Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard's career is taking off like a rocket. The Manhattan native and Juilliard graduate makes her Canadian debut on Feb. 3, singing the role of Sesto in the Canadian Opera Company's production of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito. It's only one of a number of high-profile engagements in the busy schedule of opera's new "it girl."
Not many singers Leonard's age (she turns 31 on Feb. 18) can claim three leading roles in a single season at the Metropolitan Opera, which is the case for her this year. Last fall she sang Miranda in the Met's production of Thomas Adès’s The Tempest, a performance described in The New York Times as "lovely, vocally warm and sympathetic."
In May, Leonard will venture into soprano territory when she sings the role of Blanche de la Force in Poulenc's Les Dialogues des Carmélites. In a recent telephone interview with CBC Classical, Leonard said she tries not to categorize her voice type: "I sing whatever feels appropriate."
Back in mezzo land, she starred in the Met's English-language production of Rossini's Barber of Seville (broadcast on Dec. 22), reprising the role that put her on the map, in Italian, the previous season, both at the Met and at Vienna State Opera. Here's a sample of Leonard's English Rosina:
Leonard is clearly a favourite with her hometown audience. Born and raised in Manhattan, she grew up in a household where opera was in the air.
"My mother really enjoys listening to opera," says Leonard. "She dragged me to the opera a couple of times when I was younger. Music was always a big part of my life. I danced growing up, ballet for a long time, so I started in the performing arts quite young."
In June 2012, a reviewer for the Financial Times described Leonard as "a stage animal with charisma written all over her," referring to her portrayal of Cherubino in a Glyndebourne production of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro. Does she think of herself as a theatrical person?
"I was incredibly shy growing up," she responds. "I'm pretty reserved out of the theatre. I would say that I feel very at home onstage and I love very much being a part of a new world every time I'm onstage, whether it's part of a recital or an opera. It allows me to explore different facets of who I am."
At CBC Classical, we also enjoy exploring the different facets of today's top performers. That's why we asked Leonard to respond to our CBC Classical questionnaire:
First recording I ever bought:
I believe it was either a Green Day CD or Salt-n-Pepa's 1993 release, Very Necessary. I might have bought them on the same day.
I can't live without:
Most comical thing that happened to me onstage:
In one opera, I had to slap my stage lover on the cheek, and I was so worried about hurting him that every night I managed to miss his cheek but ended up hitting him on the eye, the nose, the throat or the ear.
I can't go onstage without:
If I hadn't been a singer, I'd have been:
My weakness is:
The need to order things that are disorderly. (No, I'm not a Virgo. I'm an Aquarius.)
Ideal night off:
A mother of a two-year-old doesn't get a night off. But I love to curl up on the couch with a good book, a cup of tea, maybe a movie.
All-time favourite musician:
Favourite composer to sing:
Mostly, I love to sing whatever I'm working on at the moment. But these days, I'd say Manuel de Falla, George Gershwin and Irving Berlin.
Favourite composer to listen to:
I don't have a favourite, but I listen to a lot of jazz.
The thing I'm most looking forward to:
Singing Blanche in Poulenc's Les Dialogues des Carmélites.
My idea of happiness:
Love, laughter and fun times with family and friends.
Quality I like most in others:
Kindness and honesty.
Quality I like most in myself:
I love people.
Present state of mind:
Occasion on which I lie:
I haven't actually started doing it, but I've started thinking about lying on my birthday.
My most treasured possession:
The greatest love of my life:
I would most like to live in:
A loft on the Upper West Side of Manhattan (which, of course, doesn't exist!).
My greatest fear:
My favourite journey:
The walk to the fridge in the morning.
Word or phrase I overuse:
My son's name.
Talent I would most like to have:
To be a super ninja.
My favourite fragrance:
Linden trees in the spring, lavender, orange peel.
Person I'd call if I wanted to laugh:
My friend, Nic, whom I've known since my undergrad. He's got a wicked sense of humour.
The Canadian Opera Company presents eight performances of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito from Feb. 3 to 22. All performances take place at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto.
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