Frederica von Stade

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Frederica von Stade
Frederica von Stade, January 19, 1985
Born (1945-06-01) June 1, 1945 (age 78)
Somerville, New Jersey, United States
Alma materMannes School of Music, New York City
OccupationOpera singer (mezzo-soprano)
(m. 1973; div. 1990)
Michael G. Gorman
(m. 1990)

Frederica von Stade (born 1 June 1945) is a semi-retired American classical singer. Best known for her work in opera, she was also a recitalist and concert artist, and she recorded more than a hundred albums and videos. She was especially associated with operas by Mozart and Rossini, and also with music by French and American composers, most notably Jake Heggie.

Early life[edit]

Frederica "Flicka" von Stade was born in Somerville, New Jersey on 1 June 1945, the daughter of Sara Clucas von Stade and Charles Steele von Stade, a 1941 US Polo Champion, who had been killed in action while serving with the US Army in Germany during World War II. Her early infancy was largely spent in the affluent hunt country of Somerset County, New Jersey, with a brief interlude in Greece and Italy during her mother's short-lived second marriage to a US diplomat, Horace Fuller.

She began her education at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart and Holy Trinity School in Washington DC, where her mother worked as a secretary for the CIA. When her mother relocated to Oldwick, New Jersey, she transferred to Far Hills Country Day School, where she was a leading participant in the school's musical theatre programme. During her final high school years, she boarded at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, no longer extant, in Noroton, Connecticut. Her introduction to opera came at the Salzburg Festival in 1961, when her mother took her to see Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Christa Ludwig in Der Rosenkavalier.

With the help of a graduation gift from her grandfather, she spent a gap year studying and working in Paris before getting a job as a salesgirl in the stationery department of Tiffany's, New York City. She began her performing career acting in summer stock at the Long Wharf Theater and singing in nightclubs and in industrial musicals. In 1966 she visited New York's Mannes School of Music intending to take a part-time course in sight-reading, but was persuaded to enrol in its undergraduate music programme instead. In the second year of her course, she began studying opera under Sebastian Engelberg, who remained her teacher and most important mentor until his death in 1979.


After a successful appearance as a semi-finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 1969, von Stade was invited to join the Met's young artist programme. A summons from the rehearsal room to a private audition with Sir Rudolf Bing resulted in her signing a three year contract as a comprimario. She made her Met debut as the Third Boy in Die Zauberflöte on 10 January 1970, and went on to play eighteen other apprentice roles as "everybody's page or their maid—I was an operatic domestic".

In 1971, the Met allowed her to moonlight in San Francisco and in Santa Fe as Sesto and Cherubino respectively, but in 1972, hungry for more challenging roles, she decided to embark on a career as a freelance. She debuted as Cherubino in Houston and as Rosina in Washington DC in 1973. That was also the year when her international career began with her taking her Cherubino, her signature role, to Paris and Glyndebourne. Soon she was singing in all of Europe's most prestigous houses, appearing as Cherubino in Salzburg in 1974, as Rosina at Covent Garden in 1975, as Rosina at La Scala in 1976 and as Cherubino in Vienna in 1977. Her recording of Joseph Haydn's Harmoniemesse (taped under Leonard Bernstein in 1973) was the first item in what grew to be a large and eclectic discography, and a telecast of Le nozze di Figaro from Glyndebourne in 1973 launched her on a television career that eventually made her a familiar face on screens in America and across the world.

With a coltish physique and a warm, soft-grained, lyric voice midway between a soprano and a mezzo-soprano, she was a celebrated exponent of travesti roles like Hänsel, Idamante, and Octavian, and—aided by her striking beauty—she was also much admired playing leading ladies like Angelina, Charlotte, Dorabella, Lucette, Mélisande, Penelope and Zerlina. In the autumn of her career, she transitioned into character parts, among them Despina, Geschwitz, Tina, the Marquise de Merteuil, Mrs de Rocher, Madeline Mitchell, Winnie Flato and Myrtle Bledsoe. Her repertoire spanned the gamut from the baroque era through the classical and Romantic periods to modern music (including jazz and pop). Her many firsts included the US premiere of Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, the Met's first performance of Mozart's Idomeneo, the first recording of Massenet's Cendrillon and the world premieres of operas by Dominick Argento, Lembit Beecher, Ricky Ian Gordon, Jake Heggie, Thomas Pasatieri, Conrad Susa and Heitor Villa-Lobos. Her appearances in musicals by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim reflected a love of musical theatre that had been kindled when she was a little girl listening to her mother's 78s of songs by George Gershwin and Jerome Kern.

Although she was primarily a singing actress, she was also a busy concert artist, particularly in the second half of her career. The composers whose orchestral pieces she liked best were Mozart, Mahler, Berlioz, Debussy, Ravel and Canteloube. Her recital work embraced songs from Argentina, Austria, England, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy and Spain as well as many written by American composers for whom she was an evangelist and, in several cases, a muse. Her favourite selections were French mélodies—a devoted Francophile, she became a fluent French speaker while still a teenager and made her home in Paris for several years. The pianist with whom she performed most often was Martin Katz. (Other colleagues who were especially important in her career were the composers Dominick Argento and Jake Heggie, the conductors Claudio Abbado, James Levine and Michael Tilson Thomas and the singers Kiri Te Kanawa, Marilyn Horne, Thomas Allen, Thomas Hampson, Richard Stilwell and Samuel Ramey.)

Von Stade ceased performing full time in 2010, but she continued to make occasional appearances in San Francisco and elsewhere throughout the following decade and into the 2020s. Her activities in semi-retirement have included taking part in benefit concerts, judging singing competitions and teaching interpretation in master classes.

Personal life[edit]

Von Stade married Peter Elkus, a California-born bass-baritone and music teacher, in 1973. Their daughter Jenny (a clinical psychologist) was born in 1977, and their daughter Lisa (a technology company executive) in 1980. They divorced in 1990, and von Stade married Michael Gorman, an Alameda manufacturer and banker, shortly afterwards.

Von Stade is a practising Roman Catholic. The extensive charitable work that she has undertaken throughout her career has involved her in a variety of programmes, most of them concerned with either education, health issues or homelessness. The main beneficiary of her philanthropy has been the Young Musicians Choral Orchestra, an East Bay organization that provides children from low income families with musical tuition, academic reinforcement and assistance in their personal development in order to help them to win a place at university.

Further reading[edit]

Von Stade's authorized biography, Richard Parlour's Flicka: The Life and Music of Frederica von Stade, is scheduled for publication in 2025. She has been the subject of two major film profiles: Call Me Flicka (BBC and RM Munich, 1980), produced by Herbert Chappell, and Flicka: A Love Letter (Paper Wings Films, 2023), directed by Brian Staufenbiel and produced by Nicolle Foland and Dede Wilsey.

Select discography[edit]

Select videography[edit]


  • Guthrie, Julian: Opera's thoroughbred, San Francisco Examiner, 28 Aug 1994
  • Jacobson, Robert: Flicka and Richard, Opera News, 24 January 1976
  • James, Jamie: Frederica the Great, Opera Now, June 1991
  • Kellow, Brian: Cherubino grows up, Opera News, 1 April 1995
  • Lessard, Suzannah: Flicka, The New Yorker, 7 May 1979
  • McLellan, Joseph: Von Stade's Cinderella story, The Washington Post, 27 Feb 1988
  • Michaelson, Judith: Oh, the life of the diva, Los Angeles Times, 4 May 1980
  • Movshon, George: Frederica von Stade, Opera, January 1980
  • Paolucci, Bridget: A time for soul-searching, Opera News, 30 Jan 1988
  • Spoto, Donald: Flicka in ¾ time, Opera News, March 2000
  • Swan, Annalyn: The sweetheart of American opera, Newsweek, 4 April 1983
  • Tassel, Janet: A real thoroughbred, Opera News, 9 April 1983