Mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade: affectionately known as Flicka: grew up with Broadway ambitions. Once she started her formal studies, however, she was urged by her teacher, Sebastian Engelberg, to enter the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Singing without expectation, she not only won, but soon found herself signed to the Met.
Flicka's Met contract required far more than just her voice. As she explained near the start of a recent chat with Jason Victor Serinus, "The thing Mr. Engelberg told me was that 'singing comes from the bottom of your heart.' That's what singing has always meant to me."
Now, 40 years after her Met debut, Flicka bids adieu.
Jason Victor Serinus: Earlier in your career, you got as far as Off-Broadway. Then all of a sudden you had a contract with the Met.
Frederica von Stade: My Broadway ambitions got sidetracked into opera, which is a really fun world. I think Broadway is too, but when you look at the Broadway life, it's not nearly as nice. You're in a great production for three years doing the same thing for eight shows a week. Opera is doing different things. Plus, they're already proven successes: they've lasted 100 years.
JVS: Was song always an important part of your career?
FVS: Song has been an important part of my life since I was three. I remember bringing my mom and my grandmother in to listen to me sing "Whatever Lola Wants" from Damn Yankees. I think they thought I might be a little crazy, but they indulged me.
JVS: Which is easier: song or opera?
FVS: Song is easier in some ways, but then you don't have other things to help the performance. You're artistically naked and you have to create the scene: you and the pianist.
JVS: As a singer, what was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome?
FVS: First of all, you have to put up with imperfection, and the number one imperfection is your very own voice. I think the times I've been happiest in my career are when I've forgiven my voice for all it can't do and been grateful for all its miracles.
JVS: Which have been your favorite opera roles?
FVS: Probably Cherubino (Le nozze di Figaro): that kind of optimistic, almost annoyingly joyful person. The other would be M_lisande (Pell_as et M_lisande), the other side of my soul. She's the personification of innocent sadness: the pure sadness children get that they can't explain.
JVS: That's one of the extraordinary things about your voice and about you as an artist: On the one hand, you're filled with such joy, yet your ability to evoke grief and sadness is extraordinary.
FVS: Life is the agony and the ecstasy. Where I think we get into trouble as humans is that we expect all ecstasy, and we think there's something wrong if we're not happy.
JVS: This will be your farewell at Carnegie Hall. What do you want to say to people?
FVS: The biggest thought, energy, inspiration behind this particular evening is thank you. It's been a fabulous time.
Frederica von Stade's farewell performance at Carnegie Hall is Thursday, April 22.
Click here for tickets.