Tenor Don O’Neal LeBlanc and accompanist Mary Dibbern will return to Winnsboro to open the second season of Sunday Afternoon Classical Series at Winnsboro Center for the Arts Sept. 3.
LeBlanc sang for a fundraiser at Tinney Chapel in January of 2016.
Dibbern was here last fall to accompany bass Jared Schwartz.
Both artists are associated with The Dallas Opera.
After a hiatus to raise a family and a work schedule that wouldn’t allow for rehearsals, LeBlanc returned to his avocation a few years ago. He’s now a member of TDO’s renowned chorus.
Dibbern begins her sixth season with TDO this fall.
When LeBlanc was here for the benefit, he performed well known arias, including “La donna e mobile” and “Nessun Dorma,” both made popular by The Three Tenors – Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo and José Carreras.
He also sang some popular Broadway tunes, including a heart-rending arrangement of “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables.
A native of San Benito, LeBlanc was a voice major at North Texas State University (now University of North Texas).
He and Davene, his wife of 35 years, met in high school choir. They were at UNT together.
After the birth of their son in 1986, Davene stayed home. Don went to work in the burgeoning information technology industry.
The couple stayed in the metroplex area, adding a daughter to their family.
While LeBlanc was working at Microsoft, his coworkers learned of his vocal abilities.
“They prodded me into singing at the office for fun,” he said during a recent phone interview from his home in downtown Dallas.
Once his kids were grown, LeBlanc decided he had time to pursue his original dream. About five years ago, he “dusted the voice off.”
His journey back to the stage included joining a group called Opera on Tap.
“It’s a national non-profit venue for opera singers of all ages to perform,” he explained. “It was my first foray into public performances again.”
A couple of years ago, he auditioned for The Dallas Opera’s chorus.
“Ian Deering was the artistic manager at the time,” he noted. “He liked what he heard and immediately offered me my first solo gig on the Winspear’s Main Stage at the International Women’s Conducting Concert in December of 2015.” He sang at the conference again this year.
Since that debut, LeBlanc has had featured roles in TDO’s productions, including “Manon” and “Madame Butterfly.”
He was also a part of TDO’s “Moby Dick,” a vocally and physically challenging production for the all-male cast.
“It was a lot of work because of the severe rake [angle] on that stage,” LeBlanc recalled. “We were out there 15-20 minutes at a time. Our legs were hurting.”
Paris native Jay Hunter Morris sang the role of Captain Ahab.
The performance was particularly difficult for him, as he was strapped into a contraption that gave the illusion that, like Ahab, Morris had lost a leg.
“I was staged right behind him,” LeBlanc remembered.
Someone missed a cue as Morris was coming out of the ship’s crow nest. The star hit the stage hard, causing incredible pain to the leg bent into the wooden peg.
“Tears were coming out of the guy’s eyes from pain,” LeBlanc recalled.
Thankfully, LeBlanc and the rest of the male chorus survived the ordeal in better shape.
LeBlanc enjoys being on stage again.
“It’s such a blessing to be able to sing,” he noted. “There’s a lot of joy in performing.”
Accompanying LeBlanc in September will be the incomparable Mary Dibbern. A Dallas native, she received a bachelors of arts from the University of North Dakota and her masters of music from Southern Methodist University.
For 31 years, she was a collaborative pianist, vocal coach and young artist teacher in Paris, France.
She returned from Paris and joined forces with TDO as their Music Director of Education and Family Programs.
“I work with around 14 gifted singers from the DFW area to produce and perform two operas per year for children, mostly K – 9,” Dibbern explained. “Our singers are either students at SMU or UNT, or graduates of many of the local colleges and universities. Our program gives them a chance to develop their performing skills in weekly school performances, and also it gives them weekly income, which is a great combination for singers who are starting out.”
Dibbern is also a published author.
“I have been working for 2 years on the General Catalogue of Works by the French composer Jules Massenet,” she noted. “I collaborated with a French musicologist, fortunately, because this was a mammoth undertaking and I never could have done it alone. We finally finished and it was published by my publisher, Pendragon Press.”
Pendragon recently asked Dibbern to be Editor in Chief of her own series concerning women in music.
“We plan to call it Ceciliana,” she said. “I have been looking around for unpublished or untranslated works about and by women in music and there is a lot there. So it is a good project that I am very excited about starting.”
Dibbern and Schwartz completed recording of the music of Franz Liszt in April.
“Although he wrote over 100 songs, Liszt is not well-known enough as a song writer,” Dibbern noted. “We put the songs into the Finale music writing program, figured out the right tonalities for Jared’s voice, spent several months rehearsing and then recorded last month, once again in St. Matthew Cathedral’s beautiful sanctuary.”
Dibbern was the first to play on the church’s new 8 1/2 foot Schimmel piano.
“It was delivered the day before our recording, so we were the first to use this magnificent instrument,” she stated.
Dibbern also has a studio of voice students and spends summers in Europe where she serves on the faculty of the University of Miami at Salzburg, Austria.
And if she wasn’t already busy enough, she is working on her doctorate at The University of Dallas.
“I am working on a PhD in Humanities with emphasis on Translation Studies,” she said. “The Center for Translation is headed by Professor Rainer Schulte, who is also a pianist. It is a perfect match for me as we share many of the same interests, including a love for classical music and for the French language. I have been able to pinpoint my dissertation topic, which will be a translation of a recent book in French about women composers in France during the 19th century. I will be starting on the translation in June and work on it while I am in Paris during the summer.”
Sometimes, her professional life doesn’t stop at the end of a busy day.
“I often dream that I am supposed to go out on stage and sing either a concert or an opera role,” she said. “I keep telling people that I can’t sing, I only play for singers…plus I have never learned the music that is to be performed.”
She said other musicians have the same issue.
“I guess it stems from our constant fear that we won’t be prepared for what we are supposed to do,” she said. “But I think that being confronted constantly with learning and performing new music is what keeps this profession stimulating and it keeps us meeting new colleagues, as well as interacting with musicians from the past. So it is a great profession and I cannot imagine any circumstance that would make me want to retire.”
In addition to LeBlanc and Dibbern, the Sunday Afternoon Classical Series will feature Montopolis Chamber Ensemble on Oct. 1, Windsync on Nov. 5 and will close with Mount Vernon’s Chamber Trio on Jan. 7.
Subscriptions for the season are available at $39, $59 and $79 levels.
Contact the arts center at 903-342-0686 or visit their website, http://www.winnsborocenterforthearts.com for more information.