Frederica von Stade with Martin Katz in Recital May 2, 2003

      The invitation read "The Hampton Arts Commission proudly invites you to attend the gala evening at The American Theatre with Frederica von Stade May 2nd - black tie with reception to follow." The evening lived up to our expectations in every way. Though it was the most expensive art song evening in Tidewater this season it was well attended with many of our local art song luminaries in the audience.

      Ms. von Stade, perhaps the world's pre-eminent mezzo-soprano art song recitalist, offered us a superb performance. Wearing an elegant black taffeta gown Ms. von Stade began the program with a relaxed chat with the audience in which she warmly and humorously corrected the program's misspelling of her renowned pianist Martin Katz' first name (Martjin). She told us how pleased she was to return to Hampton Roads and find the renovated American Theatre such a wonderful performing space. She last appeared in Hampton ten years ago at Ogden Hall, sponsored then as now by the Hampton Arts Commission.

      The publicity read "Blessed with a voice of shining radiance and a presence distinguished by genuine warmth and elegance..." The opening set of five Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) songs underscored just how true it is. With wonderfully clear diction she caressed the words of Les Roses d'Ispahan, three songs with text by Paul Verlaine: Prison, Mandoline and Claire de lune. She closed the set with La fée aux chansons (The Song Fairy) to enthusiastic applause.

      Telling the story of each song to enhance our understanding, she sang four songs by Gustav Mahler, two from Rückert Lieder and two from Des Knaben Wunderhorn: Rheinlegendchen and Lob des hohen Verstandes which, as she remarked, eloquently expresses "how all young singers feel about judges." Her face said it all when the ass who judges the singing picks the cuckoo over the nightingale. We all had a chuckle!

      She returned to French repertory to complete the first half of the program. Maurice Ravel's (1875-1937) Chanson de la mariée (Song of the Bride) with all its mystery and excitement and arias from his two one-act operas. The stories of the opera set the stage for Toi, le Coeur de la Rose (You, the heart of the rose) from L'enfant et les Sortileges with text by Colette and Aria de Concepcion from L'heure espagnol. This music is familiar to me only from recorded productions of the operas. I was overwhelmed by the excitement of the performance by voice and the excellent pianist Martin Katz.

      After intermission Ms. von Stade returned to the stage in a black pants suit with a red silk floor-length overjacket and a diamond belt and treated us to Ned Rorem's (b. 1923) setting of the Gertrude Stein poem I am Rose, Leonard Bernstein's (1918-1990) Greetings from his song cycle Arias and Barcarolles and Jake Heggie's (b. 1961) A Route to the Sky with text by our singer. Her daughter Lisa was sixteen when she premiered the song. Lisa had a close friend Nicole and Nicole's grandparents were in the audience to hear this charming song.

      Aaron Copeland's (1900-1990) Little Horses, a lovely lullaby with some great excitement, was followed by the whimsical and funny Amor from William Bolcom's (b. 1938) Cabaret Songs, a signature piece for Ms. von Stade. The last set continued with cabaret songs but by Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) written when he was twenty-five and still a tonal composer. Galatea, Gigerlette and Arie aus dem Spiegel von Arcadien (Song of the Mirror from Arcadia). The cabaret songs were like a visit to old friends since Ms. von Stade did them when she came to Hampton in 1993. Such great fun.

      Before the Brettl-Lieder we were presented with a set of French songs: the Habanera from Carmen by Georges Bizet (1838-1875) which is all about the capriciousness of the love of a young woman. Francis Poulenc's (1899-1963) Les Chemins de l'amour (The path of love) remembrance when the feelings are empty of a love that has left only pain and La Lie on Rose with text by Edith Piaf and music by Piaf and Louigy, about seeing the lushly romantic world through rose-tinted glasses.

      After the encore Jenny Rebecca by C. Hall, we drove to the spacious home of Molly and Forrest Ward for a most elegant reception and got to meet Flicka as Ms. von Stade is called. We spent time with several long-time art song friends, including Lorraine Bell and Branch Fields and together we met Flicka. Branch with the animation of a kid on Christmas morning opened with "Flicka, we're on the same CD!" and soon they sang a snatch from one song on the album.

      Branch told us later "... the song we sang was 'Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe' from the movie The Harvey Girls. It's a good story: Erich Kunzel hired the Singing Hoosiers to join the Cincinnati Pops on their album 'Puttin' on the Ritz', which was to be a collection of early Academy Award-winning songs. I was in the Singing Hoosiers that year, and Frederica was one of the major artists with some solo numbers on the CD, like 'Lover when you're near me' and 'Somewhere over the rainbow,' and 'Atchison...' For this one, Kunzel lined some men up from the chorus and asked us to sing the 3 short solos in the arrangement. One was nice and low, and he gave it to me immediately. It is just an 8 bar solo, but it was my first solo on a major label (Telarc)! After all the hard work on the album, we gave a concert in Cincinnati and travelled to NYC to sing it in Carnegie Hall. Unfortunately, Frederica couldn't join us. I couldn't wait to meet her to tell her we were on the same album!"

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