Born June 1, 1945, in Somerville, NJ; married Peter Elkus (a singer, teacher, personal manager) 1973; divorced, 1990; married Michael Gorman, 1990; children: two daughters from first marriage. Education: Mannes College of Music, New York, 1969. Addresses: Management--IMG Artists, 825 7th Ave., New York, NY 10019. Website--Fredercia von Stade Official Website: http://www.fredericavonstade.com.

Frederica von Stade is an internationally known mezzo soprano, known as much for her charm and beauty as for her singing. She possesses what critics have called one of the warmest voices of her generation and has tackled a wide range of repertoire throughout her career. Several contemporary composers have written roles for her. She also spends time championing music education.

Born in 1945 in New Jersey, her father was killed by a land mine in the waning days of World War II, weeks before her birth. Her family traveled and periodically lived abroad in her youth because her mother worked as a secretary for the Central Intelligence Agency. This included extended stays in Italy and Greece. Typically, she spent summers in Far Hills, New Jersey, with her grandmother. She first saw an opera at the age of 16.

Von Stade attended Convent of the Sacred Heart school in suburban Washington., D.C., then spent a year studying music in Paris, working as a nanny and bartender to earn her way. She attended Mannes College of Music in New York, where she studied with teachers including Paul Berl and Otto Guth. After graduation she joined New York's Metropolitan Opera company, and made her debut on January 10, 1970, in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (The magic flute). "I was totally green, stagestruck and nervous about being wrong, and I wasn't really a trained musician," she told Brian Kellow of Opera News in a 1995 interview. "[Y]ou just sat in that rehearsal room for five hours and didn't read a paper or a magazine or knit or do anything. You sat and listened. You watched and learned and assimilated."

She stayed with the company until 1976. She had married Peter Elkus in 1973, a singer who reportedly abandoned his career to manage hers. They had two daughters and she briefly interrupted her career to start a family. She and Elkus stopped working together in 1985 and were divorced, quite messily and publicly, in 1990. She married Michael Gorman, a businessman whom she describes in the Los Angeles Times as "a normal dude," that same year.

The roles she took in her early career were frequently travesti or "trouser roles"--parts for women who play boys or young men such as Idamante in Idomeneo, Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro and Hansel in Hansel und Gretel. Her best known and most critically acclaimed role, in fact, has been that of Cherubino, a role she first inhabited at the Paris Opera in 1974 and continued to perform throughout the 1970s for companies including Santa Fe, Glydenbourne, and Salzburg. She also made a recording of this signature role in 1981 with Sir Georg Solti. In addition, von Stade has made nineteenth-century French operas, especially those composed by Massenet, a specialty.

The operatic repertoire to which she has gravitated have been lyric roles. But her popularity has been eclipsed by other stars of her generation such as Dawn Upshaw and Cecilia Bartoli. Von Stade, however, continues to record and perform consistently. Brian Kellow, writing in Opera News, surmised that much of this was because she is a nice, attractive person: "For years von Stade has been one of the most consistently rewarding artists around, possessed of a warm, distinctive sound and impeccable musical instincts," he wrote. "One of the odd things about Von Stade's success is that people don't seem to talk about her voice all that much. She may owe her army of admirers primarily to her stage appearances: certainly she possesses a personal warmth that's rare in the theatre." In addition, he noted that "von Stade does give the sense of having worked very hard, always, to be a good colleague. She is endlessly supportive of her associates."

The International Dictionary of Opera calls her "clearly an adventurous and ambitious singer, constantly expanding her repertory and seeking new roles. At the same time she has remained faithful to certain roles," including Cherubino, which she imbues with "just the right combination of sensuality and innocence, of mischief and charm."

An Opera News profile by Donald Spoto in 2000 called Von Stade's voice is "[m]ore than an instrument, it's an extension of her character. One is struck particularly by her genuine warmth, her lack of affectation, her keen observations and the scope of her interests." She has, he noted, "gathered legions of admirers worldwide. They're a fiercely local company, and it's easy to understand why. Her stage performances and recitals combine superior artistry with emotional directness, clarity of tone with crystalline diction, natural elegance with unpretentious passion. But she is no diva; the word connotes not only stardom but a certain self-important hauteur--an attitude worn like a costume." In 2000 WWD called her "one of the few truly legendary singers left in opera," noting further that von Stade lacked "the jewels, furs and stilted chirpings of the prima donna. Offstage, that's a part von Stade has never played."

She has originated many roles, including several created for her, such as Nina in Thomas Pasatieri's The Seagull (1974) and Tina in Dominick Argento's The Aspern Papers (1988). Conrad Susa adapted Dangerous Liaisons for her in 1994, giving her the role of the Marquise de Merteuil, "her first villainess ever," according to Brian Kellow. He observed that she "played the Marquise intelligently and subtly, never calling attention to her against-type casting, as nice women who finally get a crack at playing a villainess are apt to do." Von Stade also performed the role of Mrs. De Rocher in the original San Francisco Opera production of Jake Heggie's opera based on Sister Helen Prejean's book of the same name. Richard Danielpour, composer-in-residence for the Pacific Symphony, created an especially personal piece for her when she commissioned Elegies through the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra in 1998. The lyrics created by poet Kim Vaeth were based on letters her father wrote to her mother during the war. The song cycle was recorded in 2001.

Beginning around 1995, she began to decline Cherubino and other "young" roles and seemed to be reevaluating her career. "The charm of these roles is in their youthfullness," she told Kellow. "I mean, Cherubino's fifteen, so I already took it a little far. It's not that I can't still run around the stage. It's just not appropriate, and there are sensational young singers who should be doing it.

By 2003 critics noted she was performing in recital more than opera houses, and she admitted that the business had taken a physical and mental toll. "I'm thrilled with every inch of my career, but it takes all my psychic energies to do what I do. And I've found a way to protect myself in the opera business. It's a coward's way--I hide. I'm not able to confront, so I just slip out. I can't risk waiting around for praise--or not praise. ... I work terribly hard, musically, dramatically, psychologically, to get out there it costs me a lot. ... I never expected to have the career that I did, and I'm still sort of surprised by it."

Music education has become a cause célèbre for von Stade, who has sponsored programs to introduce younger generations to music, opera in particular. "Opera takes you out of yourself, and everybody needs that, especially if you spend your day sitting in front of a computer screen," she told WWD. Besides--"It's not just about opera," she added, "it's about having a party."

by Linda Dailey Paulson

Frederica von Stade's Career

Made Metropolitan Opera debut, January 10, 1970; Paris Opera debut, 1974; performed role of Nina in Thomas Pasatieri's The Seagull, 1974; began prolific recording career, c. 1975; left Metropolitan Opera company, 1976; Dominick Argento wrote The Aspern Papers for her, 1988; Dangerous Liaisons written for her, 1994; began declining youthful roles, 1995; commissioned Elegies, 1998, originated the role of Mrs. De Rocher in Dead Man Walking, 2000.

Frederica von Stade's Awards

Officer, l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, 1998. Honorary doctoral degrees from universities including Yale University, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Georgetown University School of Medicine.

Famous Works

Further Reading

Sources

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Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 8 years ago

What a wonderful afternoon, April 19, '09, at Porter Auditorium, Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, attending the recital by Miss Von Stade. She is a truly unique talent and I dispair at the suggestion that she is winding down her career toward retirement. Having accumulated most of her recordings through the years, it certainly does not appear that her incredible voice has declined measurably. It was the first time I have seen her live in person, and now I understand the comments I have read about her stage presence, warmth, and magnetism with the audience. She's an American icon, but doesn't seem to know it, she is so unpretentious. What did mankind do to deserve God giving us someone like her?

about 9 years ago

My beloved Frederica: So many thinks I would say you... But I can only say: THANKS, THANKS, THANKS for so many moments and hours and days of beauty and emotion and pleaure; and overall, THANKS for your charming personality, your wonderful voice, your charming glance and your resplendent smile. Your most respectful admirer, José E.

over 9 years ago

Hi Frederica, I thoroughly enjoyed your recital at Orchestra Hall Chicago last Oct. I think all your enthusiastic fans fell in love with your rendition of La vie en Rose.It is one of my faourite songs and you brought a fresh sensitivity and beauty to it .Have you considered a La Vie EN Rose CD,with other songs like Under The Bridges of Paris,and maybe a few romantic lightweight operatic arias from French composers?It would be great.Your ancient fan .Jim