In PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST, a newly released MSR Classics CD, soprano Amy Johnson sings nine selections by eight composers. Ranging from Massenet and Wagner to a surprising sampling of 20th century operatic arias, they span the familiar: the Final Scene from Richard Strauss’ Salome, along with several revelatory excerpts from works by Stephen Schwartz, Anton Coppola, Thea Musgrave, and Robert Livingston Aldridge. There are also a scene from Káťa Kabanová by Leos Janáček, and Arabella’s Mein Elemer from Strauss’ Arabella.
Amy Johnson’s peripatetic career has spanned appearances in European and American Opera houses in a repertoire so wide-ranging that it defies any possible pigeonholing of this fine artist. On the evidence of this recording, Amy Johnson demonstrates her enormous versatility, a gift that allows her to handle both the lyrical, high lying lines of Myra in Stephen Schwartz’ Séance on a Wet Afternoon and the jagged utterances of Manuela in Thea Musgrave’s Simon Bolivar.
With an assured handling of the Spanish of Musgrave’s historical opera, to the Czech of Janáček, to the idiomatic French in her impeccably-vocalized Mirror aria from Massenet’s Thais, to the clearly articulated English of several of the selections, to the German of the selections by Wagner and Strauss, Johnson is at all times in complete command of the text.
Add to her language skills, and to what appears to be a limitless top voice that allows her to climax the Thais aria with a bell-like high D, a rock solid technique earmarked by complete flexibility, steadiness of vocal emission, and a keen instinct for never pushing past the sensible in intensity and volume, and you get a complete singing artist: one that can straddle the lush line of Massenet and the schizophrenic writing Strauss assigned to his bad girl soprano, Salome. And therefore we find cause for celebration.
Steven Mercurio superbly leads the MAV SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA with a gift for the give-and-take that accompanying an opera singer requires. Vernon Hartman contributed his sturdy baritone and his organizational skills to the production of this excellently engineered CD.