SEATTLE — By night he sings of love. By day he dreams of fish: fly-fishing; fish habitats; his favorite fish, the mountain trout.
When it comes to odd pairings, it would seem you can’t beat fishing and singing, but to Gino Lucchetti, a King County environmental scientist and one of the most in-demand professional opera tenors in the Northwest, both endeavors require “getting into the Zen of the moment.”
“You have to get out of the way” and let yourself be swept up by the rhythm of the song or the cast, he said.
At his office in King County’s Water, Land and Resource Division there are muddy boots on the floor, fishing lures, a teetering stack of documents and shelves of scientific reports. His white car with the cracked windshield, which he drives to floodplains or fishing spots, is filled with clothing, cups and crumbs.
By 6 p.m. many days, he goes straight from work to rehearsal at a variety of theaters from Kitsap to Skagit counties. That’s when it’s goodbye, fish guy.
If you can overlook the shorts, hiking boots and shaggy head of curly hair as he kneels and sings at the death bed of his dying lover in “La Bohme,” reminisces with his lover before facing the firing squad in “Tosca,” or sings the role of the passionate poet in “Andrea Chnier,” he could be the epitome of romance.
Come time for performance, however, and he’s all fire and passion in breeches, tall boots and white ruffled shirt as he was in “Tosca” at the Moore Theatre in May. He sang of the scent of thyme, the creak of the garden gate and the sound of his lover’s footsteps, mesmerizing his audiences to a stunned silence with the power of his voice.
While some may see this as a double life, Lucchetti sees his two passions as a good blend.
“I enjoy the process and teamwork involved in putting together and performing an opera, not unlike conducting a scientific study or putting together a watershed plan,” he said.
Lucchetti, 54, grew up in an opera-loving Italian-American family where singing was as common as playing in the woods. He remembers being just 5 and imitating his father as he sang “O Sole Mio.”
Later, he said, “I had an epiphany … and suddenly realized I can sing that stuff.”
One of seven children — four boys to one bed — who grew up in rural north Pennsylvania, Lucchetti would burst from the house every day to play in the woods with his brothers. In the quiet pools of mountain brooks, he watched fish and found if he was patient, he could catch a trout with only his hands.
When he went to college, fisheries science seemed like a natural major for bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
And after graduation, he ended up in Seattle, where he made his mark in his field, although he’s quick to say that, like opera, project success is always a team effort.
He’s most proud of being the lead scientist in preserving the 150-acre Rock Creek Natural Area, a tributary of the Cedar River near Maple Valley. It was about to be developed, so he fought an often-heated battle against the proposed developer and others to have the county acquire it. The county bought the land for $3.4 million in the mid-1990s, using money from the Conservation Futures Trust, part of the Cedar River Legacy and Waterways 2000 fund.
“At the time,” he said, “it was a big sum for a piece of land, especially for land that wasn’t intended for ballfields and other high-use, active recreation.”
But it had a productive salmon stream, “chock full of little, rearing juvenile coho salmon and lots of spawning sockeye in the fall.”
Lucchetti began voice training in the 1980s. Marianne Weltmann, his coach for more than two decades, calls him “the real Italian thing, a (Luciano) Pavarotti.”
Among the most challenging of the musical art forms, opera requires singers to not only memorize and understand a several-hourlong score in a foreign language, but sing it well and act. Lucchetti has the intellect to do that, she said. He’s done operas in Italian, French, German, Spanish, Latin and Russian.
Lucchetti, she said, “has a gorgeous instrument, a beautiful tenor voice. It’s clear and you can understand every word.”
His voice has become richer and fuller over the years. The only reason he hasn’t had a major opera career is his size, she believes.
At about 5 feet, 5 inches tall, he’s shorter than many sopranos. And while traditional opera used to focus almost exclusively on voice — and short tenors and 400-pound divas could be reigning stars — today’s major companies think visually, she said.
Lucchetti has sung with Seattle Opera, at Opera Guild soirees, Seattle Symphony and the Seattle Italian Festival.
A few years ago, he considered pursuing a full-time opera career in New York and studied with coaches at the Metropolitan Opera. In the end he elected to stay in Seattle, to the delight of the small opera companies from Walla Walla to Port Angeles.
“He has a big tenor voice, a lyric spinto tenor voice,” said Pam Casellas, artistic director of Lyric Opera Northwest, which has cast him in numerous productions. Audiences are stunned, she said, by “the beauty of his sound.”
“He is a very passionate singer. When people hear him, they’re on the edge of their seats,” said Leone Cottrell-Adkins, manager of Kitsap Peninsula Opera.
So far this year, Lucchetti has done five operas and numerous other shorter shows, including singing with Public Opera, a group that performs monthly at Basil’s Kitchen in the Bellevue Hilton.
He’s scheduled to do “Pagliacci” with Skagit Opera in September, and Casellas would love to cast him in this fall’s “Carmen” at the Moore Theatre — “if he’s available.”
The opera companies pay principals such as Lucchetti anywhere from $200 to $2,000 for a production. But Lucchetti often sings for free.
At the monthly performance at Basil’s Kitchen, there are people who have followed him from venue to venue just to hear him.
“I love him. I think he’s so magnificent,” said Jeanne Cline, a regular at Basil’s opera night.
“He’s so inspirational. We’ve been following him around since 1980,” said Dorothy Kittleson. “When I listen to him, I think Pavarotti.”
When the show is over and Lucchetti has given the last hug to his adoring fans, after he’s sipped wine and had dinner family style with his co-stars, Lucchetti sometimes turns down invitations to parties and more performances because the outdoors is calling.
“I’d love to use him more, but he needs his wilderness time,” Cottrell-Adkins said.
He’s got a fly rod and backpack ready and, when he gets a break, he’s planning to hike somewhere in the Olympics to tune into sound of a different kind. Among the white-capped peaks and the trees is a beloved natural symphony, one he’s made it a lifetime career to protect — the music of waterfalls, streams and splashing trout.