February 18th 2023

Career advice and inspiration: Opera Singer, Jennifer Johnston

My role:

I am a mezzo soprano and appear as a soloist with opera companies and orchestras all over the world, unless there’s a global pandemic! I was Artist in Residence with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra until recently and still perform with them often so I do sing ‘at home’ too.

What do you love most about your job?

The music. I feel very lucky to be able to perform the works of composers like Wagner, Mahler, Elgar, Britten and Beethoven, plus music written by living composers can be very exciting to bring off the page to an audience.

Tell us something about your role that many people wouldn’t know?

That it is only superficially glamorous, with the costumes and big dresses. When you’re travelling, it can be lonely and exhausting, not all hotels are nice, and finding healthy food to eat can be challenging. People think opera singers are divas and make huge demands like the big pop stars of our day, but it’s a very different part of the music industry. We don’t have riders, all I ever ask for is a bottle of water and an iron!

What was your first move into / experience of the music industry?

When I was 15, I joined the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir and it was my first taste of professional-level classical music, I made my debut as a soloist with the orchestra the year I joined the choir (I sang the Voice from Heaven in Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc). It really influenced me, hearing a world-class orchestra and singers performing at such a high level, and gave me a grounding that set me up very well for later on in my career. Now, the young people of Liverpool have the chance to be part of the Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Company, rather than joining the adult choir, and have incredible opportunities that didn’t exist for me growing up.

Explain a defining moment/role in your career?

When I was signed by the agency that still manage my career, Askonas Holt. I was in my first term as a student at the Royal College of Music, so I was exceptionally lucky to be picked up by such a big international agency, and without them I simply wouldn’t have had the career I have had so far, I’m very grateful to them.

What three pieces of advice you would give to your 16 year old self, aspiring to follow a similar career path (include relevant work experience, networking, professional qualifications etc)?

  1. You have a long road ahead, so learn to be resilient, determined and focused, even when challenges are put in your path. Embrace the ups and downs and try to enjoy the journey.
  2. Find people to teach and mentor you that you know you can trust, and then block out the rest of the noise. Your self-confidence will thank you for it.
  3. Grab every opportunity that comes your way with both hands and make the best of it. Preparation is everything, don’t waste your or other people’s time, or let yourself down. Be professional from the start.