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Music Review

Von Stade bids farewell to Boston

Frederica von Stade (shown singing at Carnegie Hall in New York in 2006) performed Sunday at Symphony Hall as part of her farewell tour. Frederica von Stade (shown singing at Carnegie Hall in New York in 2006) performed Sunday at Symphony Hall as part of her farewell tour. (Richard Termine/ The New York Times/ File 2006)
By David Perkins
Globe Correspondent / October 6, 2009

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Her nickname, Flicka, has always evoked the easygoing nature of the girl who liked to ride horses when she was growing up in northern New Jersey. One wondered if it didn’t refer to the cute gesture she makes of brushing her bangs off her eyes, or to the flickering fast vibrato that is a hallmark of her lovely voice. All these things, and much more, that have made Frederica von Stade such a beloved artist were present again at her Boston farewell on Sunday at Symphony Hall.

Time has not stood still for von Stade, nor for her friend and guest artist, the exquisite Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, both now in their mid-60s. But it seemed to roll itself back for an afternoon of joyful music-making.

The program was mostly light music, and rather quirkily organized. (If you’re going to retire, you get to do as you please.) The Marcellina-Susanna duet from “The Marriage of Figaro’’ opened, and at least assured everyone about the condition of their voices. Then came a Mozart aria for each, followed by an English-language group: a pair of Britten arrangements of folks songs, a solitary Copland, and the traditional “Scarborough Fair.’’ While each sang, the other offered poised lessons in how to listen to another singer. A group of Poulenc songs was delicious, none more so than “Hôtel,’’ with Dame Kiri, sculptural as an Art Deco lamp, evoking languorous sensuality.

After intermission, they sang, alternately, five of Joseph Canteloube’s “Songs of the Auvergne.’’ The final segment, announced from the stage, included songs (by Carol Hall and Jake Heggie) about von Stade’s two daughters, sung from the heart; Gershwin’s “Summertime’’ and “By Strauss’’ (Te Kanawa); Rossini’s “Duetto buffo di due gatti’’ (it almost never misses); and a brief tribute to von Stade’s many trouser roles from Ambroise Thomas’s “Mignon.’’ This was von Stade at her best, charming and wonder-filled. Her voice seemed to gain strength as Te Kanawa’s lost it, notably in the middle register.

The afternoon ended, as it should have, with von Stade by herself, in a favorite encore, “La Vie en Rose.’’ She sang it with a perfect blend of tonal warmth, expansive phrasing, and fine guttural French. It was a goodbye without tears.

FREDERICA VON STADE, mezzo-soprano

With Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, soprano

Celebrity Series of Boston

Sunday, Symphony Hall

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