Cher Public

Leah and the barihunk

At yesterday’s recital at the Morgan Library, presented by the George London Foundation for Singers, Leah Crocetto sang as her encore Kern and Hammerstein’s “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.” The performance was quite special; something seemed to open up in her. Her voice bloomed, redolent with melancholy and longing. Mark Markham, her pianist, urged her on with his jazzy playing; together they developed a symbiotic rapport—they listened to each other, let loose, and had a good time. It was a magical moment, exemplary of all that is wonderful about live performance. 

But, honestly, what made this moment so extraordinary is what preceded it. The recital featured two singers—Crocetto and baritone Zachary Nelson—but it was Crocetto whose singing had been more erratic, more memorable for its disconcerting inconsistency. In other words, before her encore (a jazzy rendition of a show tune) her singing seemed out of control and suffered from strange technical choices.

Beneath the muddle, an exquisite, radiant sound ached to be released, shimmering and warm. It surfaced every once in a while, but mostly in the middle voice, when the singer was not pursuing anything too arduous. Her inept technique did not serve her natural, unique abilities: her soprano wobbled; she struggled to finish certain phrases; her jaw shook; her intonation veered off course.

Her deficiencies became more unnervingly apparent as she ascended the scale, moving from a more gathered sound into a spread, forced shriek. To be clear, Crocetto has a beautiful instrument. However, over the course of the recital on Sunday, it became obvious that she doesn’t know how to use it—especially when attempting more difficult classical repertoire.

I understand that Crocetto just finished a string of Toscas in Pittsburgh, and before that she had jumped into Aida at Washington National Opera. A demanding schedule like this would take its toll on any young singer, and perhaps this accounts for her poor performance Sunday afternoon—maybe she’s just tired. But if that’s the case, then she needs to reconsider her technique and her recent choices in rep. She doesn’t seem to be stewarding her gifts responsibly.

I remember hearing the soprano for the first time when she was a Grand Finals Winner at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. It was an impressive showing. Since then she has debuted with auspicious opera companies all over the globe, launching an international career, offering roles such as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, Liù in Turandot, and Elisabetta in Don Carlo. After yesterday’s recital, however, I don’t understand how she gets through these performances.

Crocetto’s first set was Petrarch Songs by Liszt. The artist was undoubtedly invested in the music—her dramatic and vocal commitments were clear. But her technical problems hindered her. This was true of her second set as well, four Rachmaninoff songs that displayed equal artistic investment and a potentially ravishing sound. And yet, she was burdened again by vocal deficiencies.

Zachary Nelson had a much easier time. With an affable persona that could turn starkly aggressive when necessary, he reminded me of the TV actor Corey Stoll. His baritone had a smoldering, molten quality to it when he invested his entire body into his singing, supporting properly with his breath. However, he had a troubling tendency to darken his already shady baritone, emitting an owlish hooting that some might have considered artistic.

His first set was a selection of Schubert songs from Schwanengesang: “Das Fischermädchen”; “Die Stadt”; “Am Meer”; “Der Doppelgänger”; and “Die Taubenpost.” He executed these elegant works with relative ease and, when called for, appropriate intensity. He brought an especially rugged, threatening quality to “Der Doppelgänger,” which was haunting.

For his second set, Nelson offered selections from Songs of Travel by Ralph Vaughan Williams, appropriate repertoire for Nelson’s manly baritone. His roguish charm and swaggering charisma served the text perfectly.

Crocetto and Nelson joined each other on stage for two duets. The recital’s first half ended with “Mira, d’acerbe lagrime” from Il Trovatore. It was exciting, but mostly because Crocetto’s arduously produced singing threatened to buckle under the score’s demands. She never crashed and burned, thankfully, but this was mostly due to her natural gifts.

The second half closed with “If I Loved You” from Carousel. The singers were unrehearsed and awkward. Neither Nelson nor Crocetto seemed invested in the scene’s dramatic components. They finished with an awkward hug, which deflated the erotic possibilities built into the material by the composer and lyricist. It was unfortunate. Although, it must be said that Nelson has all the makings of an ideal Billy Bigelow, if he masters his music and gets over his self-consciousness.

Nelson brought more of his romantic, virile charisma to his encore, another Rogers and Hammerstein classic, “Some Enchanted Evening.” Again, his lack of preparation was evident—he forgot the words—but it didn’t seem to matter in light of his charming personality and well-produced singing.

And, as I’ve already written, it was during her encore that one really got a sense of what Crocetto is capable of, the quality she can achieve when she deploys her talents in an appropriate manner. Here the wobble was gone, the intonation perfect, and she gave her self completely to the artistic task. I wonder if her high belting is affecting her more legitimate soprano? I’m not a voice teacher, so it’s not for me to say. But, I will say that, for the love of her voice, she has to figure it out. Her talent deserves the attention.

On the piano, Mark Markham was unremarkable. His playing had a lazy, Xanaxed quality, as if suffering from an overwhelming sense of ennui. It was only until Crocetto shifted gears with “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” that, like the soprano, one got a sense of what he’s truly capable of.

  • david alden

    I suppose I shouldn’t comment here, as I am in the profession and have worked with Leah several times. BUT — what the Hell — here goes. Twice (in Santa Fe and Toronto) I directed her in Rossini’s Maometto II. This opera tests its four principal singers maybe more fiercely than any other opera I have done (and I have done more than a few). The role of Anna is long, technically absurdly demanding, and after several hours of arias, duets, trios, and ensembles she ends the evening with an apocalyptic twenty minute scena. Leah always triumphed — surmounted the difficulties with ease, rode the complex ensembles with passion and poetry, sang gorgeous high pianissimi and dug into the tortured dramatic confrontations with unrestrained energy. Maybe she wasn’t well the other day at the Morgan Library, but if this highly gifted woman’s technique is so faulty then how is she conquering the world with her Trovatore, Desdemona, and Aida?

    Hmm…

    • Kullervo

      I mean this with the utmost respect, Mr. Alden, but your prefix is disingenuous -- you have on at least a half-dozen occasions commented on this board and done exactly what you are doing now -- countering someone’s negative impression of a singer with your own glowing experiences with them. On top of that, you are doing it in your own name, thereby (intentionally or not) pulling rank on the reviewer and the other posters here who may disagree with your (let’s face it -- completely biased) opinions.

      Regarding your question at the end -- does one really need to rattle off a list of singers who had/have major careers in demanding repertoire despite major technical problems? Coming from someone with your experience it is quite surprising to see you write something so facile.

      • CarlottaBorromeo

        I’m puzzled by your argument, Kullervo. Do you really intend to suggest that it would be preferable for Mr Alden to post under a pseudonym as a kind of levelling exercise? But then you seem to suggest that Mr Alden’s opinion can be discounted anyway because he is “completely biased”.

        This reminds me a little too much of one of the lowest points of the Brexit debate when we were told the British people had “had enough of experts” (I quote from memory.) Yes everyone is entitled to their opinion but not all opinions are equally valuable. I’m more inclined to value the opinions of those who have something to lose by them (as a director does in his or her casting choices) -- but that’s just my opinion ????

        • manou

          I entirely agree -- and also feel that a less discourteous tone could have been adopted in replying to Mr Alden. It seems the respect might have been a tad less than utmost here.

          • DonCarloFanatic

            I agree, but a lot of the commentary here makes me raise an eyebrow. We might just be achieving something like a true literary salon of old--including invitations to go outside and settle debates with a choice of weapons.

          • La Cieca

            Please be assured that when when I decide to hire someone to staff our Tone Police desk, I will immediately review your CV. Until then, I think you might consider minding your own business?

            • manou

              A clear demonstration that the Tone Police seems to be administered without any recourse to my services.

        • Kullervo

          Your Brexit comparison is a gross (and quite frankly, rather elitist) false equivalency. This is an Opera Fan Blog where we are discussing operas/singers/productions we like/didn’t like, not a forum for debate on how to vote on the future of Europe.

          With that in mind, when it comes to Opera, an art form I have a deeply personal love for, I am NOT ‘inclined to value the opinion’ of anyone over another because of their credentials. There are conductors I admire immensely who love to work with some musicians I adore and some that I detest. Everyone has their own taste and the only opinion anyone should rely on when it comes to enjoying art is their own.

          “Opera is King and you, cher reader, are the Queens.”

    • I saw that Maometto II. Crocetto’s voice was working fine, especially on top where the tone was limpid and radiant. My problem was that I found her singing bland. She seemed like a work in progress, with plenty of goods needing more seasoning and experience.

      I’m inclined to think that Patrick’s assertion that she must have been tired must be correct. I read positive things about her recent Aida.

      • Leontiny

        I agree totally from the same performance. She rarely seemed engaged with the drama, and as a result the character was bland. There were few vocal colours, and to my ear often flat. I remember thinking she was being far too careful with something in her vocal production and this review and some of the comments help explain that. De Shong was the standout that evening.

    • Cameron Kelsall

      That’s all well and good, Mr. Alden, but a critic reviews the performance given — not the performance the singer gave last night, last week, or last year.

    • PCally

      “If this highly gifted woman’s technique is so faulty then how is she conquering the world with her Trovatore, Desdemona, and Aida?”

      On what planet is she conquering the world in anything? Almost all of her opera engagements have taken place in America and virtually all of the reviews I’ve come across have been positive but hardly rhapsodic, including the performances you allude to.

      The rest of your comment regarding a performance you didn’t attend yourself is biased, based exclusively on a role she has sung at most a couple of times in an opera that few people who haven’t actually seen and/or been in know at all. The critic gave a list of reasons why he felt she was lacking. You’ve given almost no reason about why her singing is so amazing other than a vague anecdote.

      • david alden

        Hi PCally — as I wrote originally, I probably shouldn’t have commented! In my defense, I said nothing about the performance at the Morgan Library (as I was not there) but was simply questioning the reviewer’s rather insistent discussion of Leah’s technique in light of her success in a technically very demanding role. Of course, on this site, everyone is free to express their opinions (and by the way, the variations in “tone” and the occasionally passionate or harsh or fanatical voices are part of what make Parterre entertaining and stimulating).

        • PCally

          I also want to apologize for whatever aggression their might have been in my initial post. After I’d written it

    • Camille

      Seriously off topic, but Mr Alden, I seriously loved that Semiramide production you did. Regie at its finest, and in this case, warranted, AND successful.

      That’s all.

      • david alden

        Thank you Camille! currently I am rehearsing Semiramide with most of the Munich cast (including the incredible Joyce DiDonato) this time conducted by Maestro Pappano. Opening at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden on November 19. Not an easy opera to direct (“give me Janacek!” I am often heard crying) but an amazing artefact.

        • grimoaldo2

          I wish I could have seen your Berlin “Les Huguenots” but at least I did manage to hear the broadcast, fantastic.
          Surely the Deutsche Oper is not going to do “Vasco da Gama”, “Les Huguenots’ and “Le prophète” one run of performances each and then not repeat these expensive productions? I hope they will do a cycle of the three in the space of a week, like the Ring, in a coming season and I will be able to see them all together,
          And as the subject has been raised on this thread, Jungfer is still putting interesting things on her soundcloud including Meyerbeer’s “Margharita d’Anjou” and Verdi’s “Jerusalem” and “Aroldo”.

        • Camille

          “An amazing artifact”, indeed and in truth.

          The only reason for me having the temerity to make comment to you was/is because I am an old biddy who gives not a hang about stagings, and if it makes an impression on ME with my blinders on, it has really done something right and/or WELL. The costumes were as well absolutely magnificent and ofimaginative use. Very, very well done and kudos to all concerned!

          In bocca al lupo with your next production and may Katya come and see ya!

  • Porgy Amor

    Is Leah Crocetto a young singer, even by the present-day standard? She’s around 37. Singing some Aïdas with one company in September and some Toscas in October with another does not seem to me cause for concern. She was a somewhat late starter, but she’s been singing major roles for most of this decade.

    I did not hear the recital, and she may well have been below form for whatever reason, but I wouldn’t put her in the “too much too soon” category.

    • PCally

      I remember this exact debate regarding Angela Meade for years

    • Camille

      Young singer at 37? Let’s see here now: that would put Maria Callas ready to sing Kundry, Armida, Turandot, La Gioconda, Aïda et sœurs, etc., etc., in around January of 1961, wouldn’t it??? Oh wait! She had ALREADY sung those, and MORE, and was effectively retired, although neither she nor we knew that at the time, by the time her 40th birthday rolled around.

      Maybe 37 is “young” to sing Brünnhilde or Isolde the way things are done these days, but it sure is not a young nor should it be considered the Age of Apprenticeship. Human physiology has not suddenly changed in the last fifty years, at least in this area.

      • Porgy Amor

        Then there was Ponselle…

        It is different now (gone, probably, are the days of Scottos and Siljas singing major roles in their teens), and I’m always reading about “exciting young singers” who really aren’t. I mean, sometimes they’re neither young nor exciting, but we’ll focus on the chronological business for now. We all had a good laugh a few years ago when Gelb called Beczala (20 years into his career and nearing 50) one of the company’s most exciting young stars. But sometimes people “read” younger than they are, and maybe PCJ thought Crocetto was a few years on the sunnier side of 35.

        The recent Opera News profile gave me the impression of someone who has struggled with confidence, and may still be doing so, to some degree, even though she talked a lot about faith and a higher power. She was waiting tables and singing at piano bars in her twenties, feeling she was too old to pursue an opera career, and then she auditioned for the Met chorus in 2006. Fortunately, she received the right kind of encouragement there and elsewhere, and one thing led to another, and eventually she was in the Merola program.

        • Camille

          Oh. That makes sense to me as what I hear in her voice is something more psychological, actually, that she feels like she hasn’t ‘permission’ yet to sing these roles, or some such thing. The struggle with confidence thing is something which needs to be resolved, however, and is key, as that’s what is holding her back more than anything else, I am guessing.

          I didn’t know who called her young, it’s just that someone, anyone under 40 these days, is called “young”, and in the strictest sense that is not quite true. Under thirty is maybe ‘young’. But it is a great deal perceptual and in how this person presents themself. Beczala does have a youthful aspect to him, and one which he may well cultivate, for his own survival in the rat race. I just feel it is patronizing to call someone young when they have worked as hard as they must have to arrive in their mid-thirties, that’s all. I mean, it’s YOUNG to me, hahahahahaha!, but that is different as I am ANCIENT OF DAYS.

          • Porgy Amor

            it’s just that someone, anyone under 40 these days, is called “young”, and in the strictest sense that is not quite true.

            In the professional context, it depends on what someone does. A 37-year-old conductor who holds some important position? Sure, young. A 37-year-old member of Congress? Likewise. Those fields are dominated by middle-aged people and seniors.

            A 37-year-old tennis pro or fashion model? Definitely not. Nor an opera singer, in my opinion, even in our age of caution. But I don’t mean to make too much of one line of the review.

            • Camille

              As a friend of mine said, honey, “Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding”.

      • PCally

        This comes up again and again and I cosign everything your saying. People talk about too much to soon and that’s valid but I honestly think that one of the reasons we don’t have as many great Verdi sopranos is because they’re discouraged to sing anything heavier then Mozart until they’re in their mid thirties.

        • Camille

          This bit about Mozart really bothers me because if you ask me—and no one HAS, ha!--Mozart requires an even MORE EXPERT singing technique to execute effectively than even Verdi. I mean, where did it come from? Did Verdi precede Mozart? Ach, nein! Although Verdi is extremely exigent about phrasing and singing frequent passages in the passaggio in a fluently connected and graceful manner, he is a little broader in the expressiveness of the cantilena portions of his vocal writing, thus creating a little more breathing space. To my mind, Mozart should be given to a finished singer and not a tyro. And I know that makes me a majority of one, so I’ll duck out the back door right here and NOW….

          • PCally

            To clarify Camille, my point wasn’t that mozart is easier per se. I just feel like mozart, baroque etc…tends to be seen by some as some sort of stepping stone. It’s always good to sing some mozart imo but I think the reason so many big voiced singers these days are taught that the only way to save as much voice as possible is to put off anything heavier than mozart for as long as possible under the assumption that a few Aida’s are going to do perminant damage. This doesn’t seem to be the case with this particular soprano I guess.

            And if your opinion is a minority one, then put me in that group as well. I love big rich voices in mozart

  • CCorwinNYC

    Last year “Montag mit Marianne” posted a 2015 Luisa Miller from San Francisco with Crocetto in the tile role opposite Michael Fabiano. Perhaps those unfamiliar with her might want to give a listen.

    http://parterre.com/2016/02/22/i-shall-marry-the-millers-daughter/

    • grimoaldo2

      I went to SF to see that, thanks for re-posting the link. It was entirely worth it to see and hear Fabiano in the role live, totally glorious he was, what a shame that he does not seem to have the opportunity to perform that role widely elsewhere.
      I did not enjoy Crocetto’s singing or anything about her performance except for the odd note here and there that was quite nice.

      • Camille

        Why not, grim?

        I have heard her but once, and only in the park in S.F., in summer of 2009, and remember a very twittery and quavering sound, inexpertly singing “Regnava nel
        Silenzio and cabaletta”. Her voice made me very uncomfortable, and ran for my car to escape.

        Maybe she’s improved? But singing a Tosca? How did that happen?

        • grimoaldo2

          I wrote on here nearer the time of that Luisa Miller that she was “a dumpy stage presence, not an actress, some quite nice singing every now and then.”
          She wasn’t dramatic in any way either vocally or physically in a very dramatic role. She managed some of the music quite pleasingly but that’s all.
          Being reminded of that performance though brings back happy memories of the sheer heaven of hearing the Fab in that part live, my oh my what a glorious performance. I feel very lucky to have seen and heard him in SF in Luisa Miller and as Don Carlos, and at Washington Concert Opera in Il Corsaro and Herodiade, very interesting rep in which he excelled.

          • Camille

            thank you, grimaldo. I’ve listened to about half of this performance and found it rather interesting in a number of ways. There is certainly a voice of size and quality there, but the middle voice never seems to find a point of stability nor a resting place. I do not know what her problem is other than that she has been taught faultily to not link up the registers, or something like that.

            grim—I have a book that you may be interested in, especially since there has been a bit about Don Carlos of late: it is entitled
            Verdi’s Theatre -- Creating Drama through Music; author is Gilles de Van (professor of Italian lit. and history of opera at the University of Sorbonne Nouvelle; and publisher is The University of Chicago Press. It is translated from French, so a little of it reads kind of funny in that didactical way, if you know what I mean. It may be of particular interest to YOU, as you so love Mo. Verdi’s work and have a interest in stage practice. So FWIW2U.

          • Camille

            YES to that -- i.e., “not dramatic in any way either vocally….” Here I am now in the middle of the third act and one does not get the idea this is a terrible tragedy happening. It is like dishwater. How this woman may be singing Tosca and Aïda is beyond, way beyond what I am hearing here, albeit a couple years ago.

            I think the Fab is well suited to this role and the aria, which is one of Verdi’s best for my money, is one he should stick with. Don Carlo at this point is, well, another thing, but then I haven’t heard him in it. Looking at the score the other day I couldn’t help but think that it is not for a spinto but a real dramatic tenor, if sung in the Italian version, that is, the French version is another thing, even if we got the Germanic version with Herr Kaufmann, who sings everything as if he were Siegmund.

            • grimoaldo2

              Thank you for the book recommendation dear Camille and I am glad you enjoyed the Fab , yes Rodolfo Luisa Miller is a wonderful part for him, such a thrill it was for me to hear him do it live.

    • Camille

      Thanks a lot for having re-posted this as I certainly had intention of listening in to it but time and reality pressured in and that good intention was left to pave a pathway to hell.

      It is a challenge to get through as there is a LOT of singing I don’t much like or care for here, and not just from the divette in question, but from others, who shall remain NN.

  • Niel Rishoi

    This is a good, instructive review, of which I would like to see much more of: detailing of vocal production and technique. Mr. James noted several different, shall we say, “features” that are unwelcome. It is so easy to identify when a singer is “placing” the voice wrong. A lot of “experts” don’t believe in that word “placement,” but what other way is there to describe that heavy, throttled, artificially darkened tone that seems to emanate from low, back in the throat, devoid of resonance? Meade is a suitable example. Gunned vibrato, tone heavy and earthbound; you see her up close, the throat quivers, the jaw is tight and clenched. The breath is pushed, the tone doesn’t “ride” on it. This “method” also prevents vowels from emerging clear and bracingly crisp; blandness prevails. The natural quality of the voice is evident: it is a big, impressive instrument. It is just not backed with an optimal production. I understood completely what Mr. James was discussing here. He says he is not a voice teacher, but someone with long practice of listening can readily identify singing that is not working properly.

  • Camille

    This was very interesting to read about and one truly wonders if she isn’t better suited to musical theatre? Such a transformation, all in the course of a relatively brief concert would indicate that she is iust not winging the right repertory?? Those Petraca songs by Liszt (and I hope to god she didn’t take the high options--Eeeeeek!!!!—are difficult to keep on track for most singers (tenors, as are writen for such), and with such an out of control instrument--one can only imagine.

    She reminds me of the upcoming Norma. No names.

    • PCally

      lol literally read my mind with that last sentence

  • CKurwenal

    I think Niel’s comparison with Meade is apt – both Crocetto and Meade, it seems to me, go for a non-interventionist method of vocal production, by which I mean I think they rely on the body being relaxed and tension-free, and letting the voice work naturally. The trouble is, because this allows for a completely unimpeded column of air (when it’s working properly), it brings into play muscles all through the abdomen from the pelvic floor upwards that naturally ‘kick-in’ and automatically support the voice – but this relies on an incredibly high level of fitness which is why things fall apart very quickly indeed if the singer is tired. And because they have concentrated on letting the voice work naturally under these ideal circumstances, they don’t have much in the way of a tool kit to help out when they are tired and sub-par, which is when it all goes wrong. Being tired to begin with restricts access to those lower muscles. The singer can hear and feel it going wrong, and gets progressively more tense, confounding the issue. This would explain why ‘Can’t help lovin’ dat man’ was a success – she suddenly relaxed (maybe because she likes it, maybe because it was an encore and the pressure was off, maybe because she doesn’t see it as a challenging piece, or a combination of factors), and the voice started working how she’s used to it again. This is what it looks like to me, anyway. In terms of my own personal taste, I actually like the completely free style of singing that I think these ladies aim for, where nothing it consciously controlled, but it is exhausting and it is not at all uncommon for bad habits to creep in where they do start trying to control the sound through tension in the jaw or the shoulders or wherever, which is what is sounds like Meade has been doing lately. I thought Crocetto was vocally excellent as Desdemona in London a little while back, but pretty unmemorable as an interpreter.

    • That’s really interesting insight, Cocky. Thanks.

    • Daniel Swick

      Yes, but Meade’s way of coming off the voice in high piano stuff is not good technique and she ALWAYS does it.