Christine Johnston and Jose Carreras, Kenwood House
PUBLISHED: 11:12 12 February 2019
Suffolk based soprano talks about following in the footsteps of Mozart and singing in Hampstead with the world famous tenor
Christina Johnston is about as far from the stereotype of an opera diva as you can get.
Blonde, slight and softly spoken, the Suffolk-born singer had just completed her training at Guildhall when she moved to Prague with her new husband.
Although she wanted to stay in London to kickstart her singing career, his business was based in the Czech capital - so she auditioned at the city’s famous State Opera House.
“I got in as a young artist,” she says.
“I was only 21 and hadn’t really been to many places. Everyone was speaking in different languages, but luckily all the rehearsals were in English.
“I had such amazing teaching and coaching and worked with conductors from Germany and Vienna - it was where I was meant to be.”
Blessed with an extaordinarily agile coloratura soprano voice, by the age of 22 she had made her debut as Queen of the Night in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. She became known in her adopted city as ‘the English princess’ and ‘The Nightingale’.
“The Opera House is stately and grand and seats two and a half thousand, it was an amazing feeling being that young on stage in front of thousands of people,” she adds.
Across town is the Estates Theatre where Mozart debuted his Symphony No38 and conducted his opera Don Giovanni.
“That was Mozart’s theatre; there’s a plaque on the stage that says ‘Mozart stood here’. It’s got great history and it’s a thrill to be there.”
It will also be a thrill when the 28-year-old plays Kenwood House alongside legendary tenor Jose Carreras, who singled her out to perform his farewell to London concert on June 16.
Audiences will see her sing the Queen of the Night aria alongside duets with the Spanish singer.
“I have never been to Kenwood and I haven’t met Carreras yet,” she says.
“I used to watch him when I was little because my parents loved the Three Tenors and I always found him to be the most honest of the three.
“Placido had the high notes and Pavarotti had strength, but you could see Carreras was feeling all the things he was singing. His voice is so beautiful and pure. I am incredibly thrllled because I never thought when I was watching at five years old that one day I would be singing on stage with one of them.”
Johnston will also perform tracks from her 2017 album Blessing, which includes the Bell Song from Delibes’ opera Lakme and Musetta’s Waltz from Puccini’s La Boheme, as well as pieces by Handel, Dvorak and Grieg.
“There are some crossover tracks along with coloratura arias - I am known for the high side of my voice. Every song is one I have performed on stage and they all mean something to me.”
“Carreras has sung lots of Bernstein and musical theatre so I hope we can sing a few duets mayby a Tony and Maria (from West Side Story) or it would be lovely to do some Italian repertoire.”
Johnston is also looking forward to the famed Kenwood atmosphere.
“The acoustics are very different to a concert hall and you have to be careful not to push your voice too much, but singing outside means you can bring more people into your performance and mix opera with other genres of music.”
She’s just moved back to Suffolk and hopes to continue her career in Britain’s opera houses, with a dream of performing at The Royal Opera House or Coliseum one day.
“My dream role is to play Lakme or Lucia di Lammamoor, they are difficult roles but I want to play anything that really expresses my voice and acting ability.
“I love acting and telling a story to the audience. The more I can act the better.
“If you really feel it and are living the story you are singing about – whether it’s Hallelujah or an aria - the audience will feel it too.
“The more you live it, the more you feel it the more you give to the audience.”
Jose Carreras and Christina Johnston play Kenwood House on June 16 as part of the Heritage Live Concerts. ticketmaster.co.uk