Lyric Opera of Chicago

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Isabel Leonard talks “Seville” and Sesame Street

Isabel Leonard (Rosina in Lyric's new production of The Barber of Seville) talks rehearsals, what she'd do if she wasn't a singer, and her appearance on Sesame Street in this Q&A.

The gorgeous and exceptionally talented Isabel Leonard—crowned "opera's new 'it' girl" by CBC Music—makes her eagerly anticipated Lyric debut as Rosina in the new production of The Barber of Seville. Also starring baritone Nathan Gunn and tenor Alek Shrader and directed by Tony winner Rob Ashford, this sumptuous new production runs from February 1-28 at Lyric. In this Q&A, she talks rehearsals, what she'd do if she wasn't a singer, and her appearance on Sesame Street!

Want more Isabel? Check out our "Patter Up!" video.

You've worked with Nathan Gunn and Alek Shrader in the past, but this is Rob Ashford's first opera, though he has an amazing Broadway background. What's it like to combine the familiar and the new?

Rob has been an ideal addition to an already familiar and warm cast. He has inspired us all with fresh and clever ideas for the show.   

Is Rob Ashford, who in addition to directing is also a wonderful choreographer, making you exercise your dance skills for this Barber

This particular production does not have heavy choreography in it, but I hope one day to work again with Rob and dance it out!! :)

This is your Lyric debut - what do you think about the process and Chicago overall so far?

I'm so happy to be here at the Lyric. This is a perfect debut! This company is so wonderful and kind to their singers, being here is a joy.  

Who will be in the audience for your Lyric premiere—anyone special to you?                              

I have lots of family who live out here from my father's side. So, they will make it at different times throughout the run, maybe even for the performance that lands on my birthday! Woo!

You are this year's Richard Tucker Award winner and sang at the centennial gala. Can you give us a window into that experience?

The Tucker Award was a total shock to me and flying back from San Francisco the night before the Gala performance was also a shock! It was a complete whirlwind trip where I did not have a moment to think twice. What an honor and gift the foundation has given to me.

When did you know you wanted to be an opera singer?

I never knew I wanted to be an "opera" singer. I knew I wanted to be in the theater, on stage, movies, recordings, anything that had to do with performing. Since I went to Juilliard and studied classical voice it was a natural progression to follow opera and classical music as a career but I have not closed ANY of those other doors. 

If you were not a singer, what do you think you would like to be doing as a career?

This is a hard question, because the answer has really gone evolving over the years. When I was younger, I wanted to be an anthropologist, but now years into my career, I would really love to direct at some point. It is such a creative process and very challenging. I don't know if I would succeed at it, but at some point I would love to try. 

How much fun was appearing on Sesame Street last year? Do you get recognized by preschoolers (or their parents!) now?

Sesame Street was the highlight of my year…or many years :). I, of course, watched Sesame Street as a kid and in fact, in high school, I had the opportunity to go down to their sets and meet Big Bird and Mr. Snuffleupagus! The experience brought tears to my eyes and now laughter when I watch it with my son.  


Photo credit: Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago


An Insider's Guide to THE BARBER OF SEVILLE

Video and audio previews, articles, and more at Lyric's Insider's Guide to The Barber of Seville.

Below is your complete guide to all things Barber. Lyric Opera of Chicago's brand-new production of The Barber of Seville  runs February 1-28. 


Watch Lyric's official video trailer for The Barber of Seville  (above). 

The barber Figaro (Nathan Gunn) is the ultimate fixer, running around solving everyone's problems and boasting about it, "Figaro, Figaro, Figaro!" He involves himself in a love triangle, helping Count Almaviva (Alek Shrader) woo the beautiful Rosina (Isabel Leonard) away from her old lecherous guardian Dr. Bartolo, who keeps her under lock and key. All hell breaks loose not once but twice—first, when Almaviva disguises himself as a drunken soldier, and then when he presents himself as a replacement for Rosina's supposedly indisposed music teacher, Don Basilio. Find out who gets the girl in this delightful farce! Read the complete plot synopsis.


Watch "Patter Up!" with Isabel Leonard, who makes her Lyric debut as Rosina (above).


Watch a preview with general director Anthony Freud, music director Sir Andrew Davis, and creative consultant Renée Fleming (above).


Figaro pays a visit to Dr. Opera (above). 

Rossini's Biggest Hit
By Jack Zimmerman
According to opera lore, Gioachino Rossini liked to compose in bed. Occasionally he’d drop a sheet of completed manuscript on the floor, and rather than throw back the covers and get up to retrieve it, he’d simply compose a new page. The composing-in-bed story sounds farfetched, until you listen to Rossini’s music. Just a few bars of Il barbiere di Siviglia are all it takes to realize that music simply poured out of the man. READ MORE

A Conversation with Director Rob Ashford
By Roger Pines
This production marks your eagerly awaited operatic debut. Have you been going to opera most of your life, or are you a new convert?
When I was in college in Pittsburgh, I danced in the corps de ballet at Pittsburgh Opera – that was my first taste of it. Then, when I moved to New York, one of my first jobs was dancing at the Met for a year. My first show there was Hal Prince’s production of Faust. I feel as if my operatic education happened in the Met canteen, sitting with other dancers and seeing everyone in costume – that was where I felt I began to learn. READ MORE

Learn more about Rossini as a foodie and Rossini's music in pop culture

The Barber of Seville Discovery Series

Jack-of-all-trades barber gets into the thick of things with a starry-eyed young couple and a lecherous old uncle. Alek Shrader (Almaviva), Isabel Leonard (Rosina), and conductor Michele Mariotti talk about Rossini’s comedic gift to us all.

Download (right click and "Save Target As" / "Save Link As")

The Barber of Seville Audio Preview

Recordings used by permission of EMI Classics.



“Figaro! Figaro! Figaro!” Rossini and Pop Culture

Think you haven't heard Rossini? Think again. The composer currently has more than 500 credits (and counting!) on the Internet Movie Database. Here are just a handful of examples of Rossini's music in pop culture - proving that even centuries later, his work is timeless.


Think you haven't heard Rossini? Think again. Rossini might have given up on composing relatively early in his life (read more about his post-retirement gastronomic pursuits), but his music lives on…the composer currently has more than 500 credits (and counting!) on the Internet Movie Database.

Here are just a handful of examples of Rossini's music in pop culture - proving that even centuries later, his work is timeless. To hear one of Rossini's greatest works live on stage, do not miss The Barber of Seville at Lyric, running from February 1 to 28. 

The Barber of Seville 

Undoubtedly Rossini's most popular opera, excerpts from the comic masterpiece The Barber of Seville have been feature in films, TV shows, and cartoons for decades.

Perhaps the most recognizable example is the Looney Tunes classic "Rabbit of Seville." Rossini's overture provides the backdrop for a classic Bugs Bunny-Elmer Fudd confrontation.


However, this isn't the only time Bugs encountered Rossini. The famous "Largo al Factotum" aria is prominently featured in "Long Haired Hare," when Bugs Bunny's banjo distracts irritable opera singer Giovanni Jones.


For those of who love Seinfeld, one of the sitcom's most famous episodes couples the drama of Jerry attempting to change barbers with music from the overture.


The Barber of Seville is not just for cartoons and comedy. One of the opera's most famous arias was used in Citizen Kane. Newspaper magnate and megalomaniac Charles Foster Kane attempts to mold his second wife into an opera star, with disastrous results, perfectly illustrated by the use of Rosina's famous aria, "Una voce poco fa."


William Tell 

Vying with The Barber of Seville as the most-referenced Rossini composition is the overture to William Tell, the composer's last opera. It was the famous theme song for The Lone Ranger series on radio and later on television-so much so that you can't hear this music without thinking of galloping horses. "Hi-ho, Silver, away!"


And going back to the early days of Disney, Mickey Mouse channeled Rossini with the short "The Band Concert," released in 1935.



The Thieving Magpie  

Featuring a catchy waltz tune, The Thieving Magpie overture has been used in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, the cult cartoon favorite Ren & Stimpy, and more. Recently, the BBC's Sherlock-a modern adaptation of the classic Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories-made brilliant use of the overture in a robbery scene.  


(Lyric Opera of Chicago does not own copyrights to any of the above videos.)


Rossini's Second Act

Gioachino Rossini is one of opera’s most beloved composers—writing 39 operas in his first 37 years before abruptly retiring to pursue his second passion: food!


Gioachino Rossini is one of opera's most beloved composers—writing 39 operas in his first 37 years, including The Barber of Seville, La donna del Lago, and William Tell. However, after the premiere of William Tell, Rossini abruptly retired from composing and gave full expression to his second passion—food.

He spent the rest of his life—40 years!—as a celebrated gourmand. As one of the top foodies of the day, he was close friend of noted Parisian chef Antonin Carême, who he met while studying in Paris. The two of them had a unique version of a pen-pal correspondence: Carême would send Rossini pâté or another specialty item, and Rossini would reply with a short aria as thanks.

Rossini's culinary reputation grew so large that the phrase "alla Rossini"—most often signifying some combination of liver, foie gras, and truffles in a dish—became appended to creations by many chefs, including the famous Tournedos Rossini preparation of filet mignon.

Before you come and see the fabulous new production of The Barber of Seville  here at Lyric (opening on Saturday, February 1), indulge in some of these rich Rossini-inspired recipes. As the composer himself once said, "I know of no more admirable occupation than eating." 

Tournedos Rossini 


In this most famous of all Rossini-named dishes, filet mignon is accompanied by truffles, foie gras, and a very rich sauce. (Recipe from The New York Times)


Macaroni à la Rossini


In this recipe that is dictated by the composer himself, pasta sheets are layered with mushrooms, truffles, and ham in a tomato-champagne-cream sauce. (Recipe from NPR. Note that "macaroni" actually indicates flat pasta sheets, similar to a lasagna.) 





Cannelloni alla Rossini

A modern update of the composer's macaroni dish that swaps out the mushrooms and ham for a mixture of liver, chicken, veal, and pork with both a tomato and cream-based sauce.  (Recipe from Saveur).



Coupe Rossini



Created by the San Francisco Opera for their opening night gala, this dessert pays tribute to the composer with a rich mascarpone mousse paired with delicious fresh berries. We think Rossini would have approved. (Recipe from


Rossini Cocktail


A delightful take on the Bellini, featuring strawberries (instead of the traditional peaches) paired with prosecco and Grand Marnier. (Recipe by Ina Garten, from


To learn more about Rossini's prolific but brief composing career and lengthy retirement, read this excellent New York Times article by Zachary Woolfe from 2011. 


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