Meeting Flicka (The Incomparable Frederica von Stade)

8232A confession: I’ve been interviewing celebrities of varying renown or infamy for more years than I care to admit, and thought that I’d long ago ceased to be star-struck. Yet, when I first met celebrated mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade (known affectionately by family, colleagues and fans as “Flicka,”), I alternately gushed and stammered like a schoolboy. I doubtless made a fool of myself, but Flicka was much too gracious to point this out; instead, she immediately put me at ease.

Why was I uncharacteristically giddy? Consider that the phrases “living legend” and “national treasure” are nearly as abused and overused as the term “genius,” and may denote nothing more than exceptional longevity. Occasionally, though – just every so often – an artist comes along who is fully deserving of these accolades, by dint of both their creative achievements and an inspirational personality. Flicka is one such artist, and great fun to be around, besides.

As well as being an iconic performer in traditional operas (both her Cherubino and Octavian are considered definitive), Flicka is known for encouraging modern American composers, and one of her most fruitful and enduring creative partnerships has been with composer Jake Heggie. She was an early champion of Heggie’s work and he has written both song cycles and opera roles for her, most notably in “Dead Man Walking” and “Three Decembers.” Their most recent collaboration is “Great Scott,” which had its West Coast premiere at San Diego Opera in May 2016. During her sojourn in San Diego Flicka sat down with SDO General Director David Bennett under the auspices of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UC San Diego, for a wide-ranging conversation about her life and career. As one audience member noted, Flicka proved to be as far from the popular image of the temperamental artist as one can be, displaying an easy charm and a modesty that belies her status as one of the music world’s most beloved stars.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with her resumé, which includes stints on “Prairie Home Companion” and appearances with Carol Burnett, as well as singing at the White House, the Winter Olympics, and with Monty Python’s Eric Idle, where she appeared as a Valkyrie in a winged helmet for a duet rendition of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” Not the sort of thing one would expect from a more, shall we say, conventional diva. In the course of her long career Flicka has proven to be an immensely effective advocate for the arts and arts education, and an enthusiastic popularizer of opera and art song. She continues to work to further the careers of talented young singers and composers.

I was star-struck so you don’t have to be. Watch Flicka’s conversation with David Bennett and I think you’ll learn, as I did, that all of the exceptional things said about her – about her talent, her integrity, her generosity, and her sweetness – are true.

Watch A Conversation with Frederica von Stade.

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Contributed by Producer, John Menier

An All-Access Pass to Opera

8232UCSD-TV – in the form of Your Humble Correspondent – continues to chronicle the adventures of San Diego Opera with two award-winning series, San Diego OperaTalk (in its 17th season) and San Diego Opera Spotlight (now in its 19th year, it’s “the opera series that’s old enough to vote”). Taken together as companion programs, these shows offer viewers an “all-access pass” that goes beyond sound bites and packaged promos with in-depth analysis, rehearsal and performance footage, and interviews with key participants. The result is an entertaining and informative portrait of the creative processes and personalities that bring opera to life in San Diego.

8232Having stabilized after winning a very public battle to stay alive, San Diego Opera is now fashioning a new direction for the Company. New General Director David Bennett has assured long-time patrons that the Company will not forsake traditional repertoire; rather, the intention going forward is to mix large-scale productions at the Civic Theatre with intimate productions of the new & the unfamiliar at a variety of venues, and to markedly increase the Opera’s outreach, visibility and engagement in the community. In that light the 2015/16 season may be seen as both a summation of where the company has been – a producer of traditional grand opera – and as a harbinger of things to come – a presenter of new works by contemporary composers.

Tradition is represented in the best way by two of Giacomo Puccini’s most beloved works, Tosca and Madama Butterfly, in productions that are new to San Diego Opera but are directed by two SDO favorites, Lesley Koenig and Garnett Bruce respectively. The third production, the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, is SDO’s second staging of an opera by Jake Heggie, following the phenomenal success of his Moby-Dick. This original serio-comedy features a stellar cast and a libretto by Terrence McNally (Master Class), and is directed by former Old Globe Artistic Director and theatrical legend Jack O’Brien. Jack is no stranger to the UCSD-TV audience, from his appearances on our Backstage at the Globe series.

As in years past, UCSD-TV is delighted to accompany you backstage and seat you, front row center, for what promises to be a vibrant season of opera.

Visit Opera on UCSD-TV to learn more.

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Contributed by Arts & Humanities Producer, John Menier

Indulge in 'Aida'

Verdi’s evergreen favorite “Aida” returns to San Diego Opera this weekend in a production designed by fashion icon Zandra Rhodes.

Get a look behind the scenes as cast and crew prepare to mount the grandest of grand operas with UCSD-TV’s “Opera Spotlight,” premiering tonight (April 19) at 9pm. (The video will be available online April 22 at this link, where additional broadcast dates and times are also available.)

How about getting to know the production’s cast and creative team, including Ms. Rhodes? Just watch “Stars in the Salon,” featuring a lively panel discussion hosted by Nick Reveles.

Or perhaps you need a primer on the opera which many consider to be Verdi’s greatest work? If so, watch “OperaTalk! with Nick Reveles.”

Now how’s that for operatic indulgence?

Who's Behind That 'Murder in the Cathedral?'

This week, San Diego Opera is busy is preparing for a murder, set to take place Saturday night when their production of  Ildebrando Pizzetti’s “Murder in the Cathedral” takes the stage. Based upon the drama by American poet TS Eliot, the story revolves around the 1170 murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket by henchmen of King Henry II in Canterbury Cathedral.

In UCSD-TV’s presentation of “Stars in the Salon,” premiering tonight (Marchy 26) at 8pm and online now, host Nick Reveles joins the cast and artistic team behind the new San Diego Opera production to discuss the intricacies of this unjustly-negelected masterwork.

Then check out “OperaTalk!” where host Nick Reveles provides a guided historical tour of the work, including its basis in Eliot’s play, the development of musical themes, and Pizzetti’s melding of words and music for maximum dramatic effect.

Before you head to the theater to enjoy the show, make sure to tune in Friday, March 29 at 9pm for the premiere of UCSD-TV’s behind-the-scenes documentary, “Opera Spotlight.”

Want to catch up on San Diego Opera’s season so far? Check out our Opera video archive!

Bronze Bling for UCSD-TV

We needed needed a little more bling around here!

After a terrific showing at the Aurora Awards, UCSD-TV is adding to its 2013 tally with two bronze Telly Awards.

“Building It Better: Earthquake-Resilient Hospitals for the Future” nabbed the bronze in the Documentary category for its behind-the-scenes look at the rigorous earthquake testing UC San Diego researchers put their five-story mockup of a hospital through in order to better understand how the many complex systems within hospital buildings perform after earthquakes. Produced by UCSD-TV’s Rich Wargo, in partnership with the California Seismic Safety Commission, the program explores the history of seismic safety for California’s hospital infrastructure, and what is being done to secure its future.

Also taking home the bronze for documentary was “San Diego Opera Spotlight: Moby-Dick,” UCSD-TV producer John Menier’s in-depth look behind-the-scenes at the West Coast premiere of Jake Heggie’s “Moby-Dick,” based upon the classic novel by Herman Melville.

You also might recall our announcement last month that “The Skinny on Obesity: Sickeningly Sweet” was awarded the prestigious Silver Telly Award in the Health and Wellness category. Produced by UCSD-TV’s Rich Wargo and Jennifer Ford, the program is one of seven episodes in the popular “The Skinny on Obesity” series, which premiered on the UCTV Prime YouTube original channel in April 2012.

The Telly Awards is the premier award honoring the finest film and video productions, groundbreaking web commercials, videos and films, and outstanding local, regional, and cable TV commercials and programs.

Congratulations to the UCSD-TV team!