Isabel Leonard: Entry to Our World

She came. She saw. She conquered. Well, we knew it wasn’t going to be Petula Clark singing “Downtown”, as one picture of her suggests before a closer look, dressed in silken black, high heels dangled over arm of leather opulence in total decay,  thickly padded chair supporting a post-modern diva in splendid youth.  This was the picture. IsabeLeonard1

And I knew I didn’t know her. She was at home, preeminently at home. She, like her domain, came before us and will be here after. An old friend she’d known since college days, from perhaps a decade or more, Vlad  Iftinka from Romania originally, was a marvel: the figure of a Swiss clockmaker keeping pristine, crystalline time, formally addressing the keyboard of a piano that played itself to ethereal sounds and utterances, and messages strangely understandable.

It’s your turn, now… you were there. You saw. You came. You understood… something. When, for example, did you first, or maybe the twentieth time, detect your picture in the dramatic swirl that was Saturday night, January 9 at the Tryon Fine Arts Center. Not that I could, and I don’t want to steal your thunder, but sometimes it’s hard to begin. So I’ll launch my boat first, knowing yours will follow, in some form at least…perhaps not written, but just thought through. I always fear making a clumsy start, but I’ve learned that any is monumental.

For me, the concert was a collision of time, a colliding of worlds. The program was that. That’s not what I’m getting at.  But, going back, now, I knew no more about the woman in the chair than I would a Plantagenet or a rock star. Imagine the Argentinian mother, musical, with artistic temperament, too, and a PhD in physics, a supportive father steeped in visual arts, living in cosmopolitan, upscale Manhattan, but leaving them behind from cancer when Isabel was a teenager. Imagine all the opportunities, the drive to avail them, the years of dance, of drawing, of theater, of singing for just the fun of it. Imagine the grief. Then imagine the five year old son around whom her private world revolves, whether he is travelling beside her or not…and I really didn’t know anything about that. IsabelLeonard2


So I asked my friends, “Will you help me with this picture?” And they did. Where was the talent taking this woman; who was she; why so many places, so many roles, so many personas, so many languages? Who is she, playing Ada next month or two in Philadelphia in “Cold Mountain”, about terrain we in Tryon could walk to and remember the Confederate past? How could the woman in the chair do this? There is a soul here. She is very, very gifted in showing us to ourselves. She is a friend… to us all. How was she a friend to you? What thrill or encouragement or inspiration or observation did you take away from the evening? Tell us all, if you feel like it. We’ll mull it over and discuss it, perhaps in private, perhaps not. We’ll clap for each other, wondering whether it’s appropriate, like Saturday night, when it didn’t matter at all.

The titans had come as family.

1 thought on “Isabel Leonard: Entry to Our World”

  1. Thanks, Rex, for your thoughtful take on this spectacular concert. You specifically asked some of us to chime in, so here goes!

    I was totally charmed by Isabel’s disarming “realness”, simply being who she is, sharing her enthusiasms and even her vulnerability, as in declining to sing a piece lest she stumble between languages/translations.

    As a trained singer, of course I was especially conscious of her technique. I was mesmerized by her breath control, her flawless diction, and the shape her mouth took on to enhance intonation as she colored phrases. One moment stands out in particular: the last (I think it was the last) “pieta” in “O mio babbino caro. Isabel hovered lovingly, pleadingly, over that high A flat, tenderly at first, then swelling with impassioned urgency. Pieta — translation: “pity”. We didn’t need the translation. It was all right there in her voice, breathtakingly poignant, beautiful beyond description.

    And Vlad Iftinka: Wow! The consummate accompanist, effortlessly anticipating Isabel’s every phrase, lingering when she lingered, balancing her dynamics — the perfect partner, without which it would have been a very different, more clinical performance. I loved watching him, the way he addressed the piano, his good humor and self-effacing spirit so clearly evident. Again, there was one moment that crystallized his artistry for me, and that was his playing of the de Falla Asturiana, which called for incredible finesse and dynamic control. His pianissimos were astonishing.

    Rereading your thoughts, Rex, I think you nailed it when you said Isabel ” is very, very gifted in showing us to ourselves.” My mind covered a lot of personal territory as I listened to her sing. In the end, isn’t that what great music is about: helping us integrate our experiences and make the most of this precious life we have been given.

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