Perfect Pitch: Opera’s Real Cinderella

by patrickmccoy

The Washington National Opera’s Cinderella, Isabel Leonard, talks about life on the stage.

by Patrick D. McCoy


Isabel Leonard stars in Washington National Opera’s production of Rossini’s opera ‘Cinderella’ at The Kennedy Center. (Photo by Becca Fay)

Juilliard grad and opera star Isabel Leonard recently sat down with Washington Life to chat about her role as Cinderella in the Washington National Opera‘s upcoming production of the Rossini classic, her new recording of “Preludios” and her own fairytale-like rise to fame.

Washington Life: What do you like best about this particular production?

Isabel Leonard: What I love about this production are that the costumes are quite fun. They are not modern, but they have sort of a surreal take on a period costume, which translates to them being somewhat modern. At first glimpse you think it is something of the period, but if you take a closer look, they are very geometric and architectural.

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The costume designer Joan Guillen has done a very fun job on them.

WL: Talk to us about how you wish to be perceived as an artist, especially when it comes to the classification of your voice.

IL: The truth is that I would like to sing whatever is appropriate for my voice. The things that should matter are: is the role appropriate for who I am at this stage in my life and career; is the role musically appropriate; and am I singing in a range that fits me?

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It really is a matter of where the roles fit, how the orchestration is and the size of the ensemble. All of those things have more effect on whether a role is taxing or not with any particular singer. I would love to just be me, whatever that means to anyone.

WL: The rise of your career is almost like a fairytale in itself. What emotions went through your mind when you saw yourself a few years ago on the cover of Opera News?

IL: It’s always a fun thing to talk about, because F. Paul Driscoll, who wrote that cover story, reminds me that he remembers me from when I was a student. That in itself is a wonderful thing. Something that dawned on me recently is that one of the discs that I purchased was of Bryn Terfel singing modern musical songs. I thought to myself that I wanted to do that someday, and now he is a friend of mine. It’s amazing how those things happen.

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WL: You have already performed a wide range of operatic roles, from Miranda in Ades “The Tempest” to Blanche in Poulenc’s “Dialogue of the Carmelites.” What composer or role would you still like to explore on the operatic or concert stage?

IL: There is a whole long list of roles that I will be doing in the near future, including my first Donna Elvira in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and the world premiere of Jennifer Higdon‘s “Cold Mountain” this summer. I would love to continue my interest in musical theatre. I would love to do “Carousel,” “Showboat” or “Camelot,” as well as concert repertoire like the “Scheherazade.”

WL: Your new recording ‘Preludios’ has just been released and features the vocal music of Spanish composers. What inspired you to pursue a project dedicated to this music?

IL: Half of my family is from Argentina, so I am very close to that heritage. It is a huge part of who I am and the Spanish music has always struck a chord in me. It all started with learning Manuel da Falla’s “Canciones Populares” for the first time in college.

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It was the gateway into this repertoire. That was really important to me, and I can’t help but be attracted to it. I feel very lucky to have been able to record with Brian Zeger for this CD.

Isabel Leonard will open the production of Rossini’s Cinderella at The Kennedy Center on May 9 and will be signing copies of her recording “Preludios” after the May 13 performance. Remaining appearances with Leonard in the title role are May 16, 19 and 21.

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