As the pandemic persisted, some actors and musicians felt the world closing in on them.
“Most of us went through a period of depression,” soprano Isabel Leonard (shown here, left) told the Television Critics Association. “I think we … felt sort of at odds with our existence.”
Working from home may be fine for people pounding on laptops; it’s less satisfying if you sing arias in packed concert halls. Leonard did some teaching, some video work and some fidgeting.
But she also plan a semi-solution: “Three Divas at Versailles” (10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 8) puts sopranos on a sparse stage in a grand setting – the concert hall of the Palace of Versailles.
That’s on PBS, whose president, Paula Kerger, talks about “celebrating the resiliency of the performing arts.” Kerger cited the recent “Wicked” concert (taped in several cities) … an upcoming John Williams concert (Nov. 12) at the outdoor Tanglewood venue … and the Metropolitan Opera recitals.
With no operas for 18-and-a-half months, the Met had to improvise. It taped 13 recitals, using its stars. “I said, ‘I really want to do a concert with Nadine (Sierra, right) and Ailyn (Perez, center),” Leonard said. “We are all Latinas – strong connections to our families and music.”
Each was born in the U.S., with Latina roots. Leonard is Argentine on her mother’s side, Perez is Mexican on both sides, Sierra is Portuguese (mother) and Puerto Rican (father).
They play to that in the final numbers, singing folk classics backed by Spanish guitar. Earlier, however, the influences are classic European – operatic arias and duets (plus a three-voice number), sung in a symbol of old-world elegance.
“It couldn’t be more beautiful, this gilded palace,” Leonard said. “It felt somewhat surreal. You could feel the ghosts of Versailles around you.”
Certainly, she’s had a privileged life, with a gorgeous voice, movie-star looks and an ideal education – Cathedral School, LaGuarida High (the “Fame” school), a Bachelor’s and Master’s at Juilliard.
But performers – even priviledged ones –grew restless during the pandemic. Performing “is so much of our life (and our) community,” she said.
At home with her son, she began teaching and more – “lots of Zoom calls, lots of interviews, lots of speaking to young people … all over the country.”
Her first opera offer might have seemed like a stretch – “La Boheme” in February in Palm Beach, singing the Musetta role. It “was not part of my repertoire, and I thought, ‘What the heck, We are coming out of a year break; why not try it and do something new?’ It was great fun.”
Then she got the call from the Met. Isolation was ending (again); Versailles was next.