Carmen takes the stage


POSTED: Friday, February 27, 2009

Leann Sandel-Pantaleo has a great job.

“;I get paid to scream, dress up, wear weird stuff and throw myself around on the floor!”; said the mezzo-soprano.





        On stage: 8 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall


Tickets: $29 to $120


Call: 596-7858


She recently took time out before rehearsal for Hawaii Opera Theatre's production of Bizet's “;Carmen”; to talk about her life as an opera singer, and about her title role in HOT's third production of the 2009 season.

Sandel-Pantaleo got her start singing early in life, learning harmonization from her stepfather, who sang in barbershop quartets.

It was in her teens, at summer music camp at Interlochen, Mich., where she learned her first aria. She loved it and later went on to study at Indiana University, where she was told she could go pro.

But she was also warned of the rough life of a professional opera singer by one of her teachers. “;The first thing he said to me was, 'Can you do anything else? Because this life is terrible,'”; she said.

And things were hard for a while. Sandel-Pantaleo left opera for a time and took to singing popular music. “;I ran away to California and got a real job. I worked the 9-to-5 life. But music kept calling me,”; she said.

So she took parts in small theater here and there. And she began working on her technique.

Later, Sandel-Pantaleo was working in Maine and secured an audition with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. It went well, and she became a house singer for a number of years.

These days, she's taking on more roles with different companies around world. After this gig with HOT, she's going back to the Met and then on to San Francisco.

“;There are things about it that are glamorous, and there are things about it that are not so glamorous,”; she said. “;It's a great life for somebody single and young.

“;There's a lot of competition, and if you do succeed, it's so hard. I'm on the road all the time. I have two boys, and a family…”;

THIS IS Sandel-Pantaleo's second time around as Carmen, her first being with the Chautauqua Opera in New York in 2007. “;This is more fun because I've had a little more time to learn the character,”; she said.

The singer becomes animated as she describes the physical toll rehearsals have taken on her. She shows bruises and talks of a pulled muscle in her arm from scenes with Richard Crawley, who plays Don Jose.

The passion runs high, perfect for such a dramatic story and strong character.

Carmen is a fiery woman who is constantly on the move. “;She uses her body and her beauty and her intelligence to move her forward,”; Sandel-Pantaleo said. “;The most important thing for her is freedom.”;

And in her search for it, she also finds tragedy. Carmen is something of a fatalist, and she sees her dark future in a reading of cards.

“;She probably thinks she can't change her fate,”; said Sandel-Pantaleo. “;I suppose there's a part of me personally that would like to believe that she can think that she can change her fate.”;