World-renowned mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade will sing a solo and a duet at Monday night's gala for Houston Grand Opera -- offering a wonderful opportunity for opera lovers to hear a woman who has sung most of her roles with the New York Metropolitan Opera.
But she has traveled as well, performing in every leading American opera company, and Houston (Dead Man Walking) has always been one of her favorite spots, she says, adding that she was honored when HGO asked her to return for the Houston gala. "I'd do anything for [Artistic and Music Director] Patrick [Summers] and HGO. I've had a happy association with them over the years," she told Art Attack.
Von Stade -- known to opera fans as "Flicka" -- said she'll be performing her duet with Albina Shagimuratova, the Russian soprano last seen in HGO's production of La Traviata in January.
As part of the night's presentation, entitled "A Celebration of HGO's Future," von Stade will also sing "an old French song, 'Je Cherche un Millionaire,' which roughly translates to: 'I'm looking for a millionaire.' In the song she's sort of a streetwalker."
And actually, even though she has semi-retired, she still does concerts and von Stade has already agreed to be part of a new opera written by Dead Man Walking composer Jake Heggie and not scheduled to premiere for another couple of years.
In fact it's in the kind of work that Heggie is doing (he also composed Moby-Dick) that she sees the future of opera. "The public is more than anything loving new pieces. I mean they love the old pieces, too. But things like what Jake is doing; the huge success of Moby-Dick and Dead Man Walking. I think it's going to a good place. We're starting to express ourselves in our own idiom, not just English but American.
"It's always always going to need full financial attention. It will never belong to everybody unfortunately because it's so expensive. It's terrific what HGO is doing with its outreach; doing operas in all those different communities is fantastic. It's not just to promote the public of tomorrow but to promote the hearts and souls of tomorrow. There's something about the human voice and the greatness of opera and how voices express themselves and what happens to people when they hear the human voice is important."
She returned to the subject of "expense" when asked why more people aren't attracted to opera. "It's glorious music. I don't know how much it is attraction as having the opportunity. You're safe to not like it. It's nothing you have to like. But what people don't get is the chance is to be able to reject it; to have the opportunity to make the choice about it."
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Von Stade volunteers as part of a group at a local school where she lives in California."We take kids to dress rehearsals of the San Francisco opera. Some love it, some don't. But most of them are impressed. Many people have never heard anything beautiful in their life like an overture."
Asked about what was most important to her at this point in her life, von Stade said she liked to "do things with my husband Mike or take care of my granddaughter Charlotte in Arlington, Virginia. And she's going to have a little sister any day. "
"Interestingly enough," she said laughing, her two-year-old granddaughter isn't a fan. "My granddaughter doesn't like me to sing. I'm getting a bad review on that front. I will start to sing in French and Spanish and English, nursery rhymes, arias, anything and she says, 'No Nanny, no!"
Obviously, no one will be saying that Monday night.