• Exclusive Interview with Leah Crocetto, 2010 National Council Auditions winner

    In North Carolina Opera's production of Il Trovatore, Leonora was rising star American soprano Leah Crocetto. Opera Lively interviewed her before the show. It is fitting to give this interview more prominence in our Home page now, since Leah Crocetto has just been interviewed for the June 2012 issue of Opera News Magazine. We spotted her before they did! [Opera Lively interview # 21]

    Opera News said of her that her voice is "large and lustrous, with formidable chest tones and a dazzling top." She is scheduled for her Met debut in 2015.

    Ms. Crocetto has been accumulating prestigious awards in her flourishing career. She is a 2010 Grand Finals Winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and was the First Place Winner, People’s Choice and the Spanish Prize Winner of the 2009 José Iturbi International Music Competition, and winner of the Bel Canto Foundation competition.

    She represented the United States at the 2011 Cardiff BBC Singer of the World Competition where she was a finalist in the Song Competition. You can listen to her at the Cardiff, here:

    She has been gathering great reviews for her voice and artistry; see for example what the San Francisco Chronicle said about her:

    “…outlandishly gifted soprano Leah Crocetto, who won the crowd over with a formidable account of “Regnava nel silenzio” then sealed the deal with a limpid “O mio babbino caro.”

    “...powerful Verdi voice and formidable precision technique, and intensity that amplifies an already huge voice, and an innate, irresistible musicality.”

    San Francisco Classical voice said, “In thirty years of exciting discoveries, listening to each group of Merolini for the first time, I have never experienced a singer as complete and awesome as Crocetto.”

    Photo credit: Kristin Hoebermann

    Some facts about her life:

    Ms. Crocetto is from a big Italian family and has loved opera since she was a young girl, when she used to sing along around the house over Pavarotti vinyls. She attended her first opera - Carmen - when she was a fifth grader. She fell in love with that beautiful singing on stage, and the very next year when she saw her second one - Tosca - she knew that she wanted to be an opera singer.

    Her path to professional operatic singing however was a bit unconventional. She started voice lessons at age thirteen. In college she entered a small conservatory for just one year, but then dropped out of it and spent her next five years pursuing a degree in acting. Therefore, Ms. Crocetto did not have a music degree and had not studied music theory except for her short stay at the conservatory, when she decided to go back to opera. But even so, her natural talent got her into an apprenticeship at Sarasota Opera where she appeared in Le nozze di Figaro and in La Rondine, and the prestigious Merola Opera Program from San Francisco Opera, where she sang the roles of two Verdi heroines, Luisa Miller and Leonora in Il trovatore. Then she started to win all those prizes, and her career took off.

    She's being called "the next great Verdi soprano" - and while she acknowledges that it is an honor to be referred as such, she admits that it is scary and that the pressure is enormous. On the other hand she feels that this is where her voice naturally goes, and feels confident that she does well in this repertory.

    A big mentor for her was Patricia Racette, whom she covered more than once and who taught her a lot.

    Her current season, other than this Trovatore at NC Opera, saw her at San Francisco Opera as Liù in Turandot, and includes Berlin with the Berliner Philharmoniker in performances of Poulenc’s Gloria, and at Houston Grand Opera in The Rape of Lucretia. In the summer of 2012, she makes a highly anticipated debut with The Santa Fe Opera as Anna alonside Luca Pisaroni in Rossini’s Maometto II in a new production by David Alden, using a brand new edition that is being premiered there. Last season she had her European debut at Opéra National de Bordeaux in Il trovatore.

    Here is another sample of her beautiful voice:

    Like her colleague Robynne Redmon said, this young soprano's blossoming career should land her soon enough in a Met in HD production (her Met debut has already been scheduled for 2015), just like her fellow winner of the Met Auditions Angela Meade. Seeing her live in North Carolina will be a great opportunity to witness a major star in the making. Don't miss it - this Friday April 27 in Raleigh, and this Sunday April 29 in Chapel Hill.

    What follows is her exclusive interview for Opera Lively, with her smart and heartfelt answers:


    OL - First, let’s talk about this North Carolina production. You’ve done Il Trovatore in Bordeaux, and I assume that it was a fully staged production. Over here it is semi-staged. Any thoughts on the difference in the way you go about your role for a semi-staged production?

    LC - I approach each role the same way, whether it is semi or fully staged. In this case, the semi-staged way here in NC is a bit tricky, because the orchestra is behind us, but we are still in full costume, and have lots of staging to do. My approach includes making sure that I know Leonora inside and out. I know how she thinks and feels and how she loves. It is a gift to be able to dive into a role!

    OL - Please comment upon the current North Carolina production. What are your impressions of it, after the first few rehearsals?

    LC - This company LOVES opera, and the arts and the artists so much. The director is top notch. David Paul has been fantastic to work with, as has Tim Myers. We rehearsed in an empty storefront which is quite different than what I had ever experienced, but in my opinion it is exactly what the arts needs…”found” spaces to work in. It proves that this company loves what it does!

    OL - Have you read the original novel, El Trovador by Antonio Garcia Gutierrez as part of your preparation? It is probably not as important for your role, since Verdi actually asked his librettist to expand the role of Leonora, which was smaller in the novel. But if not, what else have you done to get into the mind of your character?

    LC - I have not read the book, no. Verdi did an amazing thing (as well as his librettist) in knowing the psyche of a woman. Leonora is a pretty youthful, complete woman, who dives into love head-first. I have been in touch with her for a while now…I tend to draw from my own life to make a character alive. I also make sure and KNOW what is said about me in the opera and what each word means…understanding the language is key in understanding the characters. Then, I am free to interpret her as I see fit (with the collaboration of the director, or course.)

    OL - And what about musically, do you look up to other famous Leonoras of the past? Of course this role has attracted all the famous sopranos, Callas, Tebaldi, Leontyne Price, Caballé, Sutherland… how do you relate to this legacy?

    LC - YES of course! Leontyne Price, in my opinion is the best Leonora ever. I have her in my head in some moments of this opera. Also Callas of course, dramatically, was the best of everything. Caballe’s pianissimi…I could go on and on. In order to do these ladies justice, my job is to take care of my voice, know my character, and sing with my soul!

    OL - Leonora, like maestro Jimmy Levine said, is Verdi’s most Mozartian heroine; her arias are elegant like Countess Almaviva’s, and possess an 18th century formality. “Tacea la notte placida” is a two-stanza Andante, and it immediately reveals to the listener that we are dealing with lyricism and grace. The cavatina is drenched in a feeling of yearning, heard in the exquisite rise of her vocal line and shift from minor to major, all the way to a D flat above high C. It is said to be fiendishly difficult. Do you find it very challenging?

    LC - “Tacea la note” has plagued me for a while now. So yes, it is much more difficult than the big scena in Act 4. I have only just started to feel confident in this aria… and I have been performing it for years. I think it is like a great piece of art… never finished. I will be working on this aria and this role forever. I had the opportunity to work the Verdi Requiem with Riccardo Muti, and he said the same thing: “Leah, you must sing Verdi like Mozart.” Meaning the approach is a lot simpler than some singers think, including myself until recently.

    OL - What are other vocal challenges of your role? This role, all in all, needs a true drammatico d’agilità to really give the correct answer to all the different requests incorporated by Verdi into the score. We want her to be a tragedienne singing the “Miserere,” but to float in the air during the Convent scene, “Sei tu dal ciel disceso”. Manage a very high-pitched aria like “D’amor sull’ali rosee”, and we’ve already mentioned “Tacea la Notte Placida”…. It’s not a surprise that usually the Fourth Act cabaletta “Tu vedrai che amore in terra” is cut, because so few sopranos are really able to sing it well after such a tour de force. Are they including it in this production?

    LC - I think you leave out a big chunk of what Leonora is all about when you cut “Tu vedrai.” Both productions I have been in have left this in for me, and I am happy about it. It is Leonora’s resolution. It gives her character a full arc. This role is a lyric role. I don’t think of her as a dramatic soprano at all. It is a lyric role with coloratura. But in this day and age, these Fach classifications rarely mean the same thing to everyone. To be sure, there are many different facets needed to perform the role successfully, but this role is not as dramatic as say Amelia in Ballo. Leonora is one of Verdi’s lighter girls. However, I choose to definitely tap into my chest voice and of course my high floaty voice as well. It is a challenging sing, but it is definitely where my voice likes to live.

    OL - We also need in “Un’ altra notte ancora senza vederlo…”, a young romantic heroine, a girl full of love, that lives for this love, and finally dies for this love. We need to get back to this side of Leonora also, which introduces an added layer of complexity to the role. What is your reading of the psychology of your character?

    LC - As I have touched on before, Leonora is a young girl. She is youthful and naïve, yet resolute and loyal. She is waiting with great anticipation, for her love to show up and serenade her once again. This is her pure romantic side. In this time period, lifespan was much shorter, so growing up had to be done earlier. She, as a lady in waiting, has already lived, but I believe that seeing Manrico win the joust was the first time she felt that pang of real lust. I think this turns into love as she realizes that she must help him and fight for his life and then ultimately die for him. This is something that the director and I have talked a lot about. Leonora is pure woman. She is every facet of woman; loyalty, wholehearted love, lust, adventure, and more.

    OL - Caruso said that for a successful Il Trovatore, it’s actually very simple: you just need the world’s four best singers. Was this famous quote frightening for you when you took on this role in Bordeaux?

    LC - This is actually the second time I have heard this quote. I think it is definitely true. The four leading roles of this opera are all bitches to sing. There is not one “easy” moment. That being said, if I didn’t think I could do something justice, I wouldn’t say yes to the role. When I took the role in Bordeaux, I was eager to say yes, because I had just finished covering Sondra Radvanovsky in San Francisco, so I knew the role and knew that I could sing it well. So often we don’t know our colleagues until we get there, so we are going on blind faith! Haha!!

    OL - You were the Grand Prize Winner at the Met National Council Auditions in 2010. Can you tell us more – and these will be two different questions – first, about the experience of competing there (anything interesting in terms of memories, unusual events or states of mind)?

    LC - Winning this competition was a dream come true for me. When I walked onto the stage and performed Ernani with Marco Armiliato conducting the incomparable Met Orchestra, I thought “It doesn’t get better than this”. And quite honestly, the excitement I felt that day has only been met by making my debut as Liu in San Francisco. I liken winning the Met competition to winning the state football championships in high-school. One of my favorite TV shows is Friday Night Lights, and when the team walks out onto the field for the State Finals, coach Taylor says “Breath it in boys, because it doesn’t get any better than this.” And he was right. Not only the winning part was amazing, but the whole experience. I met Frederica von Stade that day, and she put her arm in mine, after I finished singing and said “you don’t need to talk, but I am so glad to have heard that.” That was an amazing moment for me. She is one of the loveliest people I have ever met.

    OL - Wow, this must have been pretty neat! And second, what doors have opened for you after your prize?

    LC - The doors that have been opened are endless. Winning that competition solidified my spot with Columbia Artists, and also my Bordeaux performance and my Met debut in 2015!

    OL - You’ll be in the Santa Fe production of Maometto II alongside Luca Pisaroni, whom we’re also interviewing for the site. This will be an exciting production since it is the première of a new edition. Have you started preparation already? What can you tell us about this production and your expectations for it?

    LC - Oh my goodness… this is something that has excited me to no end! First of all, Luca is a dear friend, and being able to work with the maybe best interpreter of Italian text is an amazing opportunity and as an artist, one that I hope to always have. They do not get better than Luca. Also, our director, David Alden, is a DREAM! He is a genius! I have wanted to work with him for a long time. Because he is the director, I am certain the production will be anything but standard!

    This contract was actually one of the first contracts I had received. I have definitely started preparation. You do not sing Rossini without a lot of preparation. I can only hope it will be enough! Anna seems to always have something to say. It is a long sing, with lots of coloratura and lots of drama. I am so excited to be a part of this amazing production! Santa Fe Opera always pushes the envelope with new productions and is one of the best companies to work for, in the States. I have gone to Santa Fe the past two summers, simply for vacation, so I am thrilled to be able to be there for three months working on such an incredible piece!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
      Unfortunately there is little material (though quite interesting) of Ms. Crocetto's singing in youtube. Looking at my files, I got her only in "Cyrano" and "Suor Angelica" but in minor roles. Hope everything will be ok in this Trovatore, would love to be able to attend.

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