In 1969, Sir Rudolf Bing offered Frederica von Stade a contract during the course of the Metropolitan Opera's annual national auditions program, and she made her Met debut in on January 10th, 1970, as the Third Genie in DIE ZAUBERFLOETE; her 'brother genii' were Gail Robinson (also a debut) and Judith Forst. A week later, I heard the von Stade voice for the first time on a Saturday matinee broadcast of the Mozart opera. I can honestly say she made a distinct impression.
Already there was a buzz among the cognoscenti regarding this comely young singer; I first saw her onstage as Wowkle in FANCIULLA DEL WEST (with Tebaldi creating a sensation as Minnie). Then von Stade sang Flora Bervoix in TRAVIATA and at her first performance of the role, she missed every cue. I ran into her backstage after the performance (my first time to meet her) and she was distraught, and was sure the conductor was going to have her removed from the role (he didn't).
Soon, von Stade began getting bigger parts - Nicklausse in HOFFMANN and Suzuki in BUTTERFLY - while still being cast in tiny roles in PARSIFAL, PERICHOLE, and FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN. In 1972, Hansel and Cherubino (her signature role) came her way, though even after that she sometimes went on in her older, smaller roles. She sang Tebaldo in DON CARLO at the final matinee of the Rudolf Bing era. After that, commencing with the 1972-1973 season, von Stade sang only major roles at The Met....and at great opera houses worldwide.
During the Autumn of 1972, Frederica von Stade made a recital tour and one of her stops was Syracuse, New York, where she would perform at the Everson Museum. I was still living in the little town (1973 would be the break-thru year both for her and for me) and of course I bought a ticket...and brought my small cassette recorder.
It was a superb evening, with a program mixing songs and arias; von Stade looked radiant in a red gown...and sang gorgeously. The only drawback was, the museum staff had forgotten to turn on the heat: the hall was freezing. Audience members sat bundled up in coats, scarves, hats and gloves. A small electric heater was parked under the piano to keep the singer warm. She apologized several times during the program for the discomfort we had to endure. Some people left at intermission; I stayed on to the end, and was rewarded with her fabulous CENERENTOLA encore.
Over the ensuing years, Frederica von Stade has remained a cherished artist for me; whenever I listen to her voice (her early French arias disc remains a treasure) I am drawn back to my first memories of her as a unique and lustrous singer.
During the past year, I have been 'rescuing' some of my old cassettes and converting them to MP3. Many of the original tapes have long since become too fragile to play, but over time I had made various copies, and here are some highlights from the 1972 Syracuse recital which Flicka sang in that frigid theater.