Texas, Pants, and Luck: Jamie Barton Talks to Frederica von Stade
January 29, 2016
February is the month of the mezzo-soprano here at Lincoln Center. Jamie Barton takes center stage February 5 as this year’s Richard Tucker Award winner in From Bocelli to Barton: The Richard Tucker Opera Gala on Live From Lincoln Center, and Frederica von Stade returns February 18 in Ricky Ian Gordon’s opera-in-concert A Coffin in Egypt at American Songbook. Between performances, Barton interviewed von Stade—one of her idols—about music and her multifaceted career.
Jamie Barton: Hearing Ricky Ian Gordon’s “Dream Variations” on Audra McDonald’s album Way Back to Paradise was one of the things that got me interested in storytelling through music. Tell me a bit about A Coffin in Egypt. What can the audience expect?
Frederica von Stade: It’s that pure magic of Ricky Ian Gordon. He and Leonard Foglia have respectfully honored the style of Horton Foote and his love of Texas and Texans. I think the audience can expect a slice of the life of a very interesting woman who never enjoyed her qualities and traded joy for anger.
JB: In my mind, you are the definitive “pants mezzo,” and yet I’ve also always identified you with redefining and expanding the mezzo Fach—singing Dvorak’s “Song to the Moon,” for example. What gave you the courage to think outside the box?
FVS: I wish I could take credit for thinking outside the box, as far as repertoire is concerned. I was lucky enough to have an amazing manager, Matthew Epstein, who did most of my musical thinking for me. And as a good Catholic girl, I did what I was told!
JB: You made your Metropolitan Opera debut at 25 and have had such a storied career ever since. How have you figured out how to shift gears and explore different facets of the art form at different points of your career?
FVS: I feel strongly that I have been the luckiest person ever. Possibilities presented themselves, and I just mainly said yes. I’ve had the best advice in the world as far as structuring my career and great understanding as well for the fact that nearly everything changed when my girls came onto the scene.
JB: I got to be a part of my second Live From Lincoln Center taping this season. You’ve done tons of Live From Lincoln Center telecasts. What was one of your favorites?
FVS: One of my favorites was a Christmas concert with Kathy Battle. It was a very happy time in my life, and I was able to find a green dress!
JB: I was a studio artist at Houston Grand Opera during the mounting process of Three Decembers. I wasn’t even assigned to that show but kept showing up to rehearsals because it was so beautiful! I know Jake Heggie considers you to be one of his muses. Do you think performers have a responsibility in helping to create new works?
FVS: Jake Heggie is my hero and my angel. All I’ve ever done for Jake is love his music and his wonderful person. I think it’s one of our privileges to create new works, and it’s an exciting time to do this with so many new works premiering every year. I think the public is right on board.
JB: My first opera role at HGO was Third Lady in The Magic Flute. Before curtain one night, I was getting ready in the dressing room I shared with the Papagena, when in popped one head, then two: Jake Heggie and Flicka! You showed me amazing generosity as a colleague, even when I was just starting out. Who was popping into your dressing room when you were starting out?
FVS: One very special joy for me was a night when Julie Andrews came backstage just before the opera began. It wasn’t in the beginning of my career, but it was a special thrill. I would be just as thrilled if you, Jamie, popped in!
—Frederica von Stade