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