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Scott Johnson: Madison’s Young Baritone

Nov. 3, 2009
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For the second year in a row, the Florentine Opera Company welcomes young, talented vocalists to its 2009-2010 Florentine Opera Studio, a full season of artist-in-residence employment for exceptional singers beginning their professional careers. Joining the Florentine this season are soprano Sarah Jones of Columbus, Ohio, mezzo-soprano Julia Hardin of Lawrence, Kan., tenor Aaron Blankfield of Memphis, Tenn., and baritone Scott Johnson of Madison, Wis. Johnson earned his bachelor of music degree from USC and his master of music degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Only 24 years old and yet so widely experienced, Johnson has sung both supporting and leading baritone roles in several operas, both in the United States and Italy, including Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, Mozart’s Idomeneo and Nozze di Figaro, Verdi’s La Traviata, Gounod’s Faust and others.

Do you know what parts you’ll be singing in the upcoming Florentine productions?

Yes, and all of them will be new to my repertoire. In Tosca I will be performing Sciarrone and the Jailer; in Elmer Gantry I’ll be performing the Revival Worker and singing with the chorus, and in Rigoletto I will be singing Marullo.

When did you start singing and thinking about opera as a possible career?

I started in church choir and singing along with musicals like Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera while in the car with my parents. Music took a back seat to sports for most of my adolescent life, [but] I tore a ligament in my elbow while pitching and had to re-evaluate my priorities. It almost seemed like fate.

Did you take any ribbing from your fellow high-school students?

I would occasionally get some good-natured grief from my buddies on the football or baseball teams. The only rule was that I wasn’t allowed to sing along with them in the car if we were hanging out, as I would sing too well [laughing].

Do you have favorite composers, operas or fellow baritones?

I don’t have a favorite composer but rather try to appreciate the work of whichever composer I happen to be performing. As for other baritones, two of my favorites are Leonard Warren and Nicolae Herlea. Most of the time I listen for pleasure, although I will certainly admit to listening for inspiration, too.

Have you thought about the fact that many baritone roles in opera are “bad guys” as opposed to “heroic” tenors and “fatherly” basses?

I think that’s something every baritone thinks about. As nice as it is to occasionally sing a romantic lead, I think playing a villain gives more opportunity to present a nuanced character…and sometimes it can be just plain fun to play a mean guy and do things completely out of my own character!


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