American Way | Bob Mehr
In the opera world, Isabel Leonard is as good as it gets. With a forthcoming stint at the Metropolitan Opera, the talented songstress with a booming voice continues to perfect her craft.
Isabel Leonard is a musical star on the rise. A 32-year-old New York City native, she represents the new voice and face of opera. Whether it’s guest-performing with operas in San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago, Vienna and others; making a guest appearance onSesame Street; being photographed forVogue; or traveling to American classrooms extolling the virtues of opera to high school students, Leonard has become a true ambassador for the art form.
“Those are all opportunities to try to show that opera singers are totally normal people,” says Leonard, who performs on Aug. 2 at the Aspen Music Festival and School, and Sept. 22 through Oct. 25 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). “Ultimately, my biggest desire is to open up opera to everyone. To remind them that we all love being told a good story — and that’s what opera is: great, dramatic, heartbreaking stories. And on top of it, there’s also this great music.”
Leonard speaks with the pure passion of a convert. “I was not raised loving opera,” she says. “In fact, I hated it as a kid — I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. … I grew up listening to Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James and Sarah Vaughan, that whole generation of singers, and watching the movies of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. That was what I was most attracted to: In high school, I was singing in jazz band and doing musical theater.”
But Leonard ultimately found her calling as an opera diva, going on to get her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Juilliard School. Since making her debut with the Metropolitan Opera in their 2007 production of Roméo et Juliette, Leonard has become one of the genre’s brightest stars. She’s won a series of prestigious awards, performed with companies all over the world and has bookings for the next four years.
“It’s a totally nomadic existence,” admits Leonard, the mother of an infant son named Teo. “I like to travel and be in these different cities; I’ve gotten accustomed to it. But I wouldn’t say it’s the easiest way to have a life. It’s tricky because I have a son with me who I’m raising, and I’m constantly organizing my time so that I’m with him.”
Although she’s gained a strong foothold in the opera world, Leonard isn’t content to rest. “You never stop learning. Opera’s a craft like any other artistic craft. Not only do you learn more as you go along, but you learn more as you yourself develop and mature.”