• A Master Class with Frederica von Stade and James Meredith at UNC-Chapel Hill

    Master Class with Frederica von Stade, mezzo-soprano, and James Meredith, pianist, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Music, on March 6, 2013 - Opera Lively coverage.

    Also read Ms. Stade's extremely interesting exclusive interview with Opera Lively the same day, by clicking [here] - the interview contains other information about this Grande Dame of opera.


    If you’ve always been curious about how a master class goes on and you have never had an opportunity to attended one, this is your chance to get acquainted with the process. The main lesson from it is the realization of how difficult the profession of opera singer is – they work over and over on a couple of phrases or even on a single word!

    We can’t render here the full impact of these lessons given that we are not listening to the voices of the singers and to the vocal demonstrations Ms. von Stade does, or to Mr. Meredith's piano playing, but the readers will nevertheless be able to have an idea of this fascinating process of a master class, using a bit of imagination, and will learn a thing or two about some of the famous arias of the repertoire and their emotional context. You will also laugh a bit, given that Ms. von Stade is gifted with an extraordinary sense of humor!

    Opear Lively has published another master class report with tenor Lawrence Brownlee, which you can consult [here].

    The night before this master class, accompanied by pianist James Meredith, the celebrated “Flicka” performed a selection of songs with special significance to her remarkable career. For our review of it, click [here].

    Frederica von Stade

    Ms. von Stade is a beloved artist in our opera community. Her phenomenal discography on video and audio media (with the amazing number of 119 items!) contains some of the most exquisite operatic performances on record, such as this absolute gem:

    Her recordings have garnered six Grammy nominations, two Grand Prix du Disc awards, the Deutsche Schallplattenpreis, Italy's Premio della Critica Discografica, and "Best of the Year" citations by Stereo Review and Opera News. Miss 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, and in 1983 she was honored with an award given at The White House by President Reagan in recognition of her significant contribution to the arts.

    We are also thrilled to know that the veteran singer is coming out of opera stage retirement (she remains active in the recital circuit) for the East Coast premiere of the new American opera A coffin in Egypt by Ricky Ian Gordon and librettist Leonard Foglia, when Opera Philadelphia features it next year (June 6, 8, 11, 13, and 15, 2014), an event that Opera Lively will make sure to attend.

    Flicka is not only a great singer, but also an extraordinary human being, involved in advocacy, leadership, and charitable pursuits.

    Described by the New York Times as “one of America’s finest artists and singers,” von Stade has appeared in leading roles with every major American opera company (Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Los Angeles Opera) as well as Teatro alla Scala, Royal Opera Covent Garden, the Vienna State Opera, and the Paris Opera. An impressive versatility has led her to an ever-broadening spectrum of musical styles and dramatic roles, from Italian bel canto to the French repertoire to operetta and musical theater.

    A noted bel canto specialist, she excelled as the heroines of Rossini’s La cenerentola and Il barbiere di Siviglia and Bellini’s La sonnambula. She is an unmatched stylist in the French repertoire: a delectable Mignon or Périchole, a regal Marguerite in Berlioz’ La damnation de Faust, and, in one critic’s words, “the Mélisande of one’s dreams.” Her elegant figure and keen imagination have made her the world’s favorite interpreter of the great trouser roles, from Strauss’ Octavian and Composer to Mozart’s Sesto, Idamante and - magically, indelibly - Cherubino. Miss von Stade’s artistry has inspired the revival of neglected works such as Massenet’s Cherubin, Thomas’ Mignon, Rameau’s Dardanus, and Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria. Her ability as a singing actress has allowed her to portray wonderful works in operetta and musical theater including the title role in The Merry Widow and Desirée Armfeldt in A Little Night Music. Her repertoire is continually expanding with the works of contemporary composers. She created the role of Tina in Dallas Opera’s world premiere production of Dominick Argento’s The Aspern Papers (a work written for her) as well as the role of Madame de Merteuil in the Conrad Susa’s Dangerous Liaisons and Mrs. Patrick De Rocher in Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, both for San Francisco Opera.

    As a recitalist, von Stade combines expressive vocalism and exceptional musicianship with a rare gift for communication. Her solo repertoire encompasses a rich variety, from the classical style of Mozart and Haydn to the popular songs of Broadway’s greatest musicals; from Italian “Arie antiche” to the songs of contemporary composers such as Dominick Argento and Jake Heggie.

    James Meredith

    Mr. Meredith is one of San Francisco Bay Area's most well rounded musicians. He conducts the acclaimed Sonos Handbell Ensemble. This group's nationally recognized CDs have been playied by classical music stations throughout the US, and called "sensational" by the San Francisco Examiner. He has recently been featured on Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion," and his Sonos Ensemble performed in the premiere of Libby Larsen's "Hell's Belles." He is a frequent musical partner whit Frederica von Stade and with dramatic soprano Olivia Strapp.

    A native of North Carolina, Mr. Meredith received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Tulane University. He has been Music Director of the Oakland Symphony Chorus, and directed the Festival Opera Chorus for two seasons. He has taught courses and master classes in various colleges and conservatories, and is currently on the voice/piano faculty at UC-Berkeley with the award-winning Young Musicians Program, which regularly sends students to major universities and conservatories.

    Students, Frederica von Stade and James Meredith on the right - photo credit Opera Lively

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    Here is the transcript of the Master Class:

    Frederica von Stade – Great, we are here with all these young singers. I can tell who will sing by their hairdos. [Everybody laughs]. I just want to say this, I feel that master classes is a misnomer at least where I’m concerned. I love to just tell you what I know, tell what paths I might have gone down that I hope you don’t have to go down and share any experiences and maybe a couple of tips, if that. But all the real work that you are doing, you are very well taken care of, with this amazing group of teachers you have. The reason I do master classes, really, is that I love to hear you all sing. It’s totally selfish.

    James Meredith – Yes, we are just going to hear you sing and tell you what we think, and you may take it for what value it might be for you. Discuss it with your teacher. Your teacher says “never in a hundred years,” that’s fine. But we’ll tell you things that we’ve done and heard from other artists.

    One thing I will say is, I’m a vocal teacher myself and I have sat in the audience with many of my students who sung in master classes, and I thought “Oh my God!” They’ve been asked by this person “do you know what this means?” and they looked like a deer in the headlights. How many times have we discussed this with them? Countless times. They ask them a question about something which we know they know the answer to, but the question was asked in a way that maybe they can’t quite relate to those same terms… and we think “oh my God, what will this master class teacher think of me?” Right? [He and Frederica and some of the teachers in the audience laugh]. How many teachers do we have here? Have you all been through that experience? [Teachers nod and say yes!]. OK! So please be advised that I’m fully aware of that, and that we think you are great teachers already!

    [The first student singer is Ms. Allison Thomas, mezzo-soprano from UNC-CH, accompanied by pianist Deborah Hollis, singing “Parto, Parto” from Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito.]

    Allison Thomas and Frederica von Stade - photo credit Opera Lively

    Stade – Brava! I thought you did decide what was going on in each part of the aria. Does everybody know what this aria is about? So you tell them!

    Thomas – I’m Sesto and I’m in love with Vitelia who has just convinced me that I need to go kill the emperor. I’ve been very conflicted about this, the entire opera. I finally give in to what she wants, because I love her so much, I can’t say ‘no’ to her, and this is a song where I try to leave but she is also ignoring me, implying ‘if you don’t do what I want I won’t love you anymore’ so I’m begging her, ‘please stay with me.’

    Meredith – This is a pants role, in case you don’t know it. [people laugh]

    Stade – The lady she is in love with is a real bitch, that’s what she is! [the audience laughs] In every way. Manipulative, not a nice person. [To the singer:] So why did you fall in love with her? That’s crazy! [laughs] It’s a hard part to do, I think, because he is a little bit of a wimp, and you [the interpreter] wants to fight against that all the time. So when you have a chance to be strong, you want to really be strong.

    And I got this itch… this section where you had a very specific idea about it, that you couldn’t go further. Right at the beginning. You don’t know where you want to go. That’s the big deal. He says ‘parto’ [I’m leaving] how many times? I don’t know, twenty-five? Plus, it’s an aria where he is very much concerned about Vidalia, so it’s really a duet. So anytime you have a chance to be really strong and show the confusion that is written in, in different sections of it, you need to keep the thrill going. I know it is very slow sometimes, but you need to keep it going.

    “Parto” [she sings the word a few times, always impacting a different twist on it, and a sense of urgency]. You are thinking about it, you are considering it. It’s not an emotion yet, but it is a consideration. So it becomes a little higher, a little more incisive, and then she spurns you and uses her appeal to manipulate you. Then, in the middle of the section, you need to make it very private. Then at the end you have convinced yourself, you’ve smoked crack [everybody laughs] and you are ready to go!

    But also, there are parts when you need to be very still. It’s sort of a contemplative aria. There is some of it that concerns her, but a lot of it concerns you and all that is going through your mind with this extraordinary devotion to Tito. It’s beyond a friendship. It’s such a gripping, powerful relationship between Sesto and Tito, that he is completely forgiven at the end. So it’s not very operatic, he isn’t beheaded or anything [people laugh]; nothing terrible happens to him. There is this beautiful other aria where he is begging for forgiveness. So just try it. The main tricky thing is the rhythm. I wouldn’t wait to sing the first part. [She sings it relatively fast and in a saccadic, marked way, until the first word ‘Parto!’]. That’s what I have. Jimmy? Don’t torture her. [laughs]

    Meredith – No, I won’t torture her. [To the pianist] Beautiful playing, by the way. This is not an easy aria to play, because she needs to be the clarinet and the orchestra at the same time. In the opening, make sure that you insert these rests [hums it, rests, hums it, rests], because that shows the hesitation.

    Stade – Yes!

    Meredith – And then you set the singer up, you let her take a breath in each rest. The other thing is, don’t peddle the clarinet arpeggios, since clarinets don’t have peddles.

    Stade – They don’t??? [everybody laughs]

    Meredith – No. And make sure it sounds like the clarinet is upside down! [general laughs]

    Stade to the pianist – Can you handle that? [laughs] So here is an idea – pam pa-pam, rest. Pam pa-pam, rest. Pam pa-pam, rest. So you are asked to do – what? You need to show what you are thinking. The first one, you think of Vidalia. The second one, you think of Tito – ‘Oh my God!’ The third one could be, ‘oh, OK’ but not convinced. If it’s right on the line, it comes out as a contemplation.

    I really think that one of the most helpful things in the world for any song you are singing, for any aria, is to put it in your own words, put in what you are thinking. Write it down because then you will remember what your intention is. What exactly is the nut of what you are singing? What do you mean? This ‘Parto’ will be this, and that’s a complicated one, because you have twenty-five to go! So try that, but keep it moving. You have places to rest, so take your time.

    Thomas – Do I need to express a different emotion each time?

    Stade – You decide. You can put in some variation but not with too much emotion, because he is a nobleman. He acts like one.

    Thomas – OK.

    Stade – Sing it again so that we can really torture you. [laughs]

    [Ms. Thomas sings it again, and is indeed a lot more expressive this time. Ms. Stade stops her at a certain point].

    Stade – In this part, in your mind there is something going on. You need to have a physical image in your mind. Have you done it on stage?

    Thomas – I’ve been rehearsing the role for our Spring production.

    Stade – Oh, you are! Fantastic. So in this part you are trying to convince her. She is walking away because she is not convinced that you are going to do it. So you need to adjust and the next time you need to sing it a little more like ‘yes I will do it!’ So you need to look convincing there. Another thing, people always think that the opening needs to be ‘PARTO!” [sings it very loudly and abruptly]. I don’t think it is. It’s not a heroic moment. I think it’s a confused moment. Don’t be afraid of that. It doesn’t have to be the biggest note you’ve ever sung.

    [The student sings some more, and starts the first ‘Parto’ more softly, becomes even more expressive in terms of conveying confusion. It becomes indeed very beautiful. Ms. von Stade stops her again].

    Stade – I didn’t like this ‘Parto’ here. You should employ a different volume here. It’s a different idea. It goes from confused to polite to decided to proud. It’s all of that. So when you get to this part, think about it, make it really proud. Don’t be afraid to go that far. That’s what opera is: excess!

    Meredith – I have a suggestion. Would you consider doing an ornament in this part here? [Hums it].

    Stade – Yes, it’s beautiful when we do it, in this section. [Sings it]

    [Ms. Thomas does as told. Wow! Big improvement!]

    Stade – In this coloratura here, you are in love, so take it really, really slowly. [Demonstrates it]. Do it like this in different places, learn it, and then it comes naturally when you need to do it here. What’s exciting is when it is really well thought of; and when it is, you won’t be out of breath, I promise.

    [The student tries it].

    Stade – OK, it was wonderful! Thank you for that. [Applauses, and the student leaves the stage].

    [Next we have Mr. Turner Davis, bass-baritone from UNC-CH, still with Deborah Hollis at the piano, and he sings, from Ravel’s Don Quichotte à Dulcinée, “Chanson à boire.” (Drinking song)]

    Turner Davis - photo credit Opera Lively

    Stade – Are you drunk?

    Davis – No. But yes, yes! [Everybody laughs]

    Stade – It was great! Can you all hear me without the mike? Yes? Come up, Jimmy, on stage! OK, you are singing about ‘joie’ – you are happy. And you have a smile, a big smile! Hahaha! [People laugh] It’s all you need. You don’t have to do anything else. That’s it: “Look, I’m on stage!” [acts goofy, people laugh]. It’s such an usual laugh [hums the song].

    Davis – It’s sort of a controlled singing laugh!

    Stade [to Meredith] – You’ve done it many times.

    Meredith – Yes. It was commissioned by a movie production company, they were doing a movie on Don Quichotte and they asked Ravel to write songs for the movie. [IMDB link: click (here)] Little did Ravel know that they had asked several composers to write songs for the movie. He thought he was being commissioned. Among them was Jacques Ibert. Ravel wrote these songs, but Ibert’s were chosen. The movie was to star Chaliapin, the great Russian bass.

    So Ibert’s songs were chosen for the movie, but Ravel’s were the ones that lasted. Ravel’s were much more sophisticated. Ibert’s sound more Spanish. But this is a Spanish dance, the Jota, and the Jota uses castanets. By the way, beautifully played! How many pianists do we have in the audience? How many of you have played this? [no hands go up]. Yes, it’s fiendish. There are these ta-ta-tas and one is different from the other. Every time I have to play this, I have to practice for days, just on those few chords. The rest of it is not that hard. You can push those a little bit, it’s the whole point. [He gives more technical advice to the pianist about how to reproduce the castanets rhythm].

    There is a bit of controversy about how to act this piece. Dom Quichotte is an aristocrat, but he is drunk. Many people go overboard. They act too drunk. But I think you [talks to the student singer] need to act a little more drunk. Did you see the concert last night? [Fredericka von Stade’s] Not as drunk as she acted in one of those songs! [everybody laughs]. It’s French drunk. They are sophisticated, they don’t get overboard drunk like in other countries. But I think you need to do a little more of that. I think some of your vowels are a little too closed, so you are not allowing the resonance that you naturally have in your voice. Don’t worry about doing it perfectly right now, that’s something you have to train overtime. But this is a short piece – do it again, act a little more, and just try to open up those vowels a bit.

    Stade – I know a lot of sophisticated drunks [laughs]. They are not sloppy, they make it clear that there is nobility there. They are very straight. Don’t forget that!

    Davis – OK! [Sings it again]

    Stade – Great. Good. Believe in what you are saying.

    Meredith – But hold off on those notes when you say it, because your top is good but we are not hearing the same thing here.

    Stade – I think you are giving too much voice, all the time. You need to vary the dynamics. [demonstrates it]. You are giving full voice too often. You don’t have to. You don’t need to think you are not getting your money for it, because it makes you sound hoarse. Try it again with more delicacy and volume variation.

    Davis – [Sings it again].

    Meredith – You need to work on this staccato. You are making it difficult for the pianist to follow. You need to maintain the beat a little more – 1, 2; 1, 2; 1, 2.

    Davis – [repeats it]

    Stade – Now, that was perfect! [Applauses] Wonderful!

    Meredith – Yes. Now you did “wha, wha, wha” without sounding like a duck. [laughs] Regardless of what the vowel is, you have to let out your natural voice. Are there composers here? Composers should always know how to sing, then maybe they wouldn’t write some of this stuff they write. [Everybody laughs]. Whatever vowel Mozart wrote, Don Giovanni needs to still sing it.

    David – [sings it one last time].

    Stade – Wonderful voice, thank you. [general applause]

    [Next Laura Buff, mezzo-soprano from UNC-CH sings “Que fais-tu, blance tourterelle?” from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, with Deborah Hollis at the piano]

    Laura Buff and Frederica von Stade - photo credit Opera Lively

    Stade – I just want to tell you a funny story. This was one of the first big roles I got to do at the Met, and it was with Franco Corelli, the famous tenor. I had a duel with him and I got so into it that I almost cut off his finger. I thought ‘Oh Lord, oh Lord!’ [everybody laughs]. I think on that second verse [sings it] you need to make it longer, like you are in a completely different place. Try it like this [demonstrates it], just try that.

    Buff – OK. [Sings it]

    Stade – You just take your time there. Yes, that’s what I always notice, with all the pants roles you are going to be doing, the key is not how you stand, how you look, all that, necessarily; it’s that young people that age cannot contain all the energy that they got. So the minute they make a move, they move really fast. I see it in my nephews who are that age. But when you are singing, you need to hold it. So take it a little slower.

    Buff – [Sings it in a slower tempo]

    Stade – Good, that’s good. I think you can do it. The conductors won’t let you, but try it anyway. [everybody laughs] When you are singing it you need to convey “you guys don’t know how great I am” and then you go into action mode. [Demonstrates it].

    Buff – [Sings one line, Stade interrupts her immediately].

    Stade – You don’t need that breath. [Sings it without pausing to breathe]. Sometimes a kick breath like that doesn’t do what you need it to do. You don’t need it.

    Buff – [Repeats it without pausing].

    Stade – In this part you need to put the dots at the end of the phrases a little more; exaggerate it a bit. [Sings it in a more forceful, staccato way].

    Buff – OK, got it. [sings it]

    Meredith – These vowels can’t be lackluster; they need to come more in line with the vowels that come before.

    Stade – It’s not a big deal but yes, they need to be more flamboyant, more show-offish. It sounds like you may be slowing up here. Keep it going.

    Buff – [sings it]

    Stade – Brava, that was better. But then, this part that follows needs to be softer than you’re doing. Try it like this: [sings it].

    Buff – [does it]

    Stade – Great, you can do it! Beautiful voice!

    Meredith – My only comment would be that a breathing problem happens occasionally because there is a physical reason for it. When you get ready to take a breath, what tends to happen, dynamically? It tends to be louder, if you are not careful, and then it sounds unnatural. Most of the time you are OK, but you need to be careful with that. [demonstrates a couple of passages where that might happen].

    Buff – OK.

    Meredith – It’s just a little nitpicking point, because you are doing so beautifully.

    Stade – Yes, there wasn’t much for us to say because you did very well. Wonderful. Thank you. [general applause].

    Meredith – Rosina, come right up!

    [Next, Diana Yodzis, mezzo-soprano from UNC-Greensboro, with Will Kelley at the piano, sings “Una voce poco fa,” from Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia] [She sings it and is met with prolonged applause, as she does very well]

    Diana Yodzis - photo credit Opera Lively

    Stade – There won’t be much for me to say to you, either. I love your ornaments. The only thing I’d say, is for you to be mindful of the diction right at the beginning. I met a wonderful Italian diction coach named Ubaldo Gardini, and I made a mistake of saying “Bongiorno, Maestro!” when I first met him, and we spent the entire hour on “Bongiorno!” [everybody laughs]. So, do it like this: [she sings with very musical and clear Italianate diction – “una voce poco fa… etc.]

    Yodzis – OK. [Repeats it, and is immediately stopped by Stade].

    Stade – That’s what I mean, you are saying “una voce” [makes it sound like an American would say the phonemes] instead of “una voce” [makes it sound very Italianate with emphasis on the sounds of the letter N, open A vowel, strong sounding O and explosive C]. Then you need to keep the musicality flowing; don’t breath, do it more legato like this, with emphasis on the open vowels [sings the continuation – so beautifully!].

    Yodzis – [Repeats it]

    Stade – Give it less voice. Don’t worry about the breathing here. The secret with opera is that you don’t give it all at the first break. You have a lot of other notes to burn in this coloratura; you have a lot to show them; make them wait for it, OK?

    Yodzis – All right. [sings it, until the first “vincerò”]

    Stade – The coloratura needs to be more sophisticated. You start more doubtful, before you are so certain. [demonstrates it] You are not so sure that you will get Lindoro at this point. You are still thinking about it, then you get more certain as you go. The real joy of Rossini is that there really are very tender moments. You have a beautiful voice. Play with that more. Your first Lindoro should be tender [demonstrates it] then your second one should be wilder [demonstrates it] because you are running with it, you are getting excited.

    Meredith, to the pianist – It was very well played. This is a difficult piece to play. When you are looking at an orchestral score and doing it on the piano, you need to know what the orchestra is doing. But all those first chords when it’s pizzicato, I suggest you soften that, because right now we are getting a little too much of overtones. You can’t spike them as much on the piano.

    [Yodzis and the pianist play/sing it again – Meredith goes to the piano and demonstrates some passages]

    Meredith – These, you play a little harder, then later you play like this: [plays it]. This is the spot that kills everybody because the violin can make it continuous like this but the piano cannot. So, you have several options to play this, for example doubling these notes [he demonstrates and gives some other technical advice]. There is a wonderful German edition of Rossini’s own reduction for the piano; it’s neat to see how he did it. There is that famous quote, of someone playing on the piano one of his arias to him, and he said, “who wrote that aria?” [laughs]

    Stade – Oh, I thought of something else, about the way you stopped before this note [sings it]

    Meredith – Yes, there is this tradition that people need to stop there and not sing what is written; I don’t know, maybe it was because of someone who couldn’t sing it.

    Stade – That was me! [everybody laughs]

    Meredith – Mostly everybody does it, but Rossini wrote the part there to be sung, so… With your voice, you could sing it. Toscanini said that tradition is the last bad performance. [laughs]

    Stade – I agree. People give too much importance to tradition. Wonderful, brava! [applauses]

    [Next, Jessica Johnson, mezzo-soprano from UNC-Greensboro, with Will Kelley at the piano, sings Samira’s Aria from Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles - also wildly applauded]

    James Meredith, Will Kelley, and Jessica Johnson - photo credit Opera Lively

    Stade – I will say that this was a fabulous performance, and a fabulous voice, really.

    Meredith – Tell us what this was about.

    Johnson – The Ghosts of Versailles is an opera within an opera. This ends the second act, and what happens is that this is about the Figaro characters, and Beaumarchais’ ghost is writing it for Marie Antoinette, and she is sad because she is dead. [laughs] Beaumarchais goes into the opera to try to save Marie Antoinette, and get her cool back. There are at a Paris embassy, at a party hosted by the English ambassador who invited the Turkish ambassador and Samira is a gift that the Turkish ambassador has brought.

    Meredith – The interesting thing is that she comes and sings this aria; she has nothing to do with the rest of the opera. So, in this opera, she doesn’t really need to know anything about the opera, whereas when you do a role in opera you need to know what everybody else is doing. This is difficult to play, and this student pianist has only had this part for two days.

    Stade – Wonderful! [applauses]

    Meredith – Not that I’m encouraging this to happen. [laughs]

    Stade – You have a wonderful voice, and I want you to take really good care of it. I want guardian angels on your shoulders, OK? So that you don’t absolutely go to the end of it, no matter how strongly you feel. There’s something about Humanity, when they hear big sounds, they want them even bigger, and what happens is that you blow it out. And you are a wonderful performer too! I was scared! [everybody laughs]. You are terrific. What have you been doing?

    Johnson – Right now I’m working on Madame de la Haltière.

    Stade – Ah, Cendrillon. I don’t know. How old are you?

    Johnson – I’m 23.

    Stade – Oh, Lord! Be careful. You can do it; of course you can do it, but you want to be able to do it for twenty years. Madame de la Haltière is really low. I don’t know, in your place I’d explore all the light roles until you are 30, OK? Just be careful. Whenever you have this much talent, and with all the emotion involved, you will go all the way. So, don’t overuse it. Don’t even sing it again today… go home! [laughs]. No, seriously. You gave us a complete kernel of song; I thought it was terrific. There isn’t anything to criticize in your performance. Thank you, thank you! [General applause]

    [The last singer is Taylor McLean, mezzo-soprano from UNC-CH, with Deborah Hollis at the piano, singing “Printemps qui commence” from Saint-Saëns Samson et Dalila]

    Taylor McLean, Frederica von Stade, and James Meredith - photo credit Opera Lively

    Stade – This was beautiful, but there are a couple of things to work on. You have so many colors in your voice, but because this is an aria that has the same tune coming back so many times, each time needs to be very specific, to convey what exactly you are expressing in each part. And then, just more dynamics. It’s your decision, in terms of what dynamics to use, especially in the middle part.

    Meredith – I agree. She had me, at the beginning. Do you all know what is going on in this aria? It’s the first time she sees Samson, and she was sent there to seduce him, basically, and she is preparing for all that comes up. So, she has that look from the very beginning. She is there for business. But you lost me a few times in the middle. So, she is right, in the middle you have to be more specific and know what you are doing – Samson is a guy, you have him.

    There’s another thing. You had one gesture here, but then in the end you came out without it. So you have to practice this body language in front of a mirror. The thing to watch is that wonderful concert by Callas in Paris. The conductor was a very young Georges Prêtre and he was very bad, all over the place. [laughs]. She sings a Bellini aria, “A non credea mirarti” from La Sonnambula. It’s a long recitative, and aria, and she has basically two gestures. [see the video clip below; the aria itself starts at 5'40"]

    She moves her hand up here, and then she moves it here. That’s all, the whole aria. It’s all that it takes. I mean, you could do more, but just look at that, to see how little you have to do, and let your voice out.

    Stade – It’s also a question of knowing what doing nothing, physically, can do – how strong that is. It’s just like noticing how strong your back is. What we do beautifully, is that to be ourselves and express ourselves and be accepted by the public, we have to keep our face in the light. Marilyn Horne was doing a concert with her husband Henry Lewis, doing Cendrillon, and I was sitting there kind of fidgeting, and she said to me “Flicka, stop moving and keep your face in the light.” It was some of the best advice I got. [laughs]. It’s so easy to do. You have a beautiful, statuesque, honest delivery; just play around with the dynamics. It’s a long aria, the way it is divided, with two beats at the end of the measure, that are not quite the beat at the onset.

    Meredith – You are looking at Samson and you are thinking how you are going to respond to that. Speaking of Marilyn Horne, she was the Samira at the Ghosts of Versailles premiere at the Met. Flicka tried to get a hold of her just to see if there were any comments she could give, and pass on. She said she would call later.

    Stade – We tried. [laughs] But you are just beautiful. But try this one phrase with different dynamics [demonstrates it] – naturally it grows bigger at the end, but try it differently, lowering the volume there, with the idea that you don’t need to give all your voice there. You have to find a way to do a vocal transformation of it every time it repeats.

    McLean – [sings that stretch, Stade interrupts her soon]

    Stade – You are trying it too dramatic. Try it dolce, like you don’t know what you are going to do.

    [McLean repeats]

    Stade – It’s not over until it is over. Keep what you have, there, and keep going like this. OK, that’s it, beautiful, thank you. [Addressing the faculty:] You have some great singers, here! [applause] We have time for a couple of questions from the audience.

    All students except for Turner Davis, and the two master musicians - photo credit Opera Lively

    Questions and Answers

    [Audience member] Rossini composed some of your signature roles which Callas used to sing. I wonder if you listened to other singers who sang the roles before you.

    Stade – Oh yes. I find it enormously useful to listen to your predecessors. These days there is no excuse not to listen, because of YouTube and everything. I remember singing a Mozart aria way too heavily, then I listened to a recording with Berganza and thought, “ah, that’s the way it should be.” That can always help. It’s not like you are trying to imitate, by any means. Someone like Callas had such a personal style that you cannot try to imitate anything that she did, but you can learn from her. It’s essential now, because we are entering a period where singing is becoming very sick, too heavy at times, and we have to go back and find the clear, light, slim singing that had been so special for so many years, by those senior singers who are dead. It’s very helpful.

    And for French diction, I have a recommendation. There is a YouTube of a little girl telling stories, and she is three, and everything you need to know about French is there; she says “il y avait une giraffe et un lion, et on avait peur!” ["there was a giraffe and a lion, and we were afraid" - she says it with very emphatic and emotional voice] – you get all those phonemes that the French do with the closed E, it’s wonderful.

    [Audience member] How do you keep your stamina while singing a very long opera? Do you get tired or bored?

    Stade – We wear comfortable shoes! [Everybody laughs] It’s not tedious. It’s like playing your favorite sport. And it’s never the same, because even though we are singing the same arias, the cast, the conductor and the sets are different. I get excited every time. That’s the bad thing about Broadway – you are doing the same show for three years. But opera is never boring. There is an athletic aspect to it, and it is really fun. And it is arch-pretend. You know, I’ve spent way beyond the age of decency playing 14-year-old boys! [laughs]

    Meredith – I’d say that the 14-year-olds are the ones who are way beyond decency! [everybody laughs].

    Stade – Look at the characters. They are larger than life.

    Meredith – You could ask the same question about song repertoire, which is an interesting question because when you are on stage for an opera you got the make-up, the costumes, you have other people to relate to and you look at the conductor. When you are singing a song recital you have to put all of that in your face and make a few gestures, and you are standing in front of your audience, alone. That’s what most instrumentalists do not understand about singers. To do what the singers have to do is terrifying. You have to put so much research and experience into one 3-minute song, in a language that you do not speak, normally.

    You know Medici.TV, a wonderful 24-hour classical music web TV, very high level. There is a wonderful documentary about Thomas Quasthoff, the German bass-baritone who just retired, unfortunately; one of the greatest Lieder singers. He teaches at the Hanns Eisler School of Music in Berlin, and he has a song competition. This is a 90-minute documentary on the competition, just German Lieder, and it is very revealing because they have a distinguished panel and they make comments not only about the singers, but about the pianists and conductors as well. It’s very well balanced. What you have to learn and know to sing well these very short songs is immense.

    You got now so many resources that I didn’t have when I was here in school! At the flick of your finger you have everything you got to know about these songs, that somebody has written or had the experience. Then you have to add your own to that. So, there is no excuse for not knowing all this stuff. It’s so easy to know!

    On this very stage when I was an undergraduate Gerald Moore gave a one-man show and then the next day a master class. Gerald Moore was the premier collaborative pianist of his era. He gave his one-man show and it was phenomenal. He wrote two books, The Unashamed Accompanist, and Am I Too Loud? He was brilliant, and I was able to play for him and listen to him here on this very stage. So take all your opportunities and listen to all those great singers and pianists. There are master classes you can watch online. Not that you don’t have to take some of what they say with a grain of salt, but just listen. It’s so much information, but it is so valuable!

    [Audience member] I want to ask how you feel about the future of opera. I know it’s a loaded question, but we are lucky to have great opera companies in our state right here in our yard, but many opera companies are closing and it is discouraging when we have so much young talent willing to come out and find places to sing. You’ve done so much outreach with children, obviously, in California. What is your sense of the landscape?

    Stade – I think in some ways it’s an exciting time for opera, because there are more operas being written in English than in any other time. There are great composers out there right now, and they are really celebrating the voice. They are not doing yeeeh-yeaaaahhh [sings all over the range of the scale, people laugh], they are composing wonderful operas that the public responds to, so beautifully.

    As singers, we have one task, and is a big one: to sing. And the rest you can’t control. You can’t control your career, you can’t control who likes you and who doesn’t like you. For the fifty people who love you on stage there will be fifty people who don’t. All you can do is do what you do, and be open to what is happening because there are very innovative and exciting things happening. Just keep singing. Don’t let the economy stop you. It may be one of the best things happening to opera, because we are having to turn to innovation. We are having to work harder to go out there and be available as entertainers.

    Meredith – The kids that I work with, I take them all to the opera. I have eighteen students between the ages of eleven and seventeen. We get to the opera, the companies are very generous in giving us tickets, and they love it; they really love it. I never had that opportunity at that age. I’d see an opera singer on TV if I was lucky, and my Dad’s response to it was “shoot her and put her out of her misery.” [everybody laughs] I never saw an opera until I came to school here and sang at the chorus; that’s what got me hooked. Those operas we did are the operas that I adore, to this day. So, the kids love it. They get wrapped up in all the drama. We have three major companies and several smaller companies that do all sorts of things for the kids.

    Stade – And I take even younger children to the opera, from the elementary school where I teach [Saint Martin de Porres Elementary School in Oakland, CA], and I took them even to heavy and hard operas like Die tote Stadt, and The Rake’s Progress, where even I don’t know what is going on… [laughs]. They never, even in a five-hour Don Giovanni, have wanted to leave. They are fascinated by the stage, by the singing, by the orchestra, they have a million of questions, some of them have never been to San Francisco, or to an opera house…

    Meredith – Or never heard any classical music in their lives.

    Stade – They never heard anything beautiful. Something beautiful. I mean, I love pop music, but some of it is not “beautiful.” [laughs] Thank you! [applause]


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