I may have lost count, but I believe this was the sixth time the magnificent mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade has appeared in concert for the Carmel Music Society. On stage with her once again was the amazing pianist/composer Jake Heggie, whose collaboration with her has a long history. After several weeks of intermittent rain, we were blessed with magnificent weather (much to the delight of golf enthusiasts on the Monterey Peninsula for the Pro-Am Golf tournament), and we were delighted to observe a large and enthusiastic audience — I don’t believe we lost many members of our potential audience to the golfers.
The concert began with a series of four songs related to “roses” – to remind us that Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. The second of these, La Vie en Rose, a signature song of Edith Piaf, was remarkable in von Stade’s rendition as she lowered her tessitura and gave us a smoky version that was as suave as it was appealing.
In the second group of songs by Mahler, Fauré, Heggie and Thomas, we had ample opportunity to observe von Stade’s marvelous stage presence as her animated gestures and movements always added to the effectiveness of the songs themselves. Heggie’s four songs from “Paper Wings” inspired by references to von Stade’s children, were imaginative and charmingly effective.
Next we heard a group of songs by Mahler, Fauré, Heggie and Ambroise Thomas, including the lovely Mandoline by Fauré where von Stade’s charm was matched by terrific piano playing by Heggie. Once again von Stade’s acting skills and electric stage presence kept us enthralled.
After intermission, we heard three arias by Mahler, Massenet and Mozart — it is always a pleasure to hear Voi che sapete from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, and it was especially charming on this occasion.
Von Stade has always successfully mixed serious arts song and arias with snatches of Broadway and popular songs, so we were not surprised to hear compelling renditions of selections from musicals like “Show Boat” and “Wonderful Town” — and the final song, “I Cain’t Say No” from Oklahoma was a show stopper. “My Funny Valentine” and “Everybody loves you when You’re Asleep” by Rodgers and Hart also tickled our fancy, as did “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music by Sondheim.
Ultimately some of the most magical moments in the afternoon’s concert were achieved in a splendid rendition of Habeñera from Bizet’s Carmen, and in Massenet’s Va! Laisse couler mes larmes, where Heggie’s dark and mysterious opening accompaniment was the perfect setup for the von Stade’s intense and restrained dramatic performance. We loved von Stade’s humorous stage antics in Poulenc’s Hôtel and Bolcom’s Amor. This was entertainment, but it was also supremely artistic.
After long applause and a standing ovation, we received one encore I believe it was the Tipsy Waltz by Offenbach, and it was a hoot.