Elegance softened with charm, and eloquence stiffened with sincerity have long defined Frederica von Stade's recitals. Sunday evening the beloved American mezzo-soprano was in familiar form, if not repertory, in a Los Angeles Philharmonic-sponsored recital at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
Generally bright and light, her agenda mixed romance and whimsy, often in the same song. The darkest passions came in the opening group of four ariettas by Alessandro Scarlatti and lingered in the shadows of five tonadillas by Granados. Von Stade had presence in her voice from the first notes, proving stylish without affectation or inhibition in the Scarlatti and projecting character and emotion in the Granados, although more through musical nuance than her hazy Spanish.
The pinpoint, dryly insinuating accompaniment of pianist Martin Katz, Von Stade's longtime recital partner, provided the perfect counterpoise to the mezzo's legato opulence in the Granados songs.
From the French side came a Ravel group and two arias from Ambroise Thomas' "Mignon." Von Stade carved the great, nostalgic arc of Mignon's "Connais-tu le pays?" with affecting simplicity and romped through Frederic's recitative and gavotte with kinetic zest. Ravel's characteristic combination of refined art and paradoxically knowing innocence are perfect for Von Stade's versatile voice and expressive storytelling. In floating reverie or sassy narrative, she sang with clarity, warmth and enviable accuracy.
Von Stade served up Bernstein's goofy "La bonne cuisine," the composer's irreverent, pseudo-ethnic settings of his own translations of French recipes, with a pseudo-French accent. She closed with Jake Heggie's "Paper Wings," to her own texts written for her youngest daughter, Lisa. Filled with sly quotations, musical games and a genuine sense of wonder and affection, "Paper Wings" soared as art and autobiography.
Throughout, Katz played with unfailing grace and sympathy, articulate and atmospheric as needed. In encore, Von Stade and Katz offered Jerome Kern's "I've Told Every Little Star" and Carole Hall's "Jenny Rebecca."