Soprano Michele Crider was 16 when she decided to become a singer. "It wasn't about becoming a star," she says over coffee in the lobby of her hotel. "I just wanted to sing and see where it would take me." It has taken her to international acclaim in the opera world. Crider has sung at most of the world's great houses - she just sang Amelia in Verdi's The Masked Ball at the Metropolitan Opera in New York - but right now she's here, singing the title role in Ponchielli's La Gioconda at the Israel Opera. This is the first time Crider has sung the role of this young woman "who's naive about love in that she doesn't realize that true love is reciprocal. And when she does, she still gives, and in the end it kills her." Preparing for this and any other role, she first translates the Italian text into English "because that way I can really get to grips with it. When you work with a printed translation, it's not the same. Then I learn the part, study the music with my coach, study the historical background and listen to other singers' interpretation of the role." Gioconda (the name means "merry" in Italian) is a street singer, the sole support of her blind and pious mother. She is in love with gallant sea captain Enzo, who loves her right back - but like a sister, because his heart belongs to Laura, the wife of Alvise, Venice's Mr. Big. Completing the fateful triangle is the spy Barnaba, who lusts after Gioconda and vows a dreadful revenge when she spurns him. Gioconda "is a fun role to sing," says Crider, "very exhilarating. You need all the vocal and technical ability at your command, and with it, you can let yourself go, be theatrical and give it everything you've got." And "everything" is necessary to forward Gioconda's gothic plot which begins when the evil Barnaba accuses Gioconda's mother of witchcraft and ends with the heroine's dramatic suicide. CRIDER'S VOICE is like brocade: lustrous, richly textured and many colored. Her Gioconda is a girl-woman in whom innocence and knowing combine touchingly. Born and brought up in Quincy, Illinois, where her 80-year-old mother still lives, Crider is the ninth of 10 children born to Colonel (his first name, not his rank) and Ruth Crider. He worked for the State Department, as did her mother. It was a happy marriage, and that happiness communicated itself to the family. When Crider married Hermann Resinger 13 years ago, the guests included about 140 family members. They met in an Italian restaurant in Germany: an American singer and an accountant from Austria, "and if that's not international, I don't know what is," says Crider, laughing. She has a bubbly, infectious laugh, a ready smile, seems to look benignly on the world, and doesn't "let little things bother [her]. Everything is changing so fast, and you have to be able to go with that." Crider started singing in her church choir when she was three "and loved it from the beginning." At 12 she started to study voice seriously, "and I think my interest in opera started then. We used to listen to the Saturday broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera. I kept singing all through high school... I wasn't a soloist, just part of the ensemble at school, at church and in a pop group. We did musical theater too." HER WORLD started to change when she was doing Showboat as part of a summer theater program on a riverboat. The show's director introduced her to the director of vocal studies at Culver Stockton College in Canton, Missouri. She went there on scholarship, completed her bachelors degree and did her masters degree at Iowa University. There, "shortly after I arrived, I auditioned for and got the lead in Madama Butterfly." Crider's first professional engagement, part of the First Prize for winning the Geneva International Music Competition, was as Leonora in Verdi's Il Trovatore in Dortmund, Germany. Since then, she's sung many Verdi roles - Amelia, Aida, Leonora in The Force of Destiny, Elvira in Ernani - not to mention other great dramatic soprano heroines like Puccini's Tosca, Norma in Bellini's opera of the same name and Santuzza in Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana. And she's sung them from the Met to the San Francisco Opera in the US, and in Europe from the Vienna State Opera, Berlin and Covent Garden to La Scala. She's sung Trovatore both with the Israel Philharmonic and at the IO, where she's also sung Amelia, her favorite role. And she's sung the Verdi Requiem with the Jerusalem Symphony-IBA. "I like it here, I like the people. They're good to me," she says of her recurring visits, and then hesitates before adding delicately, "and with all that's going on here, I like to think that my singing brings a few hours of rest from troubled thoughts."