NEW YORK (AP) — This year's Richard Tucker award — often called the "Heisman Trophy of opera" — goes to mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard.
The 2013 prize marks the centennial of the birth of the great tenor who started his career as a cantor in Manhattan, Bronx and Brooklyn synagogues — named Ruvn Ticker.
Tucker went on to build a stellar international career, as have past recipients of the award including soprano Renee Fleming, mezzo Joyce DiDonato and tenor Lawrence Brownlee.
Also announced Monday were recipients of career and study grants sponsored by the foundation, which perpetuates the Brooklyn-born tenor's legacy by nurturing singers and bringing opera into the community through free performances and education programs.
Each year the nonprofit Richard Tucker Music Foundation awards the prize — plus $30,000 — to "an American singer poised on the edge of a major national and international career.
The foundation started in 1975 shortly after Tucker died at 61. His funeral was on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera, where Leonard, 31, has become a favorite with audiences since her 2007 debut in Gounod's "Romeo and Juliet."
The New York native, whose mother is from Argentina, will be honored at the foundation's annual gala concert on Nov. 17 at New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
Reviewing Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" at the Glyndebourne Festival in Scotland, London's Financial Times praised Leonard's signature role of Cherubino, saying the mezzo playing a young man in love became "a stage animal with charisma written all over her."
A graduate of the Juilliard School, she's appeared at opera houses from Chicago and Santa Fe to Vienna, Munich and Paris, and with the Chicago and Boston symphonies, the Cleveland Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic.
She's sung at the famed Salzburg Festival, and later this year, will perform at Japan's Saito Kinen Festival.
Leonard won the Tucker award just days after making her debut at Carnegie's Zankel Hall.
Richard Tucker Music Foundation: http://richardtucker.org
Isabel Leonard's website: http://isabelleonard.com