14 Oct 2019

New Zealander of the Year: Jennifer Ward-Lealand

From Upbeat, 12:30 pm on 14 October 2019

Actor and director Jennifer Ward-Lealand talks about her earliest memory of music. The New Zealander of the Year 2020 says as a young girl she listened to Violetta’s aria 'Croce e delizia' from Verdi's La Traviata and felt the music touch the deepest part of her creativity.

Jennifer Ward Lealand

Jennifer Ward Lealand Photo: Andi Crown

“I am picturing myself right now, as a six-year old girl, sitting on the carpet in front of the radiogram and I have Mum’s big hard-covered opera LP set of the entire opera of La Traviata sitting in front of me.”  

“It was like I was looking at a giant book, except out of this book was coming the most extraordinary sounds. I think that was the first time that I felt that music informed everything that I did”.  

Despite it being in Italian, Jennifer says the aria 'Croce e delizia' where the courtesan Violetta sings about her emotional volatility had a really big emotional impact on her as a child and still does.

“It seemed to soar so much in its spirits, it took me to another place … to a place that was more expansive and was about bigger feelings than I’d ever felt”.

Jennifer was brought up in a house where music was present every day; her grandmother sang, and both her grandfather and mother played the piano.

She says when she’s about to direct a show it’s the music that she listens to first.

“Music for me creates the pictures… that’s where all my creativity comes from because it’s a bed of emotion and it demands you look at things in another way. It allows you to have the uncensored thoughts; the truly creative thoughts come from the music, so … it informs me”.

And still today the moment she hears Violetta’s aria she’s transported back to being six: “I forget the rest of the story, but that song, that aria, is about my childhood”.