Interview: Leah Crocetto Sings It All
Leah Crocetto can hold forth on almost any topic, from opera to baseball. The spirited soprano makes her auspicious Seattle Opera debut as the title character in Francesca Zambello’s upcoming Aida production, which opens on May 5. Seattle audiences are in for a rare treat, as Crocetto’s vocal and dramatic gifts will be on full display in one of opera’s most iconic roles, as well as the lead soprano in Verdi’s Il Trovatore next season.
Erica Miner: Congratulations on making your Seattle Opera debut! We can’t wait to see you as Aida.
Leah Crocetto: Thank you so much! Aida has quickly become one of my favorite roles and I have been waiting my whole career to make my Seattle Opera debut! I could not be happier.
EM: You’re from Adrian, Michigan and have said you’re a Detroit Tigers fan. (I am, too; I was born in Detroit.) It seems like you and Jake Heggie both believe in the connection between opera and sports, both football and baseball. There’s so much drama in them. Are you familiar with Great Scott?
LC: I absolutely LOVE baseball. I have been a Tiger fan my whole life and always will be, although since I have been living in San Francisco for almost 10 years, I am now a diehard Giants fan. I am kind of nerdy about it. I also LOVE Jake Heggie and his work. I also think baseball can be operatic, especially when you consider that fact that my entire childhood, the Tigers were in last place, and the Giants are notorious for low scores.
EM: How did you come to love opera? What was your journey from your hometown to the opera stage?
LC: Opera is in my blood. My family has always had opera playing. I grew up listening to Domingo, Pavarotti, Del Monaco, Callas, Caballe, Tebaldi…all the greats. I started taking voice lessons when I was 12 because my mom heard me singing myself to sleep one night after seeing Carmen (my very first opera). My hometown had a small opera company that ran for 10 seasons, performing 1 opera a year. Because of this company, I was exposed to the great operas. I saw Carmen, Tosca (which solidified my career goals of being a great soprano), Albert Herring, Die Fledermaus. When I was a bit older, I got to be in the choruses of Madama Butterfly and La Bohème. I also won a competition when I was 16 and performed “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess with the Adrian Symphony Orchestra. I got a degree in Acting from Siena Heights University, sang some jazz and cabaret in NYC, then decided to get back into opera when I realized that was my passion. I auditioned for the Met chorus. The chorus master told me I was not a chorus singer and that they would be hearing much more from me in the future. That same day I had to move back to Michigan from NYC because of family stuff. A couple of years later, in 2008, I auditioned for the Merola Opera Program at the San Francisco Opera, got in and was asked to stay on as an Adler Fellow. My father passed away in April 2008. That was when my career also took off. I count my dad as my guardian angel; constantly looking out for me. A few competitions and auditions later (including my Met Competition win in 2010), the rest is history.
EM: In Seattle Opera’s Aïda, you’ll be working with Francesca Zambello. How many times have you worked with her? How does she approach the balance between singing and acting in opera?
LC: Francesca is one of my greatest influences and mentors in this business. I have worked with her, maybe 6 times now? Each time I learn something new: how to approach a character in a new way; how to make the role I am playing and the story I am telling relevant for today’s world. The truth is, opera does not exist if you can’t find singers who can sing the music. Verdi is no small task; you have to be able to sing it first. The director then brings the character to life by guiding the singer to create a believable, honest character and tell the story fully.
EM: Sounds like the perfect balance. What was it like to sing at San Francisco Opera after having participated in their Merola Program?
LC: Singing at the San Francisco Opera is like singing at home. It is a lovely company. They started my career and have given me several opportunities to debut rules and sing some of the most beloved roles in the catalogue. It was also wonderful to sing the role of Liu, a role that has become one of my signatures, while I was still an Adler Fellow. That was amazing and led to many more opportunities. I will forever be grateful to San Francisco Opera.
EM: I’ve seen some of your videos singing iconic roles of Verdi, Puccini. How do you make it look and sound so effortless?
LC: Oh my goodness, Thank you so much! Ha! It definitely takes effort. I guess years of study helps.
EM: Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times called you a “standout winner” of the Met Opera National Council auditions, praising your “feeling for Italianate style.” Do you have a preference for the Italian repertoire?
LC: I do have an affinity for Italian music, and I love singing the language. It has a natural musicality – it sings itself! I do love singing in other languages as well, but Italian has a special place in my heart.
EM: I was interested to learn that you’ve sung in Santa Fe. Which role or roles?
LC: I love Santa Fe Opera!! They gave me my first break. My first professional opera contract was for Rossini’s Maometto Secondo, singing the starring soprano role of Anna, alongside Luca Pisaroni, directed by David Alden. That was a dream. I also got to sing Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
EM: Santa Fe has provided those opportunities for so many young singers. You sang the role of Leonora in the first U.S. performance Donizetti’s L’assedio di Calais at the Glimmerglass Festival. Tell us about this little-known opera and your experience performing it. How do you feel about contemporary settings for traditional operas?
LC: This opera!! This opera will always have a special place in my heart. It was incredibly difficult and fulfilling. Francesca Zambello thought about every angle and direction the story could take. Every nuance and every angle were covered. The story was complete. The inspiration for the concept was taken from the tragedy in Aleppo and the refugees needed sanctuary from all over the world. If a contemporary setting, can be pulled off without having to suspend disbelief, I am all for it. In this case, it worked.
EM: Your Weill Hall recital will take place in November of this year as part of the “Great Singers III: Evenings of Song series.” Can you give us an idea of your program?
LC: Yes! I am so very excited to be singing in this legendary hall!! My program will consist of some Respighi, Rachmaninoff, among others, and a New York City premiere of a song cycle written for me by composer Gregory Peebles, called Eternal Recurrence. There will be some other little gems in there as well!
EM: Fantastic. You’ve described your voice as a lyric spinto. What are some of your favorite roles?
LC: I am lucky because I have sung my favorite roles: Tosca, Leonora, Anna, Desdemona. I always say that my favorite role is the role I am working on at that moment. Aida is my favorite role right now.
EM: Which roles haven’t you sung that you would like to sing? I’d love to hear you sing Lady Macbeth. Would you ever consider it?
LC: My dream role at the moment is Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah. I would also love to sing Manon Lescaut, and Leonora from La Forza del Destino (which is coming). I also am adding the iconic role of Norma to my repertoire next season!! Lady Macbeth is intense, and I would love to tackle her at some point.
EM: You clearly have an edgy sense of humor. You describe yourself on Twitter as: “American operatic soprano, cabaret songbird, world traveler, @Sephora fanatic. I never leave home without Ernie the #operadog and a fierce shade of lipstick.” Cabaret? You also sing jazz?
LC: If you come to my recital at Carnegie Hall, you’ll understand!! Hahaha!! I do jazz and cabaret. I don’t just sing those tunes…I SING those tunes. I use chest voice, I do riffs, etc. I grew up singing in church and listening to the greatest singers of our time. My father opened my ears and heart to the music of Mahalia Jackson, Earth Wind and Fire, Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Dylan, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, Etta James, Shirley Caesar, Andrae Crouch, Sandy Patti, Larnelle Harris, among many others. These people are/were story tellers and that is what I strive to be!! Man this music. Reminiscing about it is giving me the goosebumps!! The genres go hand in hand. I am a singer of music, not just opera. I love it ALL!! Singing jazz is all about give and take, much like Bel Canto, and Verdi is part Bel Canto, so it all goes together!!
EM: It does indeed! Thank you so much for your insights into your artistry, Leah. I can’t wait to see you in Aida!
LC: Thank you! What a fun interview!
Seattle Opera’s Aida runs from May 5-19 at McCaw Hall