Jacalyn Kreitzer was working as a commercial loan officer in Los Angeles when Herta Glaz, star of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, told her to leave the bank.
“She said to me, ‘Dahling, if you quit your job and go for the career, you will be a world-class singer,’ ” said Kreitzer, who was studying under the Austrian-born Glaz as a USC grad student.
“You’re not supposed to say that to students — to guarantee that kind of thing—but for some reason she said it to me,” she said.
Kreitzer took Glaz’s advice. And her first big gig came to her serendipitously while watching the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
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“I was sitting out in the audience, listening to the rehearsal with a few other people,” said Kreitzer, from her home in Los Osos. “And (conductor) Simon Rattle came out and said, ‘My wife is ill and can’t do this engagement. And I understand Jacalyn is in the audience. Can she come up and sing?’ ”
Then 24, Kreitzer felt remarkably comfortable performing with the L.A. Philharmonic, giving her the confidence she needed to follow Glaz’s advice.
“I went to New York on a three-week audition tour,” said the mezzo-soprano. “And I got everything.”
Kreitzer will perform with a quartet at Festival Mozaic’s WinterMezzo this weekend. The quartet, also featuring Festival Mozaic conductor Scott Yoo, will perform Earl Kim’s “Three Poems in French” during more intimate engagements Friday and Saturday and during a full concert on Sunday.
A big voice
Growing up in a farm family in Oregon, Kreitzer didn’t have a musical heritage. But she did have a big voice, thanks, she says, to big facial features that act as resonators.
“In the third grade, I was happily singing away in choir, and I still remember this teacher — she came down the line and said, ‘Who. Has. That. Voice?’ ”
While getting singled out was embarrassing, Kreitzer continued to sing, and eventually she went on to study voice. But her graduate work at USC was interrupted by her singing career.
While she had a promising start, she still had to audition for about 60 parts just to get three or four. But the gigs she got were impressive — and generally lasted for three months.
“My whole philosophy — and this also came from Herta—was: Go ahead and go for the top,” Kreitzer said. “And I was well prepared. I had been practicing a long time.”
After moving to New York, Kreitzer went on to perform with many of the world’s greatest opera houses and symphonies, including the New York City Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Carnegie Hall, Chicago Lyric, Dublin Grand and the Prague National Symphony.
“For most of these jobs, I was on a high until the next job,” Kreitzer said. “Sitting up in the middle of an orchestra as a soloist with this 100-piece orchestra around you ... there’s nothing like it in the world. You feel like you’re in heaven.”
A move toward teaching
While performing in Seattle, she met David Kreitzer, a professional painter and opera fan. The two married 25 years ago, when Kreitzer’s performing career was still soaring.
“When David and I first married, I was gone about eight or nine months a year,” Kreitzer said.
Eventually, her performing career slowed as priorities changed.
“I sang all around Europe and the United States, with most of the major houses and orchestras — and had a great time,” Kreitzer said. “Then one day I decided I wanted a family, too.”
The inside of Kreitzer’s home features photos of her stepson, a neurobiologist in San Francisco, and her daughter, a philosophy student at UC Berkeley. But mostly, the place looks much like an art gallery, with David’s oil and watercolor paintings displayed on every wall. In the room she uses as a studio, a portrait David painted of her hangs next to a grand piano. Meanwhile, photos of Kreitzer performing through the years hang on an opposite wall.
Shifting careers, in 1996, Kreitzer took a job teaching at Cal Poly, where she founded the Cal Poly Student Opera Theatre.
“I guess I just started thinking more about teaching and passing it on,” said Kreitzer, who still performs a couple of times a year.
Having performed at the world’s most prestigious venues, Kreitzer brings credibility to her teaching and can knowingly talk about the issues that impact working musicians — like how airline travel affects your vocals. Still, she says, making a living as a singer is difficult for even the most talented vocalists.
“I tell my students, ‘Don’t go into this unless you feel like you’d die if you couldn’t do it,” said Kreitzer, who was named outstanding lecturer in 2002.
A range of students
Kreitzer, who is the artistic advisor to OperaSLO, also gives private lessons. Her students have included opera singer Marissa Bloom, jazz singer Inga Swearingen and indie rock singer Dan Curcio of the local band Still Time.
Swearingen was a Cal Poly student when she first went to Kreitzer for private lessons. At the time, she was singing with five groups and experiencing dryness in her vocals.
“I just felt like, ‘Why isn’t my voice working?’ ” Swearingen remembers.
Kreitzer started her lessons by showing the jazz singer an anatomy and physiology book in an effort to explain how sound is produced. Kreitzer also attended Swearingen’s performances to assess what was needed, conducted research in her musical library, then offered Swearingen exercises that would help her sing jazz music.
“She wasn’t trying to make me a little her,” said Swearingen, who won first place in the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival’s Shure Vocal Competition soon after taking lessons from Kreitzer. “She was genuinely interested in helping me pull out what was inside of me.”
When Curcio started seeing Kreitzer, he too was performing a lot of gigs.
“I was definitely headed down the wrong path,” he said. “I was drinking too much and smoking — and that’s not exactly healthy for the voice.”
Kreitzer instructed him on breathing techniques and helped him transition to a falsetto more seamlessly. To help keep his voice intact, Kreitzer had Curcio massage the muscles in his neck and even bock like a chicken.
“There were these pretty weird exercises,” Curcio said. “The guys used to always give me sh--for it. But I still use them to this day, and I probably always will.”
While many of her students want to further their singing careers, Kreitzer says she doesn’t want to limit herself to professionals. She also wants to help people who need to sing for therapeutic reasons.
“Nothing excites me more than getting someone who is a little bit unsatisfied with life or anxious or feeling as if they don’t have a grounding,” she said. “Getting them to spend time in music, it always makes them feel better.”
Reach Patrick S. Pemberton at 781-7903.