Frederica von Stade comes to UTEP!
On January 20, 2020, the UTEP Department of Music welcomed a legend to the Fox Fine Arts Recital Hall – opera superstar Frederica von Stade. In El Paso for a series of charitable concerts, Ms. Von Stade graciously agreed to give a master class to five lucky student singers. The class was free and open to the public, who turned out in force to observe the world-renowned mezzo-soprano teach and mold UTEP’s voice majors. After a major international career in opera, Ms. Von Stade is now on the voice faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and eagerly shares her vast knowledge of singing and opera with the current generation.
Ms. Von Stade did not disappoint. The first student, junior music education major Rebeca Gonzales sang one of Susanna’s arias from Mozart’s opera, The Marriage of Figaro. To encourage more playfulness in Rebeca’s delivery, Ms. Von Stade temporarily donned the role she practically “owned” decades ago -- the “pants role” of Cherubino. With remarkable youthful agility she acted out the dressing scene with the student, and shared delightful anecdotes of her time in the spotlight.
She went on to masterfully teach and guide the remaining four singers, Odalis Aguirre, Octavio Garavito, Emilie Merritt and Samantha Joy Whitaker, swooning over the high level of talent the UTEP students displayed. She seemed to have sixth sense in knowing just what to focus on with each individual singer. She was kind, gracious and generous with her expertise and her instruction, and was especially complimentary of the class’s pianist, Dr. Esequiel Meza.
UTEP’s Director of Opera Cherry Duke was the emcee for the class, and made it known that Ms. Von Stade had been her personal hero for many years. As a special treat, Ms. Von Stade volunteered to sing a duet with Professor Duke. They performed “Sull’aria” (also from The Marriage of Figaro), completely impromptu for the gathered crowd. Duke later reported that singing with her idol was “a dream come true.”
This unique event came about because of one man’s generous reaction to the tragic shooting of August 3, 2019. On that fateful day, in response to the Dallas-based shooter’s outburst of hate in El Paso, Dallas choral conductor Dr. Jonathan Palant decided to respond by bringing love and unity to El Paso, through music.
When UTEP Director of Choral Activities Dr. Elisa Fraser Wilson met Dr. Palant at a conference last semester, she learned of his intent to bring his community and collegiate choirs to El Paso, along with a special guest—opera superstar Frederica von Stade. It was a natural fit to have a master class for borderland voice majors to be the culmination to a weekend of concerts in Ciudad Juárez and El Paso.
On Sunday, January 19, UTEP student musicians performed at the El Paso County Coliseum on the same stage as Palant’s Credo Choir and University of Texas at Dallas choir, as well as members of Esperanza Azteca Choir and Ms. Von Stade herself. The teams from Dallas also performed at El Punto in Ciudad Juárez on Saturday, January 18. Also fitting was that the master class was held on January 20, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.