Opera Star Frederica von Stade Teaches Master Class

World-renowned mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade held a master class in Occidental's Booth Hall on Friday, March 5, following her performance the prior evening in the College’s Thorne Hall. Both events were open to the public.


Described by the New York Times as "one of America’s finest artists and singers," von Stade has sung with every leading American opera company and at top European opera houses such as La Scala, the Paris Opera, and the Vienna State Opera. She also has appeared in concert with the world’s celebrated orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestra. Her recital at Occidental, where she was accompanied by pianist and composer Jake Heggie, was her only Los Angeles appearance this season.

"I've been singing for over 40 years and happily admit being nowhere near mastering my art," von Stade began the master class by saying. However, she added that, unlike musical instruments, "the miracle of the voice is that if you have a pretty good voice and an ear, you can be taught an aria and master it in a relatively short period of time."

Von Stade gave one-on-one tutoring to four students: mezzo-soprano Lily Orcutt '12, who sang pieces from Jules Massenet and Gian Carlo Menotti; mezzo-soprano Caroline Wade '10, who performed Robert Schumann songs; mezzo-soprano Rebecca Buhr '10, who sang an aria from Gioachino Rossini's La Cenerentola; and soprano Allison Enari '10, who performed an aria from Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme.

Von Stade emphasized to the performers the importance of proper breathing ("Breathing makes singing really fun, and not breathing makes it really torture. Let the air do the work for you.") and warned them not to use all of their voice all of the time ("Do less. Don't drive your voice. You want it to last."). She also advised the students that they would get the most out of a piece if they paid attention to the subtext of the story the music is telling.

The master class was followed by a reception in the Booth courtyard attended by von Stade, students, faculty, staff, and other audience members.

Known as "Flicka" to her fans, the New Jersey-born von Stade has made more than 70 recordings of operas, arias, symphonic works and solo recitals, as well as popular crossover albums. Her recordings have garnered six Grammy nominations, two Grand Prix du Disc awards, Germany’s Deutscher Schallplattenpreis, Italy’s Premio della Critica Discografica, and "Best of the Year" citations by Stereo Review and Opera News.

Since the mezzo-soprano debuted in 1970 with the Metropolitan Opera, von Stade has displayed versatility in musical style and dramatic characterization. A bel canto specialist, von Stade has portrayed heroines in French and Italian opera such as Berlioz's "Damnation of Faust" and Rossini's "La Cenerentola," as well as the role of Cherubino in Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro." The singer has also performed operetta, musical theater, and the works of contemporary composers. In 2005, for instance, Los Angeles audiences saw her premier the title role in "La Grand Duchesse de Gerolstein," a work directed by movie director Garry Marshall for the Los Angeles Opera.

Highlights from last year’s season include recitals with jazz singers Barbara Cook and Dianne Reeves, a tour of Asia with the UBS Verbier Festival, and the reprisal of her role as Madeline –- a role that Heggie created specifically for her -- in the chamber opera, "Three Decembers," with the San Francisco Opera.

Von Stade holds honorary doctorates from Yale University, Boston University, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music -- which holds a Frederica von Stade Distinguished Chair in Voice -- the Georgetown University School of Medicine, and her alma mater, the Mannes School of Music. In 1998, von Stade was awarded France’s highest honor in the arts when she was appointed as an officer of L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. She was also honored with an award given at the White House by Pres. Ronald Reagan in recognition of her contribution to the arts.

For more information about Frederica von Stade, go to: www.fredericavonstade.com.