is a mezzo-soprano in her first year of the Adler Fellowship at San Francisco Opera. Originally from Washington, New Jersey, Erin studied music and religious studies at Cairn University in Langhorne, Pennsylvania and completed her Master in Music at Rice University in Houston, Texas. She was a participant in the Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Program in 2009 prior to her participation in the Merola Opera Program in 2012. She made her San Francisco Opera debut in the role of Mrs. Medlock in the world-premiere production of Nolan Gasser's The Secret Garden
this past spring. She will be featured on the War Memorial Opera House stage this coming summer in the world-premiere of Mark Adamo's The Gospel of Mary Magdalene
. Erin is the next of our talented young artists to be featured this week on Backstage at San Francisco Opera
What was your earliest exposure to classical music? When did you first start to perform and at what point did you decide to pursue it as a career?
Music has always been part of my life so I don’t know if I remember the earliest exposure I had with classical music. However, I do remember when I started taking voice lessons at age 15 that my voice teacher would play through several pieces and ask which one I wanted to work on. I remember that my ear was always drawn to the art song and to operatic arias. I would always choose them over musical theater pieces. At one point my teacher finally said, “You really like opera, don’t you?”
Who are some of your greatest musical influences?
Janet Baker is someone I love to hear any day of the week and I also feel the same way about Christa Ludwig. I’m not only drawn to the beautiful voices these ladies possess, but I’m amazed at what they could do and how expressive any piece of music was that they sang.
(Above: Erin Johnson as Mrs. Medlock and Sarah Shafer as Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden. Photo by: Peter Dasilva.)
You made your SFO debut this past spring in Nolan Gasser's "The Secret Garden" – how was the experience for you working on the piece and for being thrown into rehearsals only a few weeks into your fellowship?
While it was intimidating to be starting my Adler Fellowship and premiering the roles of Ayah and Mrs. Medlock, there was also a great sense of excitement about being the first to sing these roles. I tremendously enjoyed working with Jose Maria Condemi and being under his stage direction and I was thrilled to work with Nolan Gasser because I loved being able to ask questions about the score.
We understand you can write the entire Arabic alphabet – do you speak the language? What attracted you to learning it?
Yes, I can write the entire Arabic alphabet and by the time I was finished with my Arabic 101 class, I was able to converse on a basic level and write/speak 350 words. Arabic has always been a language that peeked my curiosity. In my opinion it’s one of the most beautiful languages in its written form and I’m so glad I took the opportunity to take it when I did.
You studied in Houston for your graduate work – how does Houston compare to San Francisco? Do you miss anything about living in Texas?
I miss some good Tex-Mex and BBQ, but I most definitely DO NOT miss the weather. When it rains in Houston, it pours and I’m convinced that the mosquito should be named the official state bird because they are HUGE in Texas. The good part to living in Houston and Texas in general was that it was pretty inexpensive, but I still overall enjoy San Francisco so much more.
(Above: Erin Johnson and Opera Center Director Sheri Greenawald. Photo by: Scott Wall.)
What are you most looking forward to in your first year of the Adler Fellowship?
Well, I think it goes without saying that I cannot wait for main-stage to begin! Not only will I be singing in several of the fall mainstage productions, but I will also be part of the world premiere of The Gospel of Mary Magdalene
. I doubled majored in music and biblical studies in my undergrad, so, I find the subject of the opera completely fascinating. I understand the subject matter may not be the most inviting to those who are religious, but I think there can be a great deal of value in examining literature and texts that one does not already agree with. This is something I wish I did more of before attending bible college.
You’re one of three mezzo-sopranos in the Adler program this year, which is rare for a young artist program like ours to have – how are you learning from one another’s experiences?
So far, I feel like I’ve been learning a lot from everyone. It’s tempting to feel intimidated when you are part of programs like the Adler Fellowship because everyone is so amazing. However, I feel like it’s one of the greatest gifts to work and sing along side such talented people. I not only observe and learn what they do onstage, but I get to see their process and how they remain calm backstage before going out to sing. My colleagues are also some of the sweetest people and they have really been supportive towards me and my singing.
What are some of your favorite places to frequent in San Francisco? Any favorite restaurants, bars, parks? Have you explored any other parts of California thus far?
Dosa is a fantastic Indian restaurant that my husband and I really love. The food is so wonderful, but they have some amazing drinks as well. We also have a black lab that we cannot wait to take to a dog beach during the summer. Additionally, I really love marine life so we are hoping to drive down to Monterey in July and visit the aquarium.