Opera in the Time of COVID: Frederica von Stade, An Operatic Legend

By David Salazar
(Credit: Frances Marshall)

“Opera in the Time of COVID” is an interview series in collaboration with photographer Frances Marshall of Marshall Light Studio. We talk to notable figures from around the opera world to get their perspective on how they feel these challenging times may change opera’s present and future.

The Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, the Opéra de Paris, the Vienna State Opera, the Salzburger Festspielhaus, Covent Garden, Glyndebourne, Carnegie Hall. That is but a small handful of theaters that have been graced with the presence of iconic mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade.

She kicked off her career in 1970 when she made her Me Opera debut, and 50 years later, she is still going strong as a performer, appearing in the 2018 world premiere of Lembit Beecher’s chamber opera “Sky on Swings.”

In this edition of “Opera in the Time of COVID,” von Stade explains why she feels confident that the opera world will overcome these great challenges, while also outlining what she believes needs to happen on a larger scale so that we can all recover from the challenges facing us today.

OperaWire: What have you done during this time to keep yourself positive and productive?

Frederica von Stade: Positive and Productive –  I’ve done very little actually!  My most important chore of the day is to walk my puppy Sadie and I’ve taken her on fabulous walks all around the city of Alameda which we are discovering together!

OW: What do you feel will be the greatest impacts of COVID-19 on the opera world moving forward? What are some new developments that you feel are here to stay? 

FVS: I think the effects are monumental.  When we think of the struggle to keep these institutions going, the fund raising, the development etc, it just boggles the mind to think that all these efforts will have to be stronger to combat the time and support these companies will have lost.

I am most encouraged by a little article which said how Kirsten Flagstad saved the opera after the great depression.  She was just so magnificent that people started to go crazy for her performances.  We certainly have the star power to recreate this and I hope with all my heart that it happens.  Opera is so much important than we think.  It taps into our souls and hearts and we need that more than ever.

OW: One of the major developments of this time is the emergence of streaming and connecting with fans and followers more directly via social media. How has this impacted your time in quarantine?

FVS: It’s been amazing and the most valuable with family and friends.  We just crave time to connect with them more than ever and it is becoming easier to manage.  I think the technological advances will help every part of the music business.  It will help teachers and students enormously.

OW: What is an outcome of streaming that you didn’t expect? 

FVS: That I can do it (with a little instruction and patience)!

OW: What do you enjoy most about this new development? 

FVS: I like just knowing that it’s available and I really appreciate all those who are giving so much time and energy towards figuring it all out. We have some very important heroes in all of this.

OW: Can you elaborate on these heroes?

FVS: I believe with all my heart in the amazing talent of today. I have heard in the last year some of the greatest voices ever and I’ve watched young people just put their heart and soul into their work and I believe in them.  We need to move forward and we need to change and I really trust these young people to set their own courses which will have very exciting results.  I don’t know what those results will be but I know they will be amazing and take us BACK to our humanity.

OW: What are you most excited about doing once the quarantine officially comes to an end and we are allowed to resume a “normal” life?

FVS: I am the most excited about seeing my grandkids in Virginia. I was meant to be with them through all of this and couldn’t travel at the last minute so I am aching for them.  They have so much going on in their lives and I would so like to share that and help my daughter but we’re many miles apart and just counting the time until I can get on a plane.

OW: Who have been the people you have relied on most to help you through these challenging times? 

FVS: I always rely on my fabulous husband and my kids to get though anything but “get through” gives the wrong impression.  It’s an experience and a big one and I think its very confusing.  But you know all of us who have been “on the road” so to speak with our careers have always ached for a break, a time with no music learning, calls, interviews etc and here it is so I think we need to allow ourselves to enjoy it and relish it and maybe just do anything you feel like! Like eat ice cream!

OW: What activities do you miss the most?

FVS: Shopping.  for food that is. Our kids have taken such good care of us that we have a fridge full to the brim but I miss walking around the grocery store

OW: Most people in quarantine are actively engaging with the arts via either music, TV, film, reading, literature. What have you been watching or reading during this time?

FVS: I’ve been watching Netflix etc. and actually catching up on a lot of music via YouTube.

OW: Speaking more globally about the pandemic, what can the world learn about this experience? What do you hope to see from our leaders (political or even industry) in order to build a better future that enables us to better manage any similar type of situation? 

FVS: A great pal said that there are global, huge events that the planet has to endure which come as emergencies, and seem like eruptions or tsunami’s and that is what this pandemic is.  The world explodes and then when all settles, many of the problems which brought on the explosion are solved.  I believe in this idea and I know that the most important things to be sorted out are Health care for everyone! Food for everyone and Shelter for everyone.

Not easy chores but they must be settled or the planet can’t survive.  So many people have been in an emergency mode, a desperate mode for so long that we needed something to blast us out of our mistakes.  Maybe this is it.  It’s given us Newsom and Cuomo and I bet there’s more great leadership out there.