The young Russian soprano Julia Lezhneva has been described as possessing an “angelic voice” (The New York Times) with “pure tone” (Opernwelt) and “flawless technique” (The Guardian). They are big claims, and she has been living up to them ever since she created a sensation at the Classical Brit awards at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 2010, singing Rossini’s Fra il padre at the invitation of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.
Born into a family of geophysicists on Sakhalin Island in 1989, she began playing the piano and singing at the age of five. She graduated from the Gretchaninov Music School and continued her vocal and piano studies at the Moscow Conservatory. At 17 she came to international attention winning the Elena Obraztsova International Competition, and at 18 shared the concert stage with Juan Diego Flórez at the opening of the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro. In 2008 she began studying with tenor Dennis O’Neill in Cardiff, completing her training under Yvonne Kenny at London’s Guildhall School. She has also attended masterclasses with Elena Obraztsova in St. Petersburg, Alberto Zedda in Pesaro and Thomas Quasthoff in Verbier. In 2009 she won first prize at the Mirjam Helin International Singing Competition in Helsinki and the following year she took first prize at the Paris International Opera Competition, the youngest entrant in each competition’s history.
Opernwelt named her “Young Singer of the Year” in 2011 for her debut at La Monnaie in Brussels. In the following year she enjoyed an overwhelming success singing Rossini at the Victoires de la Musique Classique ceremony in Paris, sharing the gala stage with Renée Fleming, Natalie Dessay, Philippe Jaroussky and Nathalie Stutzmann, and appeared at the Salzburg Festival for the third consecutive season, singing Asteria in Handel’s Tamerlano alongside Plácido Domingo and Bejun Mehta. Her 2012/13 season included European tours with Giovanni Antonini and Il Giardino Armonico, a concert tour of Handel’s Il trionfo del tempo with René Jacobs and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, and concert performances of Handel’s Alessandro at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Paris’s Salle Pleyel and the Theater an der Wien in Vienna.
During 2014 she appeared in the First International Opera Festival “Opera Apriori” at Moscow State Conservatory, made her Australian debut, and toured extensively with a Handel programme throughout Europe. She made her Royal Opera House debut in June 2015, singing Zerlina in Mozart’s Don Giovanni alongside Rolando Villazón as Don Ottavio, and reprises the role on the Royal Opera’s tour of Japan in September 2015. She tours Europe with Siroe, Tamerlano and more Handel programmes October to December. In February 2016 she sings Desdemona in concert performances of Verdi’s Otello at the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona and also gives a recital at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris. May 2016 sees appearances in Così fan tutte at the Internationale Maifestspiele Wiesbaden and she returns to Australia in October, singing Handel with the Australian Chamber Orchestra under Richard Tognetti.
Julia Lezhneva became an exclusive Decca artist in 2011. Her first recording under the new contract, Alleluia, a coupling of baroque motets accompanied by Il Giardino Armonico under Giovanni Antonini, was released in March 2013, leading BBC Music Magazine to say: “She is like a sun that can’t help but produce warmth and joy when she comes on stage.” The recording won her a 2013 Echo Klassik Award for Best New Vocal Artist. Her collaboration with Max Emanuel Cencic on Handel’s Alessandro led to a Complete Opera CD of the Year prize at the inaugural International Opera Awards in 2013, heralded as the opera world’s own “Oscars”. She joined Cencic again in November 2014 on the world premiere recording of Hasse’s Siroe. The Guardian wrote: “Julia Lezhneva shows that it is possible to negotiate Hasse’s vocal writing with stylishness and beauty of tone as well as accuracy.” She brings the same qualities to a recording of youthful Handel arias, to be released in October 2015, with a selection of sacred and secular arias for the soprano voice, Lezhneva accompanied again by Il Giardino Armonico under the direction of Giovanni Antonini.