In the upcoming performance of Verdi's requiem in the NTR ZaterdagMatinee, two young heavyweights from America make their Amsterdam debut: soprano Leah Crocetto and tenor Brian Jagde. A conversation about Verdi and his masterly death mass.

In de aanstaande uitvoering van Verdi’s requiem in de NTR ZaterdagMatinee maken twee jonge zwaargewichten uit Amerika hun Amsterdamse debuut: sopraan Leah Crocetto en tenor Brian Jagde. Een gesprek over Verdi en zijn meesterlijke dodenmis.

Tune in to the Verdi Requiem radio broadcast from NPO 4 on February 3 (2:15pm CET)

Read the OperaMagazine.nl feature in Dutch at the following link; complete English responses are listed below.

Brian Jagde

•You make your debut in Amsterdam. What are you looking forward to most?

I’ve heard such amazing things about the Het Concertgebouw and the quality of sound in the house, both for musicians and the audience. I am looking forward to feeling the atmosphere of that kind of concert hall as we take on this beautiful Verdi piece.

•This is your first Verdi Requiem. It is considered one of Verdi’s absolute masterpieces. Why is it, in your view, so great?

There are so many reasons to say why this piece is great. I think that as Verdi goes, he always composed in a way that the language comes first. In this very bel canto piece, the style is as pure as Verdi can get. Very clean and stoic, but also pious at the same time. It’s epic!

•What is the highlight in your part and what is the most challenging passage?

Every tenor wants to sing the “Ingemisco” section of the Requiem. We have heard every great tenor do this on recordings (or if you’re lucky, in person!) and it is an extremely powerful moment in the context of the entire piece.

There are many challenges. It’s a work that requires a gentle touch and a firm hand at the same time. Voices have to be free to sing long lines and to phrase using dynamics, and of course the words have to be important. For the tenor, I’d say the hang-up tends to be in the middle of the Offertory when we sing the “Hostias” section. It has to be incredibly tender, and set a mood for everyone in the hall to feel as a whole.

•How do you connect with the text? In an opera you have a character, here you ‘only’ have a liturgical, catholic text…

As a child, I was raised in a Lutheran Protestant church. The text is not too foreign to those who aren’t Catholic per se, it’s definitely familiar. I grew up singing tons of chorus music and have performed other prestigious Requiems before, including Mozart’s.

As you said, there are no costumes, but there is a role to be played. The four parts together represent mankind’s need for reverence of a higher power whose might can never be reached, and who is all-forgiving to those who show their humility and faith in that power. As I mentioned earlier, Verdi is took a pious approach in his composition, and it forces us to be that as well.

•You’re working with Edo de Waart. Have you worked with him before? If so, how was it? If not, what do you look forward to?

I haven’t worked with him before, but I’ve been looking forward to this for some time. He is a conductor who comes with great respect, and by all accounts from colleagues is a wonderful collaborator. I hope to work with him more in the future.

•You already sang with Leah Crocetto in Turandot. How is it to sing with her?

Leah and I were “babies” together in the San Francisco Adler Program. We grew up together through the repertoire there, including our first Aida this past fall! We get along really well, on and off the stage. We’re always rooting for each other and as I am the only one in the concert who hasn’t sung the Verdi Requiem before, it’ll be nice to have a friend up there with me.

•Can you already tell us which role you’re going to sing at the Dutch National Opera in the future? 🙂

I can’t tell you exactly what my future projects here are since they haven’t been announced yet! I can share that my first appearance will be soon, in a new production. It’s a role I will only have sung for the first time earlier that season in concert, for a recording. We are also in talks about a couple of new productions here in the future. I look forward to spending more time enjoying Amsterdam, as well as making my debut with the opera company.

Leah Crocetto

• You make your debut in Amsterdam. What are you looking forward to most?

I have never been to Amsterdam and I am so happy to be here! I am most excited to experience the culture and the sights, and of course to sing in the great Concertgebouw. It is a legendary hall and I feel grateful to be able to perform here with such amazing colleagues.

•Verdi’s Requiem is considered one of his absolute masterpieces. Why is it, in your view, so great?

The Requiem is often called Verdi’s greatest opera. I like that statement because it truly has something for everyone. The soprano is a fully-formed character. She is a bit “mad” and at the end during the “Libera me” she pleads her case one more time. I love the drama.

Perhaps more than the drama is the sheer beauty of the music. “Liber scriptus” and “Hostias” are two of the most angelic moments in the entire piece. And the “Tuba mirum”….now THAT is drama!

•What is the highlight in your part and what is the most challenging passage?

Singing the soprano part is a dream for anyone with my voice type and probably for those without my voice type too. The whole thing is amazing. The highlight for me is the “Recordare” duet with the mezzo. I just love it. And the hardest part is probably in the long, held phrase before “Sed signifer sanctus”…just killer, but so effective!

•How do you connect with the text? In an opera role you have a character, here you ‘only’ have a liturgical, catholic text…

Verdi was not religious. While the text is religious, the mood of the work is not. I am able to connect to the text as a person and as the soprano soloist because of the musicality written inside of the part and each section. Each soloist has a character. I don’t think Verdi could have written it any other way. The tenor is definitely a romantic warrior character with all of his elegant phrases and the “Ingemisco.” The mezzo is kind of the voice of reason and brings the hope to us all in the “Lux aeterna.” And the bass is a menace and delivers doom. With all this being said, we are all on the same “side” so to speak, so the ensembles are our “come together” moments. The moments where we share our thoughts with each other and anyone who will listen.

•You’re working with Edo de Waart. Have you worked with him before? If so, how was it? If not, what do you look forward to?

I have never worked with Maestro de Waart but I have known of his legendary career for years! I look forward to gleaning knowledge and creating an amazing performance together.

•You already sang with Brian Jagde in Turandot. How is it to sing with him?

Brian is one of my dearest friends and I’ve known him for 10 years. We trained together as San Francisco Opera Adler fellows. Not only did we sing Turandot together (I was Liù, he Calaf) but we also both debuted as Aida and Radamès in Verdi’s Aida. Brian is a dream for me to sing with because we are very free with each other on stage, and it is easy to create a scene with him. And I really love listening to him sing. He’s one of the most exciting and beautiful tenors to listen to.

•Looking at your schedule, you sing a lot of Verdi. Do you have a favorite role or part at the moment?

I get asked this all the time. I love this question because the answer is constantly changing! My favorite role is always the role I’m working on at that moment. I am lucky because I get to sing the most beautiful music in the soprano repertoire and I am so grateful for that. Two days after our concert in Amsterdam, I begin rehearsals for Verdi’s Don Carlo at Washington National Opera and I am so excited for that to start. Directly after that, Brian Jagde and I will sing Aida together again for our debuts at Seattle Opera. So, at the moment, those are my favorites!

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