It's rare to meet a soprano who's willing to admit to her age.
Bridgett Hooks has no such qualms.
"You have to be [honest]," the 30-year-old soprano says. "Besides, I've been blessed with one opportunity after another."
That may be because it's rarer still to find a soprano with her promise.
The career of Hooks, who sings Strauss' "Four Last Songs" tonight at 8 and tomorrow at 3 p.m. with the Baltimore Symphony and guest conductor Paavo Berglund, appears to be going through the roof. Ever since she graduated from Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music five years ago, she's been the soprano that important conductors, including David Zinman, Robert Shaw, James Conlon and Herbert Blomstedt, invariably ask for when they perform huge choral works that demand a soprano with a creamy sound and considerable carrying power.
"She's a young Jessye Norman," says Zinman, who kept hearing about Hooks while she was still a student and has since performed Mahler's Eighth with her three times. "She'll make a great Marschallin and Ariadne [the lead roles in Strauss' 'Rosenkavalier' and 'Ariadne'], a wonderful Countess and Donna Anna [in Mozart's 'Marriage of Figaro' and 'Don Giovanni'] and a superb Aida [in Verdi's opera of that name]. If she takes care of her voice, the sky should be the limit."
It's likely that she will. Hooks discovered that she loved to sing in her church as a child in Phoenix, Ariz. And if, as she says, she's been given a lot, she seems just as determined to give something back. She spent Thursday morning at a Baltimore school performing for children -- something she does in every city she visits.
"If you touch one child, then you've done your job," she says. "I especially like going into places that seem to be depressed. Who's to say that people can't be brought out of their depression?"
"Besides, if we want to have people to sing and perform for, then we have to go out and find them!"
She's also been blessed with curiosity about repertory. Instead of simply concentrating on Diva Top-40 territory -- as some sopranos do -- she's investigating little-performed repertory such Shostakovich's searingly tragic song cycle "Songs From Jewish Folk Poetry."
"It's quite a bit like Mahler in the forlorn quality that comes from the use of Eastern European Jewish folk music," Hooks says of the Shostakovich cycle. "But whatever Mahler does, he can make you feel the light coming out of the darkness. With Shostakovich, you are left in that darkness. But if it's pretty strong stuff, it's great music, and I'd love a chance to perform it."
Although Zinman says that Strauss' autumnal "Four Last Songs" should lie perfectly for her voice, Hooks only began to perform them last season.
"I do think they lend themselves to my voice, and I've loved them since I was a student," she says. "But it's a big world out there. Just when you think you think you know a piece, you hear someone else bring a whole new color to a phrase you used to take for granted."
'Four Last Songs'
What: Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under Paavo Berglund with soprano Bridgett Hooks
Where: Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.
When: Tonight at 8 and tomorrow at 3 p.m.
Pub Date: 10/18/97