“The music I sing comes to me as a beautiful, sublime gift.”
At 32 years old Isabel Leonard is one of the world’s most in-demand mezzo-sopranos. CBC Music recently crowned her opera’s new “it girl.” This raven-haired beauty’s next performance will be Saturday, July 12, wherein she will take to the stage for the Tanglewood Gala in the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts — the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
This Latina, won’t have very far to travel for the gala performance, as she is a New York City resident. In fact, being born and raised in New York, Leonard never had to go further than her own backyard in search of her fame and fortune — and she has her mother to thank for that.
Leonard’s mother is from Argentina, but came to the U.S. in the 60s in pursuit of her degree in physics. Her mother settled in New York City where she raised Leonard, who grew up in Manhattan in the early 80s. Her preteen years included dance training at the Joffrey Ballet School before she enrolled at the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts.
Her summers, however, were often spent with her family in Argentina. “Looking back, it was very enriching,” says Leonard of her time in Argentina. “Although as a child you don’t really think about it.”
Leonard’s father is an artist, born and raised in middle America. She says growing up he also had a huge impact on her, and remembers when she would sit and paint with him.
“I could do those kinds of things,” she says, referring to painting with her father. “To me it always seemed natural. Opera wasn’t on the horizon in my mind in any fashion as a kid. Later on, in high school, we had to start thinking a little bit more what we wanted to do. I talked to my parents
and it was like…‘why don’t I try that singing thing out.”
Leonard has had a fair amount of challenges throughout her career. She says that being culturally and ethnically diverse, however, was never one of them. It has never been something she has really thought about, and has always been a moot topic she says — especially in regards to her career.
“It’s truly not a ‘thing’ anymore,” says Leonard. “Everyone has different backgrounds and everyone’s parents come from different places.”
In fact, she says being Latino can actually be helpful, especially when it comes to opera.
Say you speak a different language,” she explains. “Say you speak Spanish; that’s very useful. It’s a romance language and it helps you with Italian, and it helps you with French. Same goes if you’re part German or if you know how to speak German, which is fantastic, because so much of the operatic repertoire is in German. These kinds of things are all cultural, and I certainly don’t think they hinder anyone in any way whatsoever. I think, if anything, it’s a plus, because I think it’s something you are bringing to your craft. I think it’s hard sometimes when you have to learn everything from scratch.
Leonard has been the recipient of a variety of prestigious awards, and in 2013 she received the Richard Tucker Award — given annually to a promising American opera singer. It has taken Leonard an immense amount of dedication, discipline, and hard work to get to this point in her career; and the road, Leonard assures, has been nothing but slow and steady.
“Everything in my career happens in little steps, slowly. I’m not too careful, but I take the appropriate steps, doing what’s right at any given moment,” explains Leonard, “and hopefully I’m prepared enough when things come along.”
In the end, Leonard contributes her success to her full dedication to her craft and to the very important people that have helped her along the way, especially in the early stages.
Leonard frequently performs with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and when she is not busy rehearsing or performing, she is busy being a devoted Mom to Teo, her four-year-old, with whom she travels the world.
In an interview with the Globe, she stated she has taught Teo to send her off to work every night with a friendly injunction. She calls out as she leaves him, “Mumma’s going to the opera now,” and he calls back, “Okay, Mumma. Sing loud; sing pretty!”