Generally, the Mosher Guest Recital piece of the Music Academy of the West programming puzzle showcases artists of international repute in the prized, intimate setting of Hahn Hall. Such was the case last Thursday, July 11, with the first of four Mosher evenings this summer, featuring celebrated mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, but with more local/Academy angles attached than usual. The Grammy-winning Leonard ranks highly among the many success stories among the Marilyn Horne–led voice program alumni (’05), and, at the 2015 Santa Fe Opera, she premiered the lead role in Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain, this summer’s grand Music Academy opera production.
And in the Hahn house, Leonard also had a way of making her work — on themes of Ravel, Falla, and a second half of all-Leonard Bernstein — feel next-door-neighborly, along with her requisite sublimity, tonal riches, and technical mastery. Her personable stage manner found her speaking and singing to the choir of students/fellows “in the second row” and inviting an audience singalong on an encore of “Somewhere.”
Abetted by accomplished pianist (and, briefly, singer) John Churchwell, Leonard offered a program amounting to a summery and angst-free musical meal, in French, Spanish and Bernstein-ian English — mostly from his Broadway life and library. Ravel’s “Asie,” from Shéhérazade, segued smoothly across the border to Falla’s folkloric “Siete canciones populares española,” and across the Atlantic for a hearty sampler from her Bernstein book. We knew we were on American turf from the first bluesy gliss on “A Little Bit in Love.” Leonard owned this material, through the jaunt of “I Feel Pretty” to the anti-war lament “So Pretty” to the sly Irving Berlin birthday ode “My Twelve Tone Melody” to the melodic luster of “Some Other Time.”