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Ionarts Exclusive: Leah Crocetto in Recital

This review is an Ionarts exclusive.

Leah Crocetto (photo by Fay Fox)
Leah Crocetto made an excellent debut at Washington National Opera last season, in the company's first production of Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites. The company brought back the American soprano, who hails from the town of Adrian, Michigan, for a recital in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on Friday night. Before it began, WNO artistic director Francesca Zambello hinted that Crocetto will return to the company next season, in an opera by a composer whose name begins with a letter near the end of the alphabet. Judging by Crocetto's recent engagements, that letter is likely to be V for Verdi, but judging by this evening's successful repertoire, one could also wish it were S for Strauss.

The top of Crocetto's voice is exceptionally strong, able to level the room with the ff high A in Zueignung (op. 10/1) but also able to float angelically on the pp high G in Die Nacht (op. 10/3) with a transparent, sighing clarity. The middle range is the only undeveloped part of the tessitura, but the thrilling swell of sound in Cäcilie, supported with orchestral fullness by pianist Mark Markham, more than made up for that. Somehow Markham has not appeared in these pages before, but he has a remarkably beautiful touch at the piano: this was the first performance of Strauss's Morgen I have ever heard where one wished the singer would not come in, just to keep listening to the pianist.

Markham upstaged his singer in some of the songs of Duparc and Liszt as well, but Crocetto's silken high notes and purring legato gave an apt languor to songs like Extase and Soupir in the French set. She went for urgency more than finesse in L'invitation au voyage, a mood that carried into Liszt's Tre sonetti di Petrarca, especially the miniature opera scene of the first of these songs, Pace non trovo. This was where she finally opened up to notes higher than A, taking the optional high D-flat toward the end, while Markham had a few tiny slips in the more challenging piano part. The only opera aria on the program was a strong Ain't it a pretty night? from Carlisle Floyd's Susannah, which introduced a more contemporary and American second half.

Crocetto also performed Eternal Recurrence, a new song cycle composed for her by Gregory Peebles, formerly a singer with Chanticleer. Peebles is obviously a big fan of Crocetto's voice, judging from the whooping and hollering he made for her in the audience, and the writing put her in the best light. There were jazzy overtones and pop gestures, a nod perhaps to Crocetto's earlier work singing in cabarets and bars, but there were dissonant colors as well, and a mesmerizing overtone effect, as Crocetto's high note made the sympathetic strings of the piano resonate in echo. Crocetto has described the piece as about an artist's life and having great personal significance for her, but the texts, not credited to any source, remained mostly mysterious. She concluded with a set of torch songs, extended by two encores of the same ilk.

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