Q&A: Mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson speaks with BCO's Executive Director, Julia Cooke

Mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson returns to Baltimore Concert Opera to sing the title role in ‘Tancredi’ in co-production with Opera Southwest.  Heather made her BCO debut as Rosina in ‘Il barbiere di Siviglia’ in 2011, and was our leading lady in ‘Carmen’ in 2013.  She’s been singing all over the country since we last saw her, including her Metropolitan Opera debut! Heather was kind enough to share some thoughts about her career, and in particular, singing the title role in ‘Tancredi’ with us and with Opera Southwest.

Q: What drew you to a career as an opera singer?

A: I was also involved in Music from the time I came out of the womb.  My parents are both professional musicians and teachers and my grandfather was a tenor and choral conductor so I guess it was in my blood.  I started out playing the violin when I was 4, added the piano when I was 6, then the oboe when I was 11 (that only lasted two years...I was horrible!) then finally started taking voice lessons when I was 15. I knew almost instantly that singing was what I wanted to do with my life.  It was solidified when I went to college at St. Olaf and started to really study opera.  I was hooked!

Q: You told me in a recent phone conversation that you felt like Rossini wrote the role of Tancredi just for you! Tell us about singing it.

A: It's amazing!  I love this role so much.  First of all, I typically sing the comedic Rossini roles so it's a pleasure to dig in dramatically to a role like this within the same musical style.  Not only do I love the drama of the opera but I love that it's a bit lower than a lot of the Rossini roles that I sing.  I had a baby two and a half years ago and, like many women who have children, my voice changed a bit.  It really filled out in the lower middle so I love singing down there, if you will. 

Q: What is it like to sing a role for the first time? Particularly this one.

A: Singing a role for the first time is always a bit nerve-racking.  You can't really get a good sense of pacing until you actually get it "up on its feet", so to speak, with the whole cast.  But, I love learning now roles!  You get to sink your teeth into something new musically and dramatically that you can make your own.  This role is particularly that way.  Like, I said earlier, I love the drama of it. But, that being said it is a challenge as far as pacing is concerned.  It's very large role and one has to really pace it so that you save enough dramatically and vocally for the scenes at the end.

Q: Can you tell a bit about the BCO format and how the co-production element with Opera Southwest will be helpful to you and the rest of the cast?

Johnson in Sarasota Opera's Cenerentola.

Johnson in Sarasota Opera's Cenerentola.

A: Doing a co-production is such an incredible luxury!  We get an entire week to work it musically which almost never happens in the opera world these days.  It brings us back to focus on what is the most important part of opera....the music!  Not only do we get to work out the musical kinks first here in Baltimore but then we get an opportunity to perform it twice just concentrating on the the music.  This puts us all at such an advantage going into the staging process.  Plus, it's always such a treat to sing here in Baltimore. 

I want to extend a big THANK YOU to Heather for taking the time to speak with me!

She is a brilliant artist and a wonderful colleague. If you don’t have your tickets for ‘Tancredi’ this weekend, we do still have some available. Click here to find out more about Heather and the rest of the cast, and click here to buy tickets which start at just $27.50.