Isobel Anthony: Little Girl with a Big Voice

Local 17-year-old Isobel Anthony chases her dreams of singing onstage at the Met and with opera companies across the world. Anthony recently won a $5,000 scholarship through the Los Angeles Music Center’s Spotlight program.

Isobel Anthony is a 17-year-old junior at Malibu High School and she’s got big dreams. Being chosen as a grand prize finalist in the Los Angeles Music Center’s Spotlight program this year should only help smooth her path to a successful career.

“I want to be onstage at the Met (New York’s Metropolitan Opera House),” Anthony said. “To sing with opera companies across the world with great orchestras and great conductors — that’s my dream.”

Spotlight marks its 27th annual incarnation this year; it was originally launched through The Music Center’s educational program by Walter Grauman (kin to the Graumans of Chinese Theatre fame) as a way to identify young talent across the Southland.

Jeri Gaile, director of the Spotlight program, said Anthony’s soaring potential was immediately apparent at auditions.

“Isobel is amazing,” Gaile said. “Her talent is stratospheric. I am always blown away by the poise of these young people (candidates range from 13 to 18 years old). And Isobel has been beautifully brought up.

“The main reason she’s so good is thanks to her teacher, Elisabeth Howard,” Gaile continued. “As a music center promoting music education, it is very important to us that kids get good and healthy training. Isobel has excellent technique and she has a very bright future.”

The Spotlight competition process is expansive. More than 1,600 students from 450 schools across Southern California audition in seven different categories: classical and nonclassical voice, classical and non-classical dance, jazz and classical instrumental music, and acting. 

All candidates receive written critique from a panel of judges coming from professional and educational backgrounds. Gaile personally calls the 100 or so semifinalists to discuss the judges’ feedback. The two finalists in each category are recognized in the gala Spotlight Grand Finale performance and are awarded $5,000 scholarships (both are considered equal “winners”), but the preliminary, semifinal and honorable mention candidates receive scholarships as well.

“So much of competition these days is through television shows where their goal is to humiliate or embarrass the performers,” Gaile said. “Spotlight wants even those kids who maybe can only sing ‘Happy Birthday’ and don’t really have future performing goals to have the experience of a real audition … of walking into a big performance hall and auditioning and selling themselves.”

Another plus for the program is that there are no competitive fees due from the youthful performers. All expenses for the program are picked up by private donors and corporate sponsors. The scholarship funds are provided by local philanthropists Dr. Peter and Helen Bing.

This year, for the first time, the Grand Finale performance took place at Walt Disney Concert Hall. With such superior acoustics, Gaile noted that it was the first time microphones weren’t necessary for the performers.

“To hear Isobel in her real voice was just glorious,” Gaile said.

As Anthony’s voice coach for a little more than two years now, Elisabeth Howard says she is confident of a bright future for her pupil.

“Isobel has grown up with music around her,” Howard said. “Her father (Pete Anthony) is a well-known film conductor and she plays classical piano on an advanced level. She has class and refinement and is able to combine the vocal technique and musical coaching I give her each week with her own musicality and love of performing.”

Anthony herself was awed by the opportunity to sing where everyone from Julie Andrews to Itzhak Perlman to Dianne Reeves has performed. She sang two pieces: “O Luce di Quest’anima” by Donizetti and “Ständchen” by Schubert, accompanied on the piano by family friend and Malibu neighbor, John Kull.

“It was so cool to hear the professionals warming up and see the costumes backstage,” Anthony said. “When we rehearsed, I was a little nervous because no one was in the audience and it seemed a little echo-y. But for the performance, it was full of people and the acoustics were perfect. It was a dream come true.”

Anthony performed well in other vocal competitions this year: an honorable mention in the 2015 National Young Arts Foundation and a third place win for the Rotary District 5280’s music competition. As a student at MHS, her interests are diverse — she likes calculus and AP U.S. History. And she is looking to a prominent music program at an East Coast college once she graduates. 

“Maybe Juilliard or Manhattan School of Music,” she said. “But I don’t want to jinx it.”