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
"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!"