Opera Interview: ANTHONY LEÓN (Now Appearing in LA Opera’s Don Giovanni)

Post image for Opera Interview: ANTHONY LEÓN (Now Appearing in LA Opera’s Don Giovanni)

by Michael M. Landman-Karny on October 3, 2023

in Interviews,Music,Theater-Los Angeles

Anthony León, a 27-year-old tenor of American-Cuban and Columbian descent, hails from Riverside, California. His journey into the world of opera is nothing short of remarkable, marked by a childhood infused with musical influences.

León’s early connection with music blossomed when, at the tender age of two, he memorized Luciano Pavarotti’s iconic aria “La Donna è mobile” from Verdi’s Rigoletto. This prodigious talent led him to become a cherished performer at his parents’ gatherings, where he would captivate audiences with his youthful rendition of the aria. Despite this early passion for singing, his formal musical education initially veered towards the piano and saxophone, which he diligently pursued for 14 years. A different career path seemed to beckon, with aspirations of becoming a doctor at the forefront of his plans. However, fate had other plans for León. It was at the age of eighteen, following his first voice lesson, that he had a revelation about his true calling in life.

After completing his bachelor’s degree at La Sierra University, León’s exceptional vocal talents garnered him acceptance into every major voice program across the nation. Ultimately, he chose to refine his craft at the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music, where he became a student of renowned voice instructor Bradley Williams.

Anthony León, the winner of both Opera and Zarzuela prizes at Operalia 2022

In 2022, León achieved what could be described as an operatic “grand slam.” He secured the Grand Prize and the Zarzuela Prize at the prestigious Operalia competition, solidifying his status as a rising star in the world of opera. The following year, in 2023, he continued to ascend the opera ranks as a Grand Finals winner at the Laffont Competition hosted at the illustrious Metropolitan Opera.

In 2022, León also became a part of the LA Opera Young Artist Program. His recent performances include a memorable rendition of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 alongside the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. At LA Opera, Mr. León graced the stage in various roles, including Roderigo in Verdi’s Otello, Spoletta in Puccini’s Tosca, and Normanno in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor.

For his performance in LA Opera’s Don Giovanni, Stage and Cinema wrote, his “role debut as Don Ottavio was spectacular. In his rendition of “Il Mio Tesoro” (“My Treasure”), a veritable vocal obstacle course, he flawlessly executed every point with a remarkable level of sophistication and grace. His light lyric tenor instrument showed beauty, freedom of tone, and outstanding breath control. While León’s repertoire has so far been wide-ranging (from Baroque to Verdi), the right role choices could launch him into becoming one of the finest lyric tenors of our time, leaving the heavier Verdi and Puccini roles for later in his career.”

Michael M. Landman-Karny interviewed Anthony León on a non-performance day in Los Angeles.

Anthony León as Don Ottavio in LA Opera’s Don Giovanni (Cory Weaver)

Michael M. Landman-Karny: Congratulations on your exciting debut as Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni. Your beautiful rendition of the aria “Il Mio Tesoro” is a veritable obstacle course which you navigated effortlessly.

Anthony Leon: Thank you.

MLK: You were trained on piano and saxophone. Are there any lessons from playing the saxophone that carried over into your singing?

AL: It is a fantastic question because I started piano when I was four years old and eleven years old when I started saxophone. I was getting ready to join the band in school, and I was using my grandfather’s 83-year-old king saxophone. I sat down and started to play, and my teacher said, stop, stop. And I said, well, what happened? I had barely started playing. And he said, “you don’t know how to breathe.” That was the first lesson before I even started playing the saxophone was that my saxophone teacher taught me how to breathe. And that, of course, has helped me so much when I started singing.  I try not to ring my own bell, but my appoggiaturas are rather good due to the breath control I had already learned as a sax player. I am grateful for my now-deceased teacher Charlie Williams for teaching me breath control.

MLK: You also play the saxophone in your recital, along with singing from the American standard songbook. How does your facility in the American standard songbook apply to your operatic singing?

AL: Playing jazz and knowing the American standards allows me to free up my creativity and be improvisatory and be on my toes musically. Classical music can sometimes be overbearing with its rules, and it helps me sometimes to come home and listen to jazz, getting my mind into a different place.

Guanqun Yu as Donna Anna and Anthony León as Don Ottavio
in LA Opera’s Don Giovanni (Cory Weaver)

MLK: Getting back to classical — you played Don Curzio in LA Opera’s Marriage of Figaro and Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni. Mozart is a natural fit for your lyric voice at your age. What other Mozart roles would you like to sing?

AL: So far, I have played a couple of Dons [Don Curzio in Marriage of Figaro and Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni]. I do not know if there is another Don that I could play in the Mozart repertoire <chuckles>. Don Curzio, a small role, was a great warmup for doing Mozart on the big stage. It is a fun role, and it is full of Mozart’s personality. As a young voice student, you get assigned Mozart early on because it is an incredible tool to teach you about vocal technique and style. If you can sing Mozart well, you can sing most other things well. For opera singers, Mozart is medicine for the voice. I would like to sing Mozart as much as I can- Ferrando in Cosi Fan Tutte and Belmonte in Abduction from the Seraglio are on my wish list. I am going to wait a few years to sing [the heavier role of] Tamino in Magic Flute, however.

MLK: On a European tour, you sang two roles, Giove and Amphinome, in Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria with the baroque ensemble I Gemelli. Will you be taking on more of the baroque repertoire?

AL: I will be going back next summer to the Aix-en-Provence festival and will be singing the bigger role of Telemaco in Il ritorno d’Ulisse. The touring production of Il ritorno in 2021 that I was in took place right after the end of the pandemic. [Renowned Chilean-Swiss conductor] Emiliano Gonzalez-Toro saw my video on YouTube and sent me a Facebook message. I first thought it was a prank. Next thing you know I am touring France and recording the album in Paris. It was an amazing experience. I made great friends on the tour and I’m excited to see the album winning awards in Europe. [Hear it on Spotify.]

MLK: You mentioned in another interview that Plácido Domingo was an early influence. Other than Domingo, which of the tenors of today and/or yesteryear inspire you the most?

AL: Most opera singers love to listen to opera, but it is a particularly strong tradition among tenors. As tenors we are part of a “cool” club. We love to get together and talk tenor stuff and annoy everyone else <laughs>. The media likes to play up rivalries but we are all friends. Domingo feels like a long lost uncle because my parents used to play him all the time in our home. My biggest inspirations are Pavarotti and Corelli comes a close second.

There are a few young tenors that are up and coming that are inspire me, notably Jonathan Tetelman and Freddie De Tommaso. Freddie is a friend whom I got to hang out with in Salzburg this summer.

Anthony León as Spoletta in LA Opera's Tosca (Cory Weaver)

MLK: What roles would you like to sing in the near future and what roles would you like to sing later in your career, other than Mozart.

AL: I believe my voice will progress into the bel canto repertoire. Nemorino in L’Elisir d’Amore. Alfredo in La Traviata, and Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor are three marquee roles that are on my list.

MLK: Both you and fellow Los Angeles Young Artist Sarah Saturnino won grand prizes at the Met competition.  You both knocked it out of the park with technically difficult pieces — you with “Il Mio Tesoro” (Don Giovanni) and Del Labbro Il Canto (Falstaff), and Sarah with “O Don Fatale” (Don Carlo) and “Mon Coeur S’ouvre at a voix”(Samson and Delilah). You both were superbly prepared. Who helped you prepare for your competition?

AL: I am lucky that I have a wonderful team around me, and it has been a process of finding the right people and being in the right place. Dr. Nino Sanikidze, the LA Opera Young Artists vocal coach, has been instrumental in coaching me and helping me pick the right repertoire. Dr. Stephen King, the head of vocal instruction for LA Opera and my master’s degree teacher, Bradley Williams, also helped me over the course of two years to get ready for Operalia and the Metropolitan Opera competitions.

MLK: Let’s move on from artistic team to management. Dominic Domingo at Askonas Holt is your manager. You are in great company with the other world-class singers that he manages including Simon Keenlyside, Mane Goloyan and Angel Blue. How did Dominic end up as your manager?

AL: Six years ago, I sang in the Palm Springs Opera Guild competition. That was one of the first big competitions I sang in. I was 21 years old and still in college. Dominic was there as one of the jury members. At the time he was working for the San Diego Opera. He gave me his email and he said, “Stay in touch, because I was really impressed with what I heard today.” And cut to … 5 years later, he went through a couple of career changes and became an agent. I kept on the path and ended up at Santa Fe Opera for the 2nd summer season as a summer apprentice in 2022. The Artistic Administration staff at Santa Fe Opera spoke highly of me to him. He called me one day and said he was coming to Santa Fe to hear me perform and discuss representation. He did remember me from the Palm Springs competition, and it was great to re-connect on a personal and professional level. He had just become an agent. Having him as my manager felt like it was meant to be. He is a great guy and knows everybody in the opera world. He routinely flies all over the world  to see his singers.

MLK: Since you already have a high-powered agent and a “name”, do you feel pushed to sing heavier roles earlier in their career?

AL: My teachers and coaches have drilled in me over the years the vocal risks of singing something too heavy too soon. In general, I have not felt the pressure to sing heavier roles, but I did have to turn down two roles which were too heavy for this stage of my vocal development.

MLK: What is on your upcoming calendar?

AL: I will be singing The Pearl Fishers in concert at the Cologne Opera in 2024. There is also a 2025 full production of “Pearl Fishers” in Europe that I cannot reveal details on at this point.

I am also starring in the new opera The Shell Case at the Dutch National Opera. [Pulitzer-prize winning composer] Ellen Reid, an amazing composer and a wonderful human being, invited me to play one of the leads in the opera and she is writing the role to fit my voice. I feel honored to be premiering this new work and to be co-starring with Julia Bullock.

I am also covering Count Almaviva in LA Opera’s Barber of Seville for which I have already started rehearsing. It is an amazing cast, and it is a pleasure to observe them at work. I am also playing two small roles in El Último Sueño de Frida y Diego at Los Angeles Opera. [See Stage and Cinema‘s review of Sueño in its San Diego world premiere.]

MLK: Thank you for taking the time to chat with us; we look forward to seeing more of your work.

for more info, visit Anthony León

Leave a Comment