San Francisco Opera opened its 2015/16 last week with Giuseppi Verdi's Luisa Miller. Leah Crocetto is cast in the title role, tenor Michael Fabiano portrays her conflicted lover, Rodolfo. The dynamic singers were paired last season in the Company's winter production of La Bohème. They proved their vocal compatibility in the closing duet of Act I, "O soave fanciulla", as well as their dramatic rapport - particularly in the quartet of Act III and throughout the death scene of Act IV. As the ill-fated lovers in Verdi's enduring score from 1849 and under the baton of music director Nicola Luisotti - Leah Crocetto and Michael Fabiano transcend the limited dimensions of the libretto and the rather dated production of Francesca Zambello. The supporting cast shines with solid performances by Vitaliy Bilyy (Miller), Daniel Sumegi (Walter), Ekaterina Semenchuk (Federica), Andrea Silvestrelli (Wurm), second year Adler Fellow Jacqueline Piccolino, and tenor Christopher Jackson. "It's a very difficult sing," said Leah Crocetto, "but it's also the opera that is most right for my voice - right now."
At the opening of the 2011 Season, audiences at San Francisco Opera went nuts over young Leah Crocetto's magnificent performance as Liù in Puccini's Turandot. Her opening aria, "Signore, ascolta", literally stopped the show - and a star was born. Leah described the experience as surreal. This season, Leah will make her debut at the Met as Liu.
"I don't have the little girl croon that I did when I sang Liù in 2011, but I have the Verdi float now. I'm entering my vocal prime. My voice has definitely acquired a little more steel - a little more 'golden' so to speak as opposed to silvery. I credit that to my voice maturing. Four years ago, I was essentially starting out. Almost five years later - I'm getting there."
"My history with the role begins when I was with the Merola Opera Program in 2008. I was given the 'Tu puniscimi' scene with Wurm for the Grand Finale. It closed the concert, so it was a kind-of magical night. But then, when I was an Adler Fellow, David Gockley heard me sing the scene again at the final concert. That's when the wheels started turning - that he wanted me to open his final season here. In 2013, I performed Luisa Miller in Israel, in Tel Aviv. It was a great experience and gave me a really solid base for the music and the character before singing it here. David Gockley is my operatic father. He raised me in this opera house. It's an honor for me to be contributing to his final season."
Verdi's Luisa Miller was influenced by Friedrich von Schiller's play from 1784, Kabale und Liebe, but the composer's final working story stayed clear of political controversy. Although the opera continuously ranks outside the Top 100 of the most performed, it has nevertheless proved to be a successful recording vehicle - suggesting that it sounds better than it looks. Among the recorded Luisas are sopranos Montserrat Caballe, Katia Ricciarelli, Renata Scotto, Aprile Millo, and American born Anna Moffo. The 50th anniversary of Moffo's celebrated RCA recording was re-released last week on the Sony Classical label. Still, there is the issue of a flimsy plot and the potboiler elements of the scheming official, the compromised father, forged letters, a jealous rival, and the vial of poison dumped into the goblets before anybody notices.
"I know. I wish Verdi's librettist had taken a little bit more of the meat from Schiller's plot. Luisa Miller is a long sing for the soprano. It's the longest role I've ever done. It sings Trovatore out of the water. You have to know that you are ready for Verdi in order to do it. I don't think you can throw a singer up there and say, 'Go!' But it has all the high stuff I love to do and all the coloratura I can still do and love to do. It has the high floaty stuff, really meaty notes, sustained notes, and a beautiful ensemble. I love the a cappella section. It's so hard, but I love to sing it. And the great ensemble that ends Act I is some of the best music ever."
"Verdi knew how to write for the voice, as did Puccini. A lot of singers are afraid to sing Puccini. But these composers created a beautiful line for the singer, for the principal roles. If you really follow the line and don't over-commit too soon, then you're fine. I won't sing Forza yet or Ballo yet - I won't sing the heavier Verdi roles. But bring on Lombardi, I due Foscari, I masnadieri - all the early Verdi stuff. Those are the roles that are right for me now because they're bordering on Bel Canto. I have to be honest about my character - I have to give the character its due. Opera's survival, to me, is dependent on the music. I feel we do a good job of that in this production."
Coming up on Leah's calendar are two recitals. On Sunday, January 24th, she will be in New York at Pace University with celebrated accompanist Martin Katz. Her repertoire will include Liszt's Tre Sonetti di Petrarca (Three Sonnets of Petrarch) and selections by Richard Strauss, Duparc, Rossini, Barber, and Carlisle Floyd. On Friday, February 26, she appears at the Kennedy Center with pianist, Mark Markham.
"Mark has been Jessye Norman's pianist for twenty-five years. We'll be doing a song cycle that I premiered here, Eternal Recurrence, by Gregory Peebles. He was a soprano in Chanticleer for many years. Now he's moved back to Chicago and is really focusing on composition. Gregory wrote this cycle specifically for my voice. I'm really excited to do it again at the Kennedy Center and to get it out there for people to hear. It's about an artist. It's about the artist's life - in a very esoteric way."
And, breaking news - Leah will return to San Francisco Opera next season in the title role of a new production of Verdi's Aïda.
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