Monday, March 10, 2008

On the Fast Track

Mezzo Isabel Leonard
Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall
March 14, 2008

Isabel Leonard
Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard has had a meteoric rise in the classical world. A couple years ago, she was still studying at Juilliard. Since then, she has made her debuts with the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera. And she will make her Carnegie Hall recital debut on March 14 at Weill Recital Hall under the auspices of the Marilyn Horne Foundation, which supports up-and-coming young singers.

The 26-year-old New York City native will be joined for her recital by pianist Brian Zeger, who has been a mentor to Leonard since her time at Juilliard. Her adventurous song selection includes works by such disparate composers as Manoel de Falla, Arnold Schoenberg, Hugo Wolf, Reynaldo Hahn, Joaquin Nin, and Sergei Rachmaninoff, as well as Cole Porter and George Gershwin. (That’s five languages, folks!)

Leonard recently sat down to discuss her fast-moving career and choosing the music for her recital tour, which will also take her to Atlanta, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Ft. Worth, Texas.
Kevin Filipski: You debuted at the Metropolitan Opera last November in Romeo and Juliette with Anna Netrebko. Was that an amazing experience?
Isabel Leonard: Yes. I have had a pretty exciting past year or so, and my Met debut was absolutely great. Everyone was really generous with their time. I had done that opera in Atlanta the previous January, so doing it the second time made it that much easier. I was only worried about this being my Met debut, thinking: “Oh, my God. It’s the Met!”

KF: Placido Domingo conducted the opera. What was it like to work with him?
IL: Oh, he’s wonderful. It’s such a pleasure to sing for a conductor who enjoys your singing and inspires you to try and make it better all the time. He’s such a passionate person; he loves life so much that you can’t help but absorb some of that. We sometimes may lose why we’re doing this in the first place, but he never does. I'd go to the Met for rehearsal with my nerves, thinking “they must be crazy to have hired me!” Then I would see him and his passion, and it was very heartening.

KF: How did this recital tour come about?
IL: Some of the concerts are under the auspices of the Marilyn Horne Foundation. It started when I went to Santa Barbara in 2005 and met Marilyn Horne there; I won a competition that summer at the Music Academy of the West, so I got to do a recital in New York, at St. Bartholomew’s Church. Our relationship started then. She and her foundation are very open to sponsoring some of my recitals. It's great because I’m able to do an outreach program in those cities; I go to high schools and do a 45-minute program where I sing some songs and talk about them, get the kids involved so they ask questions. I did a few here in the city, too. The kids were very energetic. I love that there’s always at least one who comes up to me afterwards and says, “You know, I really like singing, so what can I do?” “Keep on singing!” I tell them. “Continue it. Sing all the time. Take music classes!”

KF: Your recital program offers quite a mix of composers and styles. Can you talk about that?
IL: I've performed about 70% of this recital already. The Hahn songs were a set I’d found a long time ago, after hearing a CD of Susan Graham singing them fabulously. The oldest set in the recital is probably the Falla songs, which I first performed as an undergraduate; then the Hahn and the Schoenberg, which I learned in Aspen in the summer of 2005. The Wolf set is something else I’d done at Juilliard. The Rachmaninoff set came from a recital I did at Juilliard; I fell in love with those songs, so I’m doing them again. The first set of Nin songs was Brian Zeger’s idea. That they are in Spanish is very important to me, because my mother’s from Argentina, so I have a whole family history and I find that music very natural to sing. One of my goals is to sing more Spanish and Latin American songs.

KF: What about the show tunes and the other American songs?
IL: Those are songs that I’ve known my entire life, from recordings by people like Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald songs. To this day, I still probably know more about those songs than about opera. [laughs] That’s really the other part of me. I first started to love music when I started singing those old standards. It’s what I grew up with.

KF: Do you like being a jet-set musician?
IL: You learn a lot about yourself and what you need to feel comfortable. Put me anywhere for a month and I’ll be fine; you settle down, and you can buy your own food and cook your own meals. What could be difficult are the short stints, where you go somewhere for only a few days or a week. That’s something I’m not used to yet, but I’ll get there someday, I’m sure!

originally posted on

No comments: