Twelve Questions

Sarah Daniell poses 12 questions to well-known faces

Twelve Questions with Anna Leese

Napier-born soprano Anna Leese, 31, has performed with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Jose Carreras and Andrea Bocelli. She is in Auckland for the NBR New Zealand Opera's production of Smetana's comic masterpiece, The Bartered Bride. Leese lives in Italy with her fiance.

Soprano Anna Leese. Photo / Supplied
Soprano Anna Leese. Photo / Supplied

1. Give me a reason why someone who has never been to the opera should go?

Sense is the key word. I think we over-think it. Opera is there to make people feel. It's about being open - open in your ears and mind. The music is so complex and it can be really satisfying. As an art form, there is such a huge payoff for your senses. And this opera takes you to the highest highs and the lowest lows. There's some serious circus acrobatics and a ballerina who dances en pointe.

2. Who enjoys opera in Europe - who goes?

It's much more part of their lives. It's normal to get into taxi and say, "I'm an opera singer," and the driver says, "I saw La Boheme last week."

3. When are you reckless?

After a season and I have two weeks in my diary where there are no bookings. I can be reckless on stage, and I think, "I'm going to give it everything." In my time off though is when I am more reckless. I like climbing mountains and doing physical things that don't involve me thinking about my larynx.

The larynx is the boss. It gets so boring. But my vocal health is vital.

4. What thing must you always do before you step out on stage?

I'm not superstitious but for me it's always important to keep my phone on me backstage. I need to keep in touch when I'm in the theatre. It can be such a lonely job. You get so little feedback. People forget you need reassurance that you're okay. I need that connection. Also my partner is in a different time zone and I need to text him to say, "I'm about to go on stage". I need him to know that.

5.Who is the biggest diva you've had to share the stage with?

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. I've performed with Jose Carreras and he is a gentleman and is aware. I far prefer to make friends out of my colleagues than work in a bubble.

6. What must you avoid or be doomed?

Roles that stretch you in ways you are not vocally suited to. Like taking on a Wagner role when you're a light soprano. All people want to hear when you're a new voice is where your voice can go. But it's dangerous. Also loud situations can be bad. Sometimes we are required to go to functions and they are usually in great big bars and you end up shouting for an hour. Then you can't sing for three days.

7. Whisky or honey - or both?

If I get sick I lock myself away in my hotel room with a jar of honey and stop talking. [Dame] Malvina's secret before she goes on stage is whisky. Just a little one.

8. What do you least miss about NZ?

I know you get this anywhere in the world. But I was really surprised to see The Ridges. I'm a bit disappointed NZ has stooped to that level. I thought we were better than that. Oh and I don't miss the cold houses. My mum lives in Dunedin and my dad in Palmerston North. My dad wakes up in the winter and opens the door outside. I have to hide in my bedroom.

9. What is your greatest temptation on first touching down in NZ?

A pie. It has to be a steak and cheese pie. But these days pies give me such a guilt complex. It's the first thing I'd like to go for but I'm more likely to have a flat white. New Zealand coffee is so much better than Italian. And my partner, who is Italian, agrees.

10. When did you last cry and over what?

At a run through last week, when Marenka [the bartered bride] thinks her beau has sold her. I quite often cry in rehearsals. I have cried on stage. You have to go with it but it's not ideal because when your tear ducts are going, all the moisture goes to your face, rather than your larynx.

11. What's the hardest thing about being in love?

Being away from the person you love. I constantly feel guilty about having this job. I feel I'm depriving someone else because I'm going off doing exciting things and they're left behind doing the same things. I've been away three months now and it's hard.

12. Define beauty.

It could be the nature of the person. I think it's someone who is secure and who has accepted themselves but is aware of their limitations. It's about being open to criticism and your own emotions. It's beautiful when someone naturally, instinctively thinks of someone before himself or herself. It can fill a room with beauty. Emotionally, I feel a bit stuck. I'd like to be able to more easily just embrace someone, spontaneously. When other people can break through that difficulty - just smile in an unguarded way and be open and not self-conscious - it's beautiful.

- NZ Herald

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