Arts & Events

New: Sunday with the Divas

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Tuesday February 27, 2018 - 03:31:00 PM

On Sunday afternoon, February 25, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in collaboration with San Francisco Opera presented at Nourse Theatre a round-table discussion with four great opera singers: Marilyn Horne, Patricia Racette, Deborah Voigt, and Frederica von Stade. Serving as emcee was Stephen Rubin, a trustee of San Francisco Conservatory of Music and president of Henry Holt & Co., publisher of many prize-winning books. As one might expect, the divas traded compliments with one another and generally spoke of their good fortune and gratitude in having such successful careers.  

When asked to name a singer who influenced her, Frederica von Stade cited Marilyn Horne, singling out Horne’s performances as Adalgisa in Bellini’s Norma alongside Joan Sutherland at San Francisco Opera. When asked the same question, Patricia Racette cited Italian soprano Renata Scotto, and in this choice Racette was seconded by Marilyn Horne. Both Racette and Horne heaped praise on Scotto for her gorgeous voice and finely nuanced characterizations in each role she sang. All four divas also expressed great admiration for Maria Callas. Mezzo-sopranos Horne and von Stade were asked if they ever were tempted to sing soprano roles. Horne replied that for many years, including her beginning years as a professional, she was indeed a soprano. Only gradually did she realize that her voice was best suited for mezzo-soprano roles. Frederica von Stade answered that she too had occasionally sung soprano roles, most notably, the role of Mélisande in Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande which she sang at San Francisco Opera. But von Stade joked that Mélisande doesn’t sing all that much, just answering “oui” or “non” to questions put to her by others. Actually, Mélisande sings quite a bit more than that, but von Stade’s joke was well taken by the adoring audience. Flicka, as Frederica is known by her friends, also joked that at least in singing Mélisande she avoided for once being given pants roles where she played boys.  

All four divas were asked by Stephen Rubin what they were doing now in addition to or in place of singing opera roles. All four indicated they were involved in teaching. Indeed, Racette and Voigt give master classes at San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Horne gives master classes but prefers teaching one-on-one in private lessons. Patricia Racette also spoke at length and quite eloquently about branching out into directing operas. She will direct her first opera, Verdi’s La Traviata, sometime later this year at Opera Theatre, St. Louis.  

Emcee Stephen Rubin played a number of recorded selections that featured each of the four divas. Patricia Racette was heard in a song by Steven Sondheim, Marilyn Horne in a song with her good friend Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Deborah Voigt in a song from Porgy and Bess. The musical highlight of the afternoon was a 1983 recording of Frederica von Stade singing the hymn to the moon in Dvorák’s Rusalka, with Seiji Ozawa conducting the Boston Symphony.