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

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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.

 

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Tweets galore about Lyric's 2014-15 season

Opera fans around the world were filled with delight at the announcement of Lyric's Diamond Anniversary season and shared their feelings on Twitter!

Opera fans around the world were filled with delight at the announcement of Lyric's Diamond Anniversary season! Read on for some of the day's best tweets—including from Don Giovanni director Robert Falls. (Looking for more details about the great operas to come? Here's a short recap of the 2014-15 season announcement press conference). 

 

Lyric1415SeasonAnnouncement

A Glittering Diamond Anniversary Season!

Today, Lyric's Anthony Freud and Sir Andrew Davis, with creative consultant Renée Fleming joining from New York,  announced the complete lineup of operas, musicals, recitals, recitals, and other special events that make up the spectacular 2014-15 season.

SeasonAnnouncement

In the continuing subzero temperatures, Lyric Opera of Chicago gave opera fans something to look forward to—its Diamond Anniversary. Today, Lyric's Anthony Freud and Sir Andrew Davis, with creative consultant Renée Fleming joining from New York,  announced the complete lineup of operas, musicals, recitals, and other special events that make up the spectacular 2014-15 season.

Lyric's 60th anniversary season is a blockbuster lineup of new productions, returning stars, and reinventions of perennial favorites. Today would have been Mozart's 258th birthday, so it was only fitting to announce that a new production of Don Giovanni—directed by the legendary Robert Falls and conducted by Sir Andrew Davis—kicks off next season. This production, running from September 27-October 29, features Mariusz Kwiecien in the title role and Marina Rebeka, Ana María Martínez, and Ryan Opera Center alum Andriana Chuchman as the trio of women he seduces. Don Giovanni also opened Lyric's first season in 1954!

Creative consultant Renée Fleming shines in Capriccio  (October 6-28)  as the Countess, which she was quick to point out is one of her favorite roles. Fleming has performed this role many times with Anne Sofie von Otter (Clairon) and Bo Skovhus (the Count). They are joined by William Burden, Auden Iversen in his Lyric debut, and Peter Rose with Sir Andrew Davis on the podium for this elegant masterpiece.

Verdi's dramatic Il Trovatore  (October 27-November 29) returns with the David McVicar production, with Leah Hausman as revival director/choreographer and Asher Fisch conducting. Trovatore is a massive spectacle that has some of the largest sets and cast requirements of all the operas in Lyric's current arsenal. The principals are Yonghoon Lee, Ryan Opera Center alumna Amber Wagner, the phenomenal Stephanie Blythe, and Ryan Opera Center alum Quinn Kelsey.

Eric Owens, who was just announced as Wotan for Lyric's upcoming Ring cycle, graces the stage in the title role of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess (November 17-December 20)—which Freud considers "one of the greatest of all 20th century operas" with Adina Aaron debuting as Bess. Jermaine Smith, Eric Greene, and Angel Blue (also a debut), round out the main cast in this revival of Francesca Zambello's acclaimed production. Fomer Lyric Opera Orchestra principal trombone Ward Stare returns after this season's triumphant Die Fledermaus to conduct.

Sondra Radvanovsky returns to Lyric as the title role in Donizetti's Anna Bolena  (December 6-January 16, 2015), a work which Freud described as "a dream of history." Jamie Barton, who just won the Cardiff Singer of the World competition, portrays Jane Seymour. Bryan Hymel makes his Lyric debut as Percy and John Relyea is Henry VIII. This new Lyric production is directed by Kevin Newbury, who is also directing the upcoming Lyric commission Bel Canto, and Patrick Summers makes his podium debut.

Puccini's Tosca is one of the monuments in operatic repertoire. Lyric gives it a new production directed by John Caird, who directed this season's Parsifal, with an intriguing double cast (January 24-March 14, 2015). Tatiana Serjan (making her debut) and Hui He share the title role, with Misha Didyk and Jorge de Leon both debuting as Cavaradossi, and Evgeny Nikitin (debut) and Mark Delavan appearing as the villainous Scarpia. Both casts are led by conductor Dmitri Jurowski, also making his debut.

Wagner's lush and melodic Tannhäuser  (January 24-March 14, 2015) explores the dramatic tension between cerebral and erotic love. Taking on one of Wagner's most memorable scores, Sir Andrew Davis leads a stellar cast that includes Johan Botha, Amber Wagner (appearing for a second time in the season) as Elisabeth, Michaela Schuster as Venus, and Gerald Finley as Wolfram, which Freud calls "absolute dream casting."

The last opera of the season is Weinberg's The Passenger, the powerful and gripping work that tells a story of the Holocaust through two women—Auschwitz prisoner Marta and her sadistic guard Liese—running from February 24-March 15, 2015.  Though the opera was announced on January 17 along with the new Ring cycle (read more about that special announcement), the full cast was formalized with Ryan Opera Center alum Amanda Majeski, Daveda Karanas, Brandon Jovanovich, and Joshua Hopkins creating the four main characters: Marta, Liese, Liese's husband Walter, and Marta's fiancé Tadeusz.

Finally, Carousel continues the American Musical Theater Initiative, running from April 10-26, 2015 with the remarkable Denyce Graves making her role debut as Nettie Fowler. Rob Ashford, who is making his Lyric and operatic debut later this week with The Barber of Seville, returns to direct this most operatic of Rodgers & Hammerstein's musicals featuring such beloved songs as "If I Loved You" and "You'll Never Walk Alone." Additional casting details to be announced soon!

Freud and Davis were also able to announce the following very special programming for the 60th anniversary:

  • 60th anniversary gala concert - Renée Fleming headlines a very special tribute to Lyric's first 60 years on November 1. Fleming will perform a special collaboration with jazz legend Ramsey Lewis-which Fleming said had been on his wish list for years. Also appearing are opera world luminaries Susan Graham, Ana María Martínez, Sondra Radvanovsky, Johan Botha, Eric Owens, and Samuel Ramey. A very special surprise celebrity emcee (start guessing now!) will also be on hand to host the evening.
  • The Magic Victrola  - an all new family presentation! For those who loved Popcorn & Pasquale and are looking forward to the upcoming The Family Barber, in 2014-15 Lyric presents The Magic Victrola, a kid-friendly introduction to opera that features music by Verdi, Puccini, and more on January 17, 2015! A presentation of Lyric Unlimited.
  • A brand-new mariachi opera! Lyric is proud to host the world premiere of El Pasado Nunca Se Termina (The Past is Never Finished), by Jose "Pepe" Martínez and Leonard Foglia  on March 28 and 29, 2015. This story weaves together Halley's Comet and the eve of the Mexican Revolution into a boiling clash of cultures and generations that it still playing out today.  A presentation of Lyric Unlimited.
  • Lang Lang returns! After playing a dual role at this year's Grammy Awards—rocking with Metallica and introducing the "In Memoriam" segment—Lang Lang returns to the Civic Opera House for his only Chicago-area appearance in 2015 on May 9, 2015.

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