When a friend invited her to give bungee jumping a try, Jacalyn “Jackie” Kreitzer had a ready reply.
“I said, ‘You know, I sang on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera (House). I don’t need to bungee jump,’ ” the mezzo soprano said, chuckling as she recalled the sensation of singing in front of 4,000 people at the renowned New York City theater. “I’ve already had my heart go up in my throat.”
That experience is just one highlight in a professional singing career that has spanned more than three decades. But that chapter of Kreitzer’s life is coming to a close.
On Saturday, she will take the first step toward retirement when she performs Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 in C minor as a soloist with the San Luis Obispo Symphony, select Cal Poly choirs and the San Luis Obispo Master Chorale, formerly the Cuesta Master Chorale. (Soprano Elissa Johnston will also sing.) The concert at the Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo serves as the symphony’s season finale, capping the Classics in the Cohan series.
San Luis Obispo Master Chorale conductor Thomas Davies, who will conduct Saturday’s concert, praised Kreitzer’s contributions to the local music community.
“I’ve always felt especially fortunate and lucky to have someone of Jackie’s caliber and professionalism working here on the Central Coast,” said Davies, Cal Poly’s director of choral activities and vocal studies.
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“She’s a consummate professional and one of the biggest-hearted people I know,” added his wife, Cal Poly lecturer and pianist Susan Azaret Davies, commending Kreitzer’s “love of music and her ability to communicate that love with the audience. She’s the real deal.”
Kreitzer, who lives in Los Osos with her husband of 28 years, painter David Kreitzer, has felt that passion from an early age.
“There’s this fierce driving force to deliver the music,” said Jacalyn Kreitzer, a Bend, Ore., native who studied vocal performance at the University of Puget Sound in Seattle and USC. “Once I was introduced to Brahms, Beethoven, Mahler, Wagner, Verdi, it just overcame me. I had to sing. I had to do it.”
When her teacher and mentor, Austrian-born mezzo soprano and Metropolitan Opera star Herta Glaz, told her she had a chance at a world-class career, “I thought, ‘If I don’t do this, when I’m 85, I’ll hate myself,’ ” Kreitzer said. “So I’m 60 and I don’t hate myself.”
“It was a big decision,” she added, “but, boy, am I glad I did it.”
Over the decades, Kreitzer has performed with some of the world’s most acclaimed classical music ensembles, including the Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Opera and Seattle Opera, as well as opera companies and symphonies in Barcelona, Berlin, Geneva, Paris and Prague.
Locally, she’s collaborated with the San Luis Obispo Symphony, the San Luis Obispo Youth Symphony and musicians including Susan Azaret Davies and symphony cellist and youth symphony conductor Nancy Nagano.
Kreitzer said her focus started shifting from performance to education after she moved to the Central Coast in November 1987.
“It was a decision either to continue with the career and all that entailed, or to go ahead and have a normal life,” said Kreitzer, who began teaching applied voice at Cal Poly in 1995. “It’s been a wonderful balance.”
Kreitzer is the founder and producer of Cal Poly Student Opera Theatre, which presents fully staged productions starring students. (The program will team up with Opera San Luis Obispo for the fourth time in April 2017 for a “co-opera” production of “The Pirates of Penzance.”) She also has a thriving private practice as a vocal coach and teacher, and serves as a vocal consultant for Opera San Luis Obispo.
“Performing has made me a much better teacher because I understand … the terror that you go through to get out there and deliver as perfect music as possible,” she said. “I’ve learned that if you think of yourself as this deliverer of sound and text and beauty, you don’t get so nervous. … I turn around and try to teach that to my students.”
Like her pupils, Kreitzer holds herself to a high standard — which is part of the reason she’s stepping down from professional singing.
“No matter how good my technique, at some point in time in the near future my voice is not going to be up to the standards that I demand,” Kreitzer said. “So I just want to concentrate on teaching and helping others.”
“Isn’t the main point of life — to help somebody somehow?” she asked.
For her Central Coast swan song, Kreitzer will perform a piece she first encountered 32 years ago with the Long Beach Symphony: Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, known as the Resurrection Symphony.
“I was in complete awe and wonder then, and I am now,” she said, describing the symphony as challenging and “very scary.” “There are three movements of death, doom, destruction and every emotion known to mankind, and then you stand up in the fourth movement and deliver this beautiful message of faith.” She compared the sensation to being naked on stage.
With her rich voice and vast experience, Davies said Kreitzer is uniquely suited to perform the piece.
“To hear Jackie sing Mahler, I said, ‘Wow, this is her composer,’ ” he said. “This is music she sings really beautifully.”
Although Kreitzer has no plans to perform on Central Coast stages after Saturday, she’s not ready to retire just yet. She will sing with the Santa Rosa Symphony and National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., in 2018.
The singer said she’ll savor her final experiences performing as a soloist with a symphony, “a shining highlight of any career.” “Sitting in the middle of the swirling sounds of an orchestra is a feel like no other, and must, for me, be likened to the opening of the gates of heaven,” Kreitzer wrote in an email.
“I’ll miss that terribly,” she said.
Classics in the Cohan V
8 p.m. Saturday
Cohan Center, Cal Poly
$20 to $80
756-4849 or www.pacslo.org