Crocetto and Lomelí’s Triumphant Return

March 9, 2014

Leah Crocetto and David Lomelí The frisson that greeted soprano Leah Crocetto and tenor David Lomelí when they and their superb pianist Mark Markham took to the stage for their joint recital on Sunday afternoon could be felt throughout Weill Hall. It was, after all, Lomelí’s first regional performance since a stomach ailment forced him to stop singing 18 months ago, and left many questioning whether he would ever sing again. Could he could possibly return in the same glorious form that, in 2006, won him two top prizes in Plácido Domingo’s Operalia competition and, five years later, swayed stickler critics in his New York City Opera debut as Nemorino in Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’amore?

The wonderful news is that, heard in the finest vocal recital venue that the greater Bay Area has to offer, Lomelí in most respects sounded the equal of the great, fresh-voiced tenors of the present or past. When he began with a short set of classic Italian songs — Tosti’s “Non t’amo piu” and “L’alba sepàra dalla luce l’ombra” and Mascagni’s “Serenata” — his remarkably clear, glistening and vibrant voice sounded in peak form, and perfectly on pitch. Although his sound was small and shallow at the bottom of the range, and could not equal Crocetto’s in immense, unforced volume on top, the sheer beauty and ardor the Mexican tenor brought to everything he sang, the sensitive softening with which he capped key phrases, and the glorious high note with which he concluded the set rivaled the singing of the best Italian tenors on record.

The afternoon presented a golden opportunity for two friends who met seven years ago in San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellows program, and will soon fall in love as Mimì and Rodolfo in Pittsburgh Opera’s La bohème, to preview what the rest of the opera world can look forward to. In their great solos and duet from the first act of Puccini’s beloved opera, Lomelí’s vibrant high C in “Che gelida manina” was matched by all the sweetness and radiance one could ever wish from Mimì. True, when Crocetto’s vibrato occasionally bubbled over in “Sì, mi chiamano Mimì” — it evened out beautifully in the second half of the recital — she gave hints of a Verdi soprano itching to break loose.

The afternoon presented a golden opportunity for two friends who met seven years ago in San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellows program to preview what the rest of the opera world can look forward to.

But when she launched into the passionate expanse of the aria’s “Ma quando vien lo sgelo” (But when the thaw comes … the first kiss of April is mine!”), and delivered her final lines with a depth of understanding that only surfaces when an artist fully inhabits their character from the inside, the perfumed romance of duo’s garret intimacy provided a direct portal into Mimì’s soul. Then came the great love duet, “O soave fanciulla.” Complete with adorable flirtation, it culminated in a glorious unison high C in which Crocetto’s unsurpassable warmth and power surrounded Lomelí’s slimmer but no less beautiful sound as an ardent lover might cradle their beloved. The beauty of the performance was so complete that a greatly relieved Lomelí broke down crying.

Not even the wonders of their Bohème encounter could possibly prepare us for “Bimba dagli occhi pieni di malia” (Dear child, with eyes filled with charm), the great Act 1 duet from Madama Butterfly. As Lomelì continued to sound like one of the most convincing lovers on the planet – we should all be so lucky — Crocetto gifted us with one of the most nuanced, heartwarming Cio-Cio Sans I have ever heard. Summoning forth the melting rapture that Puccini inspires, she allowed herself all the time and expanse necessary to express the deepest longings of Butterfly’s soul. Caressing her phrases like a master, with Markham supporting her every note of the way, Crocetto sang like a dream come true.

Caressing her phrases like a master, with Markham supporting her every note of the way, Crocetto sang like a dream come true.

The three songs by Rachmaninov that began the second set also presented Crocetto in ideal repertoire. The opening phrases of “Ne poy, krasavitsa” were gorgeous, the emotional peaks glorious, and the reigned in, half-voiced highs radiant. “Zdes’ khorosho” was begun with the voice of springtime, its unexpected high B plucked out of the air with breathtaking perfection. Markham proved himself an equally superb artist in the way he supported every dynamic shift, from intentionally dramatic chest voice to booming highs.

Lomelì’s set of three Mexican songs found him equally in his element. After a surfeit of endearing, personal anecdotes, he graced Catan’s “Comprendo” with an ideally soft, sweet ending, and delivered a glorious high at the close of Lara’s “Veracruz” while an inspired Markham waxed symphonic. Even more personal was the tenor’s encore, by Cano, that seemed too low for his voice until he concluded with a slightly pinched but nonetheless remarkable high C-sharp.

Then came Crocetto’s encore to end all encores. Noting, “You can’t get out of one of my concerts without hearing some jazz,” the soprano who formerly sang jazz on New York’s restaurant row summoned up the most teasingly delicious voice imaginable for a wondrous, jaw-dropping rendition of “Can’t help lovin’ that man,” aka “Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly.” Markham was equally remarkable. If Crocetto sings as well when she brings her cabaret act to the Big Apple, she will have New York at her feet.

All that was needed for a perfect afternoon, aside from more encores, was song translations. Their absence was inexcusable. Weill Hall is a world class venue, and basic concert aids are not optional there. It also would have been nice to see the flowers that usually greet great recitalists at other venues.

Jason Victor Serinus is a music critic, professional whistler, and lecturer on classical vocal recordings. His credits includes Seattle Times, Listen, Opera News, Opera Now, American Record Guide, Stereophile, Classical Voice North America, Carnegie Hall Playbill, Gramophone, San Francisco Magazine, Stanford Live, Bay Area Reporter, San Francisco Examiner, AudioStream, and California Magazine.