Multiple Grammy Award-winning opera singer, Isabel Leonard continues to thrill audiences both in the opera house and on the concert stage and it’s an honour to interview here here.
Isabel has graced the stages of the Vienna State Opera, Paris Opera, Salzburg Festival, Bavarian State Opera, Carnegie Hall, Glyndebourne Festival, Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Aix-en-Provence Festival, Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, Los Angeles Opera and appeared with some of the foremost conductors of her time: Valery Gergiev, Seiji Ozawa, Antonio Pappano, Charles Dutoit, Gustavo Dudamel, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Yannick Nézét-Seguin, Franz Welser-Möst, Plácido Domingo, Edward Gardner, James Levine, Edo de Waart, James Conlon, Marin Alsop, Sir Andrew Davis, Michele Mariotti, Harry Bicket, Andris Nelsons, and Michael Tilson Thomas with the Vienna Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, and San Francisco Symphony, among others.
I look forward to attending Werther in which American mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard makes her Royal Opera debut as Charlotte Werther later this month (it opens tonight, running until Oct 5th 2019).
Describe a typical day?
A typical rehearsal day, almost at any company, would consist of a full day of rehearsing. If I am home in New York City working, it would be something like this: wake up in time to take my son to school by 8:15 am then head to the Metropolitan Opera, arriving by 9:30 am. I either head for a coffee and some food or practice the music for the day (especially if it’s a new role). Next, I rehearse from 10:30 am-1:30 pm and break for lunch. Sometimes we squeeze in a costume fitting then have another rehearsal from 2:30 pm-5:30 pm. After that’s done, I run home to have dinner with my son, we spend time together and then I put him to sleep. I usually pass out with him as well!
What do you feel are your biggest achievements?
I’m usually really hard on myself and never think I’m doing enough, as a mom, as a singer, etc. For me, getting all the things done that I’m trying to accomplish, whether it’s all of my errands for the day or communicating something I see in a character, while being as best a mother I can be…is an accomplishment. I want to stay open to the things I experience and learn from them but at times that’s not always easy, especially when I’m short on time. Looking from the outside in, I suppose you could say I’ve accomplished a lot but I always see my everything as a continual process…If I could do everything I’ve already ‘accomplished’ again, I would, but I would try to do it better.
What’s in your bag/satchel?
My phone, an extra battery, lavender hand wipes (usually for my son), one of those tiny pots of Vaseline, my wallet, gum, oh and my keys! Haha… hmmmm…reusable water bottle…yep those are the basics I think. I am ALWAYS trying to simplify as much as possible!
What are your ambitions in life?
Ambitions, goals, dreams- they are always changing, I think. Some stay the same, but I believe as you grow older, your priorities change.
I would like to continue to evolve in my career; to branch out as much as I possibly can in the world of music and theatre. I want to be challenged by the best colleagues and directors and I would like to find a way to balance it all, in turn by hopefully creating the most unique experience for my son.
I am adamant he must be his own person. I don’t want him to live in the shadow of my career. I want him to be constantly curious. I always push myself to meet new people outside of the business I’m in, so that I can be a better reference for him as he grows up.
I’ve been a single mother for his entire life which has it’s challenges but to be honest, isn’t as hard as one might think. The world has already changed so much, and children are incredibly wise. We make friends all over the world and I am teaching him as best I can, to understand that family and friends are a great and wonderful thing to have in life. It’s who you are, and how your words match up with your actions, that matters. I’m always trying to teach him to be consistent, strong, and good.
What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career you now know?
I probably wish I’d learned how to speak German.
What advice would you give a budding Opera Singer?
I usually say the same thing to younger singers, which is, get your technique straight. It’s fundamental. For a singer, your instrument needs to be honed carefully.
What do you wish you’d known about motherhood before having kids?
SLEEP!! Haha, I didn’t sleep for the first 10 months. I have no idea how either my son or I survived, frankly. But, that’s the magic of that first year or so I guess. Sleep…and schedule a little time away from your baby. As hard as it may be. Don’t let the guilt get to you. You were a baby-less adult before they came along. So much of your sanity, capability and genuine attention comes from the person you were before the baby arrived. So, at least for me, sometimes you need some adult time away from the little one. I think it’s important.
Also, listen first when they cry. Sometimes we are so tired or frazzled that we respond too quickly…but if you listen and take a breath, you’ll know exactly what they need.
Finally, happiness is…
A day of laughter with my son and friends. Accompanied by good food :).
Read more Wonderful Women interviews in the series.
Photos by Becca Fay