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At age 15, Lea Woods Friedman wanted to be a pop star. The next Madonna, maybe, or Mariah Carey. But when Friedman started voice lessons at Punahou, her instructor thought differently.

"My teacher told me my voice was suited for opera," says Friedman with a laugh. "So I started participating in Hawai'i Opera Theatre, sang in the chorus and then I thought, 'OK, I could really do this as a career."

Listening to Friedman today, it's clear that her teacher knew her stuff. At just 28 years old, Friedman's soprano skills have already taken her all over the world-Beijing; Kuala Lumpur; Osimo, Italy; New York (where she now resides); and, most recently, back to her hometown of Honolulu.

This month, Friedman performs in two productions-a Chamber Music Hawai'i concert at the Honolulu Academy of Arts on Feb. 2 and the Hawai'i Opera Theatre's The Merry Widow, an English operetta, on Feb. 27 and 29 and March 2 and 4.

Friedman is accustomed to belting it out for audiences of more than a thousand. When offered the chance to perform at the Academy's 250-seat Doris Duke Theatre, she couldn't resist.

"It's wonderfully intimate, so I can get in touch with the audience," says Friedman. "I'll be singing two pieces that are very different from my Puccini-style singing, Schubert's 'Shepherd on the Rock' and Samuel Barber's 'Knoxville: Summer of 1915.'"

Friedman seems to like stepping outside of her comfort zone. After earning a degree in hotel administration from Cornell University in New York, she decided to refocus on opera and learn Italian. She spent three years studying in (where else?) Florence, Italy, eventually relocating to Manhattan and studying under revered soprano Diana Soviero.

The work is paying off. Last year, Friedman shared the stage with Metropolitan Opera bass Hao Jiang Tian in a concert sponsored by the China Institute of New York City and with tenor Warren Mok of Opera Hong Kong.

"It's a tough career, and I'm still quite new to this industry," says Friedman. "It's all very exciting. Although I'm now based in New York, I happily return home to Hawai'i to perform with the Chamber and the Hawai'i Opera Theatre-especially during this winter season!"

Lea Woods Friedman

A special concert of vocal chamber music with Lea Woods Friedman, presented by Chamber Music Hawai‘i, Feb. 2, 7: 30 p.m., Honolulu Academy of Arts, Doris Duke Theatre. For tickets: 524-0815 ext. 245, www.chambermusichawaii.com.

Hawai‘i Opera Theatre’s The Merry Widow, Feb. 27 & 29, March 2 & 4. For tickets: 596-7858, www.hawaiiopera.org.



Barry Rivers, co-founder of the Maui Film Festival, recommends Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero. "A lot of people don’t know this film, starring Peter Riegert and Burt Lancaster. It’s a great story about a man who works for an oil company, and he’s sent to a small village in Scotland, where the company is about to start drilling. But once he gets there, he falls in love with the place and falls in love with a woman there. The movie has a great message and a surprise love story. There’s also a great soundtrack by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits." Warner Studios, 1983.


Jared Keo of the Hawaiian band Ho‘onu‘a, recommends the Stylistics’ The Best of the Stylistics. "That’s the one—perfect for pillow talk, perfect for Valentine’s Day. Me, I’m an oldies kind of guy, and everything that a guy wants to tell his girl is on that CD." Amherst Records, 1975.


Frank Stewart, author and editor of Manoa, a journal of Pacific and Asian writing, recommends Ramesh Menon’s The Ramayana: A Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic. "Originally written about 300 B.C., the Ramayana has profoundly inspired Asian storytelling and art, but has seemed inaccessible until this new English version. More monsters than Lord of the Rings, more space travel than Star Wars and ultimately about love, loyalty and goodness." North Point Press, 2003.

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Honolulu Magazine January 2018
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