Soprano Michelle Johnson
By Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2014 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Since winning the 2011 Grand Prize at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, soprano Michelle Johnson has won critical raves for her work and found herself in great demand with companies such as Opera Santa Barbara, PORTOpera, Houston Opera, and the Glimmerglass Music Festival as well as Opera Company of Philadelphia, which is where she lives now. The New York Times described her this way: “There was a clear audience favorite… who brought gleaming sound to the meltingly lyrical aria… Ms. Johnson seems to have the vocal goods as well as star power.” Ms. Johnson will be making her debut with Kentucky Opera this week in The Girl of the Golden West so we asked her to answer our 17 questions.
Keith Waits: Okay Michelle, thank you for answering our questions. #1. When did you know you wanted to sing opera?
Michelle Johnson: I saw Madam Butterfly on PBS and that ignited the spark.
KW: #2. Where are you from orignally?
MJ: Originally I’m from Houston, TX but I live in Philadelphia at the moment.
KW: #3 is in two parts. Where did you go to school? With whom did you study there?
MJ: While living in Boston I attended New England Conservatory of Music where I studied with Helen Hodam and Boston University’s Opera Institute where I studied with Penelope Bitzas. In Philadelphia I attended the Academy of Vocal Arts where I studied with William “Bill” Stone.
KW: #4. Are you married? Children?
MJ: I am happily married to Brian Major. Yes, I married a singer! Thank goodness he’s a baritone! No children but I have a 5 years old Yorkshire Terrier named Jasper. Yes, he is spoiled rotten!
KW: #5. Is this your first time in Louisville?
MJ: Yes, but and It will certainly not be last. I love this city!
KW: Excellent! We cannot wait to have you back! #6. We really consider ourselves a foodie town, what has been your favorite bite of food so far?
MJ: Most singers are foodies and I’m no different. Nothing is better than a good burger and Bluegrass Burgers did not disappoint.
KW: #7 is about the reason you are here. Tell us about your role in The Girl of the Golden West.
MJ: I play Minnie, a tavern owner who can handle anything thrown at her. She has a huge heart, she’s very intelligent, God fearing, and she is very loyal to those she loves.
KW: # 8. Is Minnie the only female character?
MJ: One would think Minnie is the only female character, but she is joined by her employee, Wowkle, who is always there when you need her.
KW: #9. So you are working with a bunch of guys? How’s that for you?
MJ: Firstly, I love this cast. I identify so much with Minnie because I grew up around lots of boys. I am the only girl with two older brothers and tons of guy cousins. I fit right in with the gang.
KW: #10. This is the first time Kentucky Opera has done The Girl of The Golden West and it’s your first time doing this role. How do you prepare for a new role and does the company premiere put extra pressure on you?
MJ: I love studying a new role. It’s like a fresh canvas ready for some paint. I try to limit my pressure intake. I find that I work well under pressure but I also make sure I am enjoying myself. If I’m too nervous or miserable I believe the audience will feel the negative vibe. So, I try to focus on entertaining the audience to my best ability and enjoying my self.
KW: #11. Puccini completed La Fanciulla del west AFTER three of his four biggest hits: Bohème, Tosca and Butterfly. He thought this was his best work, but it is rarely done. Why do you think that is?
MJ: It truly is shame that La Fanciulla del West is not performed more often. I believe most companies don’t tackle this opera purely on the size of the cast. It’s a ton a people and every character and personality is essential. It’s also a beast to sing!
KW: #12. Why should people come to see this show?
MJ: This show has something for everyone. It’s full of drama, laughter, sadness, jealousy, guns, Guns, GUNS and GORGEOUS MUSIC!!!!
KW: #13. What’s your next show after this?
MJ: After La Fanciulla del West I am heading to Sarasota Opera to sing Elisabeth in Verdi’s Don Carlos.
KW: #14. What’s your dream role?
MJ: Violetta from Verdi’s La Traviata.
KW: #15. What’s on your IPOD (MP3 Player)?
MJ: Tons of Musical Theater, Gospel, Tina Turner, Liza Minnelli, and Barbra Streisand.
KW: #16. Let’s step away from music for a moment. What’s your Dream Car?
MJ: I would love a Black Mercedes. (I know nothing of cars)
KW: And finally, #17. Which superpower would you choose? Flight or invisibility?
MJ: Definitely, invisibility!
The Girl of the Golden West
Friday, November 14, 2014 @ 8:00pm
Sunday, November 16, 2014 @ 2:00pm
W.L. Lyons Brown Theatre
315 West Broadway
Louisville, KY 40202
[box_light]Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at the Louisville Visual Art Association during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.[/box_light]