The Wonderful World of Opera Dogs
American soprano Leah Crocetto has proved her mettle in some of opera’s most cherished roles: Desdemona, Aida, Tosca, Norma, Liù, among them. Her voice—warm, penetrating, and luxurious, with agile coloratura—is ideally suited to the Italian repertoire.
The coronavirus pandemic hit at a bad time for Crocetto, causing her to miss out on both role debuts and house debuts. She was especially looking forward to a 2020 recital with mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton in Dallas as well as an Elisabetta in “Don Carlo” there, also with Barton.
The recital was rescheduled for April of this year but, as luck would have it, a contractor involved with it developed COVID-19, causing yet another cancellation.
“It has been total devastation,” Crocetto says. “The first couple of months, I was completely depressed and unsure and scared.”
Helping her through the pandemic was a delicate little Maltese terrier with a soft white coat named Ernie (his full name is Ernest Hemingway), who will turn nine in May. Crocetto says she would joke with her friends that that dogs had intentionally created Covid so that their owners would be home with them more. Certainly Ernie has enjoyed her fulltime presence over the past year. The coronavirus, however, is no joke for the soprano. She lost two people—her great-uncle and an aunt—to the disease. These experiences affected her deeply.
“COVID made me realize what is really important,” she says. “While my job singing opera is very important to me, I can live without it. I don’t mean that I’m not anxious to have the singing back—because I am—but I realize that what matters most are the relationships with my family.
“Thankfully my alma mater, Siena Heights University in Michigan, where I got my degree, asked me if I wanted to teach this year and that has been my saving grace. The kids are amazing, and I have formed deep relationships with some of them. I’m also directing a musical there. My dog comes with me and he just loves it—loves the kids, loves that he gets more mommy cuddles.”
The two have shared a number of European jaunts, a favorite destination being Venice. There the gondoliers outside their apartment near St. Mark’s Square came to know Ernie.
“Every day,” says Crocetto, “they would greet the ‘leetle’ white dog, Ernesto. Everywhere he goes, everybody smiles. It’s spectacular to have this warm ball of fur with me when I travel.”
Ernie won’t be able to accompany his mistress as she takes on “Aida” with the Arts Center in Melbourne, Australia in May. It’s too long a trip for the little guy. Instead, he will be with her grandfather (Crocetto’s father), where he will doubtless be treated like royalty.