March 06, 2019

Fairytale Heroine: Isabel Leonard returns as Cinderella

Attention, everyone who fell head over heels for Isabel Leonard in her Lyric debut two seasons ago — and that means the entire Lyric audience! You’ll be delighted to know that she’ll be back with us this season as leading lady of Rossini’s Cinderella

There’s a phrase that’s used a lot to describe performers in opera and musical theater – they’ve got the “total package.’” That’s Isabel: as one of the most gorgeous women in opera, she looks every role she sings; her voice is as breathtaking as her appearance; she’s a marvelously instinctive actress; and having studied at the Joffrey Ballet School growing up, she moves with a dancer’s grace.

Isabel has had terrific successes as Cinderella, most recently in Munich and a few months ago in Washington, where she starred in the same production by director Joan Font that she’ll reprise at Lyric. She loves the way that the characters are so wonderfully presented, not just by Rossini himself but in Font’s wonderfully imaginative and witty staging. In this production “I like to think of the sisters and the father as neon — they’re very big, very bright, a little bit edgy. Cinderella and the prince are a little more realistically depicted, their movements are a little more natural, more subdued, which is what visually ties the two of them together in terms of their onstage presence.”

There’s been a trend lately in productions of this opera to make Cinderella very feisty, but Isabel doesn’t really go for that. “She can be upset, she can be hurt, she can get frustrated, but if her ultimately central personality point is that she’s compassionate and forgiving, then she’s going to be that 24 hours a day.”

Lawrence Brownlee will sing Ramiro in his long-awaited company debut as the Prince.

Of course, it’s a very difficult situation that Cinderella is dealing with, declares Isabel, “yet she keeps on plodding forward and is a hopeful person. She doesn’t allow herself to become entirely sad and depressed. It’s in her nature to be hopeful, and that’s what’s beautiful about the opera. We’re all a little cynical now when we think about hope, but there’s something to it when someone really perseveres through their hope, and I think that’s a beautiful idea.”

Isabel adored performing Rossini’s The Barber of Seville with Lawrence Brownlee, who’s partnering her at Lyric in his long-awaited company debut as the Prince. Her word for him onstage is “phenomenal,” and she admires Brownlee’s sense of humor as much as his artistry. Unlike in Barber, “the great thing about Cinderella is that we have an entire duet to sing together!”

Lyric Opera presentation generously made possible by Margot and Josef Lakonishok, The Nelson Cornelius Production Endowment Fund, and PowerShares QQQ.

Coproduction of Houston Grand Opera, Welsh National Opera, Gran Teatre del Liceu, and Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Photos: Joan Guillen, Jared Slater, Scott Suchman (Washington National Opera), Brett Coomer (Houston Grand Opera)