NEW YORK (AP) — Leah Crocetto was winding up her apprenticeship as an Adler Fellow at the San Francisco Opera four years ago when it came time for the program's final concert.
"She sang the big aria ("Tu puniscimi, O Signore") from 'Luisa Miller,'" recalled David Gockley, the company's general director. "And she knocked everybody for a loop."
On the strength of that performance, Gockley hired Crocetto to open the 2015-16 season in the role of Verdi's ill-fated heroine. She'll give the first of six performances on Sept. 11 alongside fast-rising tenor Michael Fabiano. What's more, Gockley told The Associated Press, she'll return to San Francisco next season as an even more illustrious Verdi heroine, the enslaved Ethiopian princess Aida.
These engagements mark a huge vote of confidence in a lyric soprano who, at age 35, seems on the brink of stardom. And they're not the only milestones in her path: As soon as she finishes "Luisa Miller," she'll hop on a jet to New York for her Metropolitan Opera debut as the devoted slave girl Liu in Puccini's "Turandot."
Crocetto talked with the AP about her blooming career in a telephone interview during a break from rehearsals in San Francisco.
AP: When did you first know you wanted to sing opera?
Crocetto: When I was in fifth grade, my mother took me to see 'Carmen' at Opera Lenawee, a small company in my hometown of Adrian, Michigan. I fell in love with the character of Micaela. She was so pure and good, and I just wanted to sing her music. At intermission, I told my mom that's what I wanted to do. When I heard her singing I heard myself.
AP: What led you to San Francisco?
Crocetto: I took a roundabout path. After school, I took time off singing cabaret and jazz in New York City. Then, because I couldn't earn a living, I auditioned for the Met chorus. I was rejected and told: 'You're not a chorus singer. We're going to be hearing much more from you in the future.' So I thought, 'OK, this man is telling me I'm good enough to be a star.' I'm thankful for that advice because I was ready to give up. So I auditioned for Merola (San Francisco Opera's summer training program), got in, and the rest spiraled upward.
AP: How would you describe your voice?
Crocetto: My voice still sits very high. It's big, yes, but it's very high and flexible. Bel canto is perfect for my voice. I'm still doing Rossini, singing my first 'Semiramide' this season in Bordeaux, France. So at this point I'm definitely a lyric. I think when I start taking on the more dramatic roles it will become more of a spinto (a vocal category between lyric and dramatic). The heaviest role I've done so far is Elisabetta (in Verdi's 'Don Carlo' at Opera Philadelphia last spring). I said 'yes' because of the size of the theater and I wanted to try it. Vocally, it was OK, but there's definitely room to grow for me. It's a mammoth thing. But then that final scene, it's floaty and high, which is exactly what my voice likes to do.
AP: If you had to pick, which is the bigger deal for you — opening the season in San Francisco, or making your Met debut?
Crocetto: Oh, gosh, you know I think they're pretty parallel. I think they're even. I feel so much responsibility to the San Francisco Opera, it's full circle for me, coming here and opening the season. I need to make a lot of people proud. Then you think about the Met, and I won the Met competition (the National Council Auditions in 2010), and they put me in front of a lot of people as well. It's been a dream my whole life to sing at the Met. I ... just can't answer that. Ah, diplomacy!