PORTRAIT OF AN ARTISTAMY JOHNSON
Robert Livingston Aldridge, Anton Coppola, Leos Janácek, Jules Massenet, Thea Musgrave, Stephen Schwartz, Richard Strauss, Richard Wagner
AMY JOHNSON, soprano
Emily Langford Johnson
MAV SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Steven Mercurio, conductor
PROGRAM NOTESThis album shows the many facets of soprano Amy Johnson, an artist not easily defined, and one who has chosen a less-traveled path. The concept for the album was suggested to Johnson by John Fiore, former chief conductor of Deutsche Oper am Rhein and Artistic Director of the Norwegian Opera in Oslo. Over lunch in Düsseldorf, the discussions centered on the old saying, “If you can’t hide it, feature it.” The idea emerged to indeed feature what cannot, and should not, be hidden – Amy Johnson’s great versatility and breadth of repertoire. Through the temperament of various operatic characters, Johnson and Maestro Fiore have put together an exceptionally varied program of selections from Johnson’s repertoire. In the simplest sense, the characters express passion (Arabella, Kát’a and Manuela), innocence (Sharon, Sieglinde and Luigia) and near to absolute perversion (Thaïs, Myra and poor Salome). In all, seven languages are represented in the arias presented here, three of which are heard in their first recording.
When a singer, through force of will and effort, manages to succeed in even a single musical genre, one marvels at the result. When that singer succeeds in a variety of styles, respect for them is elevated to an even higher level. For anyone raised in a monoglot country, the road to operatic proficiency can present additional hurdles. American popular culture arguably permeates contemporary world culture as no other single nation’s “art” ever has. Historically, the admiration Americans have had for their home-grown classically trained artists has been well earned, for the best of the lot are far more than generalists. Rather, they are diligent students of operatic performance that assay each role with intelligence and attention to detail. Examples abound, dating back to Lillian Nordica, Clarence Whitehill and Lawrence Tibbett, and include Dorothy Kirsten, Eleanor Steber, James King, Blanche Thebom, Robert Weede, Rosalind Elias, Norman Treigle and numerous others. These recordings also showcase Johnson’s great skill in imbuing her vocal performances with a strong theatrical sense. She portrays young women celebrating their sense of self in the roles of Sieglinde, Kát’a and Arabella; a courtesan struggling with self-doubt as Thaïs; a charismatic and passionate servant of God as Sharon; a desperate sister praying to save her condemned brother from an unjust fate as Luigia; an equally desperate fortune-teller concocting a career-saving yet mad scheme as Myra; a fiercely independent woman swept up in the tide of revolution as Manuela; and a disturbingly depraved teenager reveling in the fulfillment of what turns out to be her last wish as the ill-fated Salome.
It is worth noting Johnson’s strong personal connection to much of the repertoire on this recording, especially the works by the living composers. Specifically, Johnson – ever a champion of new repertoire – created the role of Manuela in Musgrave’s Simón Bolívar at the Virginia Opera in 1995. Vernon Hartman, the executive producer of this album, was involved in the original productions and workshops, respectively, of both Sacco and Vanzetti and Elmer Gantry. A series of serendipitous encounters led Broadway legend Stephen Schwartz to grant Johnson permission to record the Séance excerpt in advance of its world premiere. In addition, Kát’a Kabanová was one of the first operatic works that captured Johnson’s attention as a student at Grinnell College. In the wide-ranging program presented here, Amy Johnson employs her breadth and depth of talent to explore every facet of the human experience. [Gregory Thomas]
One of today’s finest singing actresses, soprano Amy Johnson has been lauded for her vocal versatility and striking stage presence. She combines the ability to portray youth with sufficient vocal brilliance to soar above the largest of orchestras. Born in Iowa to a family influenced by a variety of traditions, Johnson began her musical training in piano and trombone. At an early age, she became inspired by the Aeolians, a local chorus that performed musicals in the region, her interest being further nurtured after a move to Chicago. While attending Grinnell College, Johnson’s voice teacher recognized her operatic potential, which led to continued studies at the Manhattan School of Music during which time she met Joanna Levy, with whom she studied until Levy’s passing in 2019. Johnson went on to win both the Bel Canto and Baltimore Opera competitions, and was a regional finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.
In her singing career, first as a mezzo-soprano and subsequently as a soprano, Johnson has performed more than 30 roles. In addition to her signature portrayals of Tosca and Salome, her wide ranging repertoire includes Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, Chrysothemis in Elektra, Leonora in Il Trovatore and Giorgetta in Il Tabarro. Her critically acclaimed operatic appearances have been seen across the United States and Mexico, in the United Kingdom, China, South Africa and Europe. Her performances have aired on PBS, Live from Lincoln Center, NPR and the BBC. Ever expanding her artistic horizons, Johnson created Twisted Sisters, a cutting-edge production of fully staged operatic “mad scenes”, performed with orchestra, incorporating interactive projected film images and adaptable to differing repertoire and venues.
Johnson’s recent achievements apart from singing include her being a partner of Impresario Productions LLC and a co-founder of The Professional Advantage, a career development program for singers. Also a sought-after mentor, she works with aspiring and established professionals from all over the world. Formerly on faculty at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Johnson is currently an Associate Professor at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati.
PROGRAMRICHARD WAGNER (1813-1883)
DU BIST DER LENZ from Die Walküre
STEPHEN SCHWARTZ (b.1948)
ONE LITTLE LIE from Séance on a Wet Afternoon
LEOŠ JANÁCEK (1854-1928)
SCENE, ACT I from Kát’a Kabanová
ANTON COPPOLA (1917-2020)
LUIGIA’S PRAYER from Sacco and Vanzetti
RICHARD STRAUSS (1864-1949)
MEIN ELEMER from Arabella
THEA MUSGRAVE (b.1928)
NADA DURA from Simón Bolívar
JULES MASSENET (1842-1912)
DIS-MOI QUE JE SUIS BELLE from Thaïs
FINAL SCENE from Salome
ROBERT LIVINGSTON ALDRIDGE (b.1954)
SHARON’S ENTRANCE from Elmer Gantry