Byline: Robert Haskell

NEW YORK — It’s the afternoon following a performance of the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of “The Merry Widow,” and Frederica von Stade, one of the few truly legendary singers left in opera, is being taken to lunch by the brass at the Met.
“Picholine?” she asks. “Ooh la la!”
The morning was spent greeting a long line of fans, signing autographs and filling CDs with little inscriptions — all duties performed without the jewels, furs and stilted chirpings of the prima donna. Offstage, that’s a part von Stade has never played.
The singer, who debuted 30 years ago at the Met and is making her first appearance there in five years, prefers to spend her free time bringing music to a new audience.
“My granddaughters don’t know any Christmas carols,” she says. “And that’s because there’s no one in their schools getting them excited about music. After singing for so long, you realize the best thing you can do is get other people involved.”
It’s fitting that von Stade — as well as another champion of music education, Placido Domingo — take the stage together tonight for another performance of “The Merry Widow,” because the evening also marks the third and last night at the opera for Met newcomers participating in the Young Patrons Trio program.
Sloan Lindemann and Roger Barnett inaugurated the Young Patrons Trio this year with friends Bettina Zilkha, Pia and Christopher Getty, Brooke and Emilio de Ocampo and Eliza Reed and Alex Bolen.
“It’s about getting young New Yorkers to the Met,” says Lindemann, whose mother, a musicologist, wired “Rigoletto,” into her brain when she was still a toddler. (Lindemann’s parents shared a box at the opera with Barnett’s parents.)
The Barnetts thought that organizing a series of three nights at the opera — this year it was “Tosca,” “The Tales of Hoffman” and now “The Merry Widow” — might lure their busy young friends, all of them creatures of habit, to the Met.
Von Stade agrees.
“The program is about creating the public of the future,” she says. “Opera takes you out of yourself, and everybody needs that, especially if you spend your day sitting in front of a computer screen.”
On Trio nights, the new young patrons, instructed to dress “festive,” head to a lecture about the performance they’re about to see, then join each other again for a glass of champagne during intermissions.
“It’s not just about opera,” says von Stade. “It’s about having a party.”
After tonight’s performance, the whole cast will join Trio patrons for pasta and sangria on the Grand Tier.
“We can’t wait to meet them,” says Lindemann. “And Placido will have a chance to say hello to all the pretty girls.”

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