Born: August 22, 1878; Guelph, Ontario, Canada
Died: April 20, 1959; Guelph, Ontario, Canada
Although more often remembered as a general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, Edward Johnson was a tenor of some distinction, having received acclaim both in Europe and in New York long before his administrative appointment. As a singer, his ability to master both lyric and spinto roles was appreciated and he was called upon for several significant premieres. The musicianship and thoroughness in preparation evidenced during his singing careerRead more helped him guide the Metropolitan Opera through the economic vicissitudes of the Depression years and the subsequent loss of many European artists due to WWII. During his years as manager, many American singers began important careers. Johnson's musical interests were evidenced at an early age as he participated in church choirs and sang numerous solo performances. His father had intended that Johnson pursue a career in law, but during his first year at Toronto University, he was called upon to substitute for a soloist unable to appear for a choral concert. Told that he had an exceptional voice and ought to cultivate it, Johnson left for New York to undertake serious study. Johnson was recommended for a production of Oscar Straus' Waltzertraum, was chosen for the tenor lead, and found himself making 700 dollars per week, most of which he saved. Once the run was completed, Johnson declined several handsome offers to instead travel to Italy to complete his training with Vincenzo Lombardi, Enrico Caruso's vocal coach. After making his debut as Edoardo di Giovanni in a 1912 Padua production of Andrea Chénier, the tenor found himself on the pathway to stardom. Within two years, he began a half-decade association with La Scala by singing Parsifal under the direction of Arturo Toscanini. During his tenure there, he gained recognition as one of the country's foremost tenors, succeeding in roles ranging from lyric to dramatic. Following the death of his wife, Beatriz da Veiga, Vicountess d'Arniero, Johnson made his formal American operatic debut with the Chicago Opera Company in 1919. He remained there until 1922, singing roles such as Loris in Fedora (in which his "Amor ti Vieta" drew a prolonged ovation) and a real curiosity: conductor Gino Marinuzzi's Jacquerie (not a success). In 1922, Johnson was summoned to the Metropolitan Opera, where he presented himself for his November 16 debut as Avito in L'amore dei tre re. Critics were impressed by his good looks, dignified bearing, and for a voice deemed by W.J. Henderson as "moderately good." Shortly thereafter, Johnson showed the versatility that would make him so highly valued when, in Puccini's triptych, he repeated both the intensely dramatic Luigi in Il tabarro and the youthful Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi he had sung in the world premieres. He later sang Pelléas (reportedly his favorite role) in the Metropolitan's first production, as well as tenor protagonists in La Vestale, Sadko, I Pagliacci, Fra Gherardo, The King's Henchman, Peter Ibbetson, and Merry Mount (the latter's three all premieres). Named Metropolitan Opera assistant general manager in 1935, Johnson was made general manager upon the death of Herbert Witherspoon just two months later. His cautious approach helped the company survive the Depression years, while his cultivation of young American singers was both immediately necessary and artistically fruitful in the long term. While delegating some responsibilities, Johnson took personal interest in these artists. After retiring in 1950, Johnson became board chairman at Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music. Read less
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