Backstage at San Francisco Opera > September 2013 > 5 Questions with Erin Johnson
5 Questions with Erin Johnson
First-year Adler Fellow Erin Johnson is currently performing on the War Memorial Opera House stage as Marta in Boito's Mephistopheles. Our hard-working Adler took some time out of her schedule to answer five questions for us. How does she feel about singing alongside Ildar Abdrazakov? What are her dream roles? What talent does she have–other than singing, of course? Read on to find out!


Congratulations on your role as Marta in Mephistopheles! What has this process been like for you?

First off, I would say it has been a great deal of fun to be Marta and take on such a funny character. Marta is not only a cunning lady, but she also has the hots for Mefistofele and hopes to gain his affection. As any one can imagine, it was not difficult to portray a woman smitten by the good looks of her male counterpart, Ildar Abdrazakov! No need for acting lessons there! And it was just as easy to listen to his wonderful vocalism in the title role of Mefistofele. He's an amazing artist and real joy to be along side on stage.

On the flip side, there was surprisingly a lot of organization that needed to be done with this role. Comedy tends to look easier than it is, especially when it comes to timing. My goal was to always time the funny moments with the music so that Marta's character would be seen as a product of her surroundings and not a distracting sideshow. It was also helpful to think of her actions and reactions in a more realistic way rather than making her too over-the-top and buffo. This was the advice Maestro Luisotti gave me on the first staging rehearsal and I have kept that thought in mind ever since.


[Johnson as Marta, with Ildar Abdrazakov as Mefistofele.]

You are working with three amazing singers: Ildar Abdrazakov, Ramón Vargas and Patricia Racette. Have you received any advice from them?

I haven't directly received any advice from them, but I always feel that just by observing them and watching how they work is basically advice in and of itself. The great part is that I don't know if they even realize how much one can learn just by watching them. Patricia has been such an extraordinary influence of me not only because of her musicianship and dedication to the roles of Margherita and Elena, but  also her added work done on Dolores Claiborne. I was take aback and when I asked her during a sitzprobe how she was doing with Picker's score and she replied by saying, "I practiced 13 hours yesterday." If that's not loving your art I don't know what is! It was a reminder to me how hard you have to work and what kind of sacrifices you must take to be great. I don't think I will ever forget that!

Do you have a dream role?

Some of the many roles I'd like to one day perform would be Isolde, Elsa, and maybe Brünnhilde. While Brünnhilde may be a stretch to imagine me singing now, I figure it's always good to aim high, right? I am currently transitioning to soprano so I hope that one day I get to do some Wagnerian soprano repertoire. Luckily, I get to try on Wagner for size in this season's production of Der fliegende Holländer where I'll be singing the role of Mary. Looking forward to future opera roles I may do one day is a great feeling, but I also feel VERY fortunate to be singing the roles I'm doing right now. :)


[Johnson and Abdrazakov.]

We are certainly glad you are a mezzo-soprano, but if you weren’t an opera singer, what career would you choose?

While I never quite had the grades for it, I think I would have loved to go into some branch of biology. I've always enjoyed marine life and the study of how things evolved. In my spare time I enjoy reading various books on the study of evolution and have really begun to appreciate how science has opened the door to so many amazing discoveries. While I'm definitely passionate about opera and singing, I'm equally passionate about science and furthering its efforts to solve the various problems we have going on in the world.

Any hidden talents you’d like to share with us?

I've always loved to bake, but recently I've been trying to do more cake and cookie decorating. Whenever I have time, I try to experiment with different types of icing and food colorings. My colleagues seem to be enjoying this because I try to bring them treats for opening night performances or for when I know it's their birthday. This past opening night performance of Mefistofele featured shortbread cookies in the shape of black-eyed Susans, which I colored with yellow, orange and red almond flavored icing and topped the centers with dark chocolate!

Production photos by Cory Weaver.

Posted: 9/17/2013 11:50:58 AM by San Francisco Opera
Filed under: 2013-14Season, Mephistopheles


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