When American tenor Richard Leech made his Metropolitan Opera debut (as Faust in the Gounod treatment) in 1989, the event had none of the dazzling energy that accompanies a breakthrough performance by a previously-unknown but clearly top-rank virtuoso; Leech had long been known to New York audiences and critics and was by 1989 an almost 20-year veteran of the professional stage. Leech was born in Hollywood in the late 1950s. His musical training was unconventional, at least from the modern point of view (it would have, however, been considered perfectly ordinary a few centuries back): he never attended any university or conservatory, even tangentially through a private teacher. Instead, he began filling minor roles in productions by the Tri-Cities Opera in Binghamton, NY, at the age of 15, and remained with that company, gradually taking on more demanding and more noteworthy roles, until well into the 1980s. He won top prize at Italy's Enrico Caruso Voice Competition in 1981, but remained with the Tri-Cities Opera afterwards in order to keep developing on his own terms (he could have joined La Scala as part of the Caruso prize). Leech made a Carnegie Hall debut in 1984, and a New York City Opera debut that same year. So when he strode out onto the stage at the Met in 1989 -- which is the same year that he first appeared in front of audiences at La Scala, rather belatedly, from their point of view -- he was anything but a journeyman.
Richard Leech has been, from the mid-1990s on, arguably America's most visible classical vocal star. In addition to performances with opera companies and orchestras the world over, his gifts have been heard at a number of civic events, including the opening ceremonies for the 1995 America's Cup yacht races and at the 1994 lighting of the National Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C.