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Opera singer Isabel Leonard has an unconventional approach to wellness

Sasha Brown-Worsham


Sasha Brown-Worsham

Sasha Brown-Worsham has written for dozens of publications over the course of her years as a journalist and blogger. She lives outside NYC with her three children, husband, and multiple pets. She is working on her first novel.

How an opera singer's exercise routine could teach you more than you think

Two-time Grammy Award-winning opera singer Isabel Leonard doesn't tend to have a lot of free time. As a world-renowned singer, her work keeps her on the road for much of the year. But she is also a mother of one, who has to keep her energy up both for her son and also for her stage presence.

Last month, Leonard starred in Le Nozze di Figaro at the Metropolitan Opera House, a show that is over three hours long and involves a great deal of movement and cardio. Being sedentary is simply not an option for Leonard, who is appearing next week (on May 5) on the main stage of Carnegie Hall to celebrate its 125th anniversary. By the end of the month, she will be on the West Coast, performing as Claire in a semi-staged event of On the Town with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra on May 25, 26, 28 and 29.

It's not a schedule that leaves a lot of time for wellness, but Leonard has no other option. "For me, what I have realized in the last year or so, in order to sing, my body has to be in the prime singing state." Since much of Leonard's early training came when she was a young with the stamina and body of the dancer she was, she has to keep in shape to keep her voice strong. And that's not always easy.

The key ingredient, Leonard says, is sleep. Always sleep. At least eight hours. Of course, with an active 5-year-old son, that is not always practical. "I go through my son’s bedtime routine. He’s asleep by 7:30, 8:00 at the latest," Leonard says. "Then I usually fall asleep with him and then crawl into my bedroom. Then I'm up. And I don’t go to bed until about 1. Then I'm up again at 6:30 in the morning with my son."

When sleep goes, Leonard says she notices. She feels sluggish, and her performances aren't as strong. So sleep is always the goal. Even above fitness when she has to choose.

Beyond sleep, fitness isn't always about being able to meet a personal trainer and religious devotion to any one workout routine. A lot of how fit she needs to be depends on her role too. When she plays the role of Cherubino in Figaro, like last month at the Met, jumping out the window and doing pushups onstage are part of the show. That requires a level of fitness she needs to work up to.

"A month or so before rehearsals, I take the stairs over the elevator and walk more and start adding in more exercise," says Leonard. "I'll take a handful of SoulCycle classes or walk home from rehearsals instead of taking a car."

In between performances, it's really all about balance. “I try to keep a rule that I have to be home to put my son to bed no less than three or four days of the week," she says. "That leaves me with the other half of the week to play with. Sometimes I take one or even three or four exercise classes. I shock my body in different ways.”

And fitness is not only about actually working out. Sometimes it is about wellness in general. A massage. Meditation. "I try to take some time for myself when I can," she says.

As any working mom knows, it's not always easy. But it's a necessity. Even if it means turning your commute into your daily workout, making sure you find a way to take care of yourself is vital, Leonard says. "That's what keeps you happy in life. It's what keeps you positive and able to laugh at the little things."


Here is a cute performance of Leonard with Elmo :

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