so amazing that I’m still sort of reeling from it. Plus, I get to hear my favorite singers.”

The program, equally distributed among the singers, focuses on roles that Von Stade has performed locally. She opens with (of course) an aria by Cherubino from Le nozze di Figaro, followed by Graham singing Mozart’s “Parto, parto.” From there, expect arias from La Cenerentola, Der Rosenkavalier, and Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, plus a lot of Mahler and French music, not to mention at least one goodie from Jake Heggie.

You’re advised to get your tickets without delay.