Plano-born soprano Madison Leonard, 27, sang her first Gilda in Verdi’s "Rigoletto" with Seattle Opera in August. Now based outside Zurich, Switzerland, she’s back in her native state to play the lovely but ill-fated Gilda again, this time with Austin Opera in the company’s season opener.
Leonard, who spent her childhood in Idaho, trained at Pepperdine University and Northwestern University, as well as the young artist program at Washington Opera.
She has specialized in the light lyric repertoire: "Susanna, Adina, Norina, Pamina, Nannetta," she jokes about her roles. "All the Inas, Annas and Ettas."
We sat down with her for a chat at Houndstooth Coffee in the Domain Northside.
American-Statesman: What was it like to play such a legendary role for the first time?
Madison Leonard: Full life cycle: apprehensive, excited, nervous again and completely adrenalized and fulfilled. Now I'm back to being a little nervous again here.
What makes Gilda so alluring and demanding?
Every famous soprano of yore sang it. There are approximately 1 trillion recordings. Which leaves me to believe that there's a very high expectation for anyone who sings it. I have to set that aside. I have to give them Madison's version of Gilda, not Joan Sutherland's, June Anderson's or Anna Moffo's Gilda.
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Gilda’s key aria, "Caro Nome," is what everyone anticipates.
The whole aria is like walking on tight wire and everyone's watching you and holding their breath. It can be really heartfelt and special but you first have to learn how to navigate the really tricky acrobatic gestures in the aria.
Gilda spends a lot of time offstage, but then ...
Once things get rolling, the scenes are long and a few are back to back. So the context can make it difficult. Once I'm onstage, I don't leave until I have an argument with my father, fall in love, then get kidnapped — spoiler alert — there's a lot of action, so those respites offstage are quite necessary.
What was it like picking up the role again with Austin Opera?
Day 1 was wonderful. It's easy to tell there's an incredible camaraderie on the staff and artistic team. Which gives you a sense of relief as a singer that there will not be extra stress. Austin is a cool, funky city and I think that will be reflected in the performance experience. I also have a lot of friends in the cast, so it was something of a reunion yesterday. The longer you are in the industry those spider webs of connections get thicker and thicker.