I don’t know about you, but if I were the 10th of 15 children, it’d be easy to get lost in the crowd. But Leona Mitchell didn’t use her large family as an excuse to fade into the background. In 2010, she told OETA’s Gerry Bonds on OKC Metro that a life-changing teacher took her under her wing.
“Her name was Maureen Preevy, and she physically came and got me every morning to teach me opera," says Mitchell. " I sang from Aida in high school. She taught it to me, and she told me, 'If you would just go with me and promise me that you would just go to O-C-U and just audition for me,' because I wanted to go elsewhere; I wanted to be in education.”
Oklahoma City University offered Mitchell its first-ever vocal scholarship so she could attend school. After she graduated, she traveled to San Francisco and debuted with the city’s opera at 23. After her time on the West Coast, she left to study at Julliard in New York City.
"That’s when I exploded because I went to New York and New York Press heard me," says Mitchell. "And from one year being at Julliard doing an opera, La Boheme, I was asked could I come to the Met the next year. It was that amazing because normally that’s not how it happens. You have to usually go and do your duty in Europe, but I was asked to do Michaela at the Met and from then on I was there for 18 years."
But she didn’t limit herself to the European classics. One day, still a 23-year old, she tried out for a supporting role in George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess.”
"After I auditioned with Summertime, the lady producer, Ella Gerber was her name, she said, “Ok Leona, now we’ve heard that. Now who are we going to get to do Bess if you sang that like that?' And I thought, 'I can’t sing Bess! That’s for a more mature voice.' And I told her that and she said, 'No, I will work with you, and you have to be my Bess.' And that started out and I got to do Bess in the recording and all over the country too," says Mitchell.
Leona Mitchell earned a Grammy Award for that album, the first complete stereo recording of Gershwin’s standard. She moved back to the heartland in 2001, and she’s still in the public eye.
The operatic soprano hosts the first session of a two-part master class this Saturday at 1:00 p.m. at the Downtown Library. Part 2 takes place on May 25. Seating is limited, so registration is required and can be completed by calling 405-606-3879.