Suffolk opera star provides free concerts to combat lockdown boredom
- Credit: Archant
International opera singer Christina Johnston is staging a series of themed concerts from her Felixstowe home to help combat lockdown frustration. The free shows enable her to connect with music fans around the world
Suffolk-based opera singer Christina Johnston is combing music and technology to create a series of live concerts streamed straight into people’s homes.
Christina, born in Framlingham, but now lives in Felixstowe, after a spell in Prague, is setting up a series of themed concerts which people can watch live via her Facebook page or catch-up with later on YouTube.
Christina said: “Since the beginning of March I have lost all my work. Everything, all the Proms and Snape concerts and tours I was supposed to be doing right now have all been cancelled, and it looked as if I would be twiddling my thumbs until at least September, maybe beyond, so I thought I would do something about it.”
She started performing at care and nursing homes in Suffolk before lockdown put paid to that endeavour. Then a discussion with friend Richard Garrett, from Sound 4 Pro Audio, got her thinking about putting some old outbuildings she has behind her house to good use.
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“I moved back to Suffolk from Prague last year. We moved to a property in Old Felixstowe which has out buildings on our land and I had dreams of one day turning them into a studio but hadn’t got started because we had only just moved in and had plenty of other things to do. With lockdown, we suddenly had all this time and Richard spent four days rigging it up with lights and sound equipment and a wonderful backdrop so we could use it for our ‘virtual concert’ series.”
The concerts are streamed live every Friday and each week the content is governed by a loose theme. Christina is also encouraging input from viewers and fans who have an opportunity to suggest both songs and themes via her Facebook page.
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This Friday’s concert will have a Disney theme, as requested by viewers of the previous week’s performances. “The concerts have been a steep learning curve because everything has to be organised in such a short time.
“I have to finalise the song choices, running order, source the backing tracks, get them over to Richard so he can work his magic, learn the lyrics, rehearse and all in less than a week. It’s been a valuable lesson of what you can do when the situation demands.”
Christina added that the biggest challenge was performing without an audience and learning to address the camera unselfconsciously. “The first week I did the concert I felt very strange. When you perform you respond to the reaction of the audience. If they are enjoying it, then it spurs you on to greater heights as a performer. I am in our studio literally staring into a camera lens, there’s no-one there, so when I finish there’s no applause, just silence. It’s very unnerving. I think I said: ‘I hope you liked it.’ But I had no way of knowing, so that took a bit of getting used to.”
But, Christina’s Facebook broadcasts have attracted a global audience bringing in music fans from Beirut, Japan, Australia, Illinois, Denmark, Czech Republic, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Germany, France and from all over Britain.
“When you are playing a concert hall you are playing, by the very nature of the size of the venue and its location, to an audience which hasn’t necessarily come that far but online a single performance can reach people around the world, which is both exciting and humbling.”
This week’s concert will be Christina’s fourth. The first was a mixture of mix of arias, pieces from Christina’s album and requests; week two was A Night at the Movies concert and last week was a special VE Day anniversary event.
This week is combining vintage Disney songs with recent hits to create a celebration of the Disney musical. Next week she is looking to celebrate the world of opera and is currently accepting suggestions for pieces on her Facebook page.
“I love having that interaction with the audience. You don’t get applause at the end of a song but you do have a conversation with the people who are enjoying your performances at home.”
The performances are free to view but there is a donation button where people can make a contribution towards the costs of the weekly event.
Christina says that it’s good to be back in Suffolk again having lived in Prague for several years. She was educated at Framlingham College, starting at the age of 11, shortly after her father died, and frequently found herself singing alongside fellow student Laura Wright.
She said that it was interesting to look at how their respective careers had developed: “Laura’s much more of a cross-over artist these days where I have gone more down the classical route.”
This involved moving to Prague and auditioning for Prague State Opera and winning the leading role in Mozart’s The Magic Flute at just 22 years of age.
The move to Prague was necessitated when Slava, her Russian husband, joined the family business based in the city. The pair had met at Framlingham College at the age of 13 when the young mathematician had joined the Suffolk school to improve his English.
With an agent in London and a base in Prague, she gained an insight into the global nature of classical music. She has performed all over Europe, Asia and South America. She has performed at Kazan Opera House, Russia as Olympia from Les contes d’Hoffmann by Offenbach, performed as The Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte and Adele in Strauss’s Die Fledermaus.
She premiered in the production of Puccini’s Tosca and has sung three seasons of Zerlina in Mozart’s Don Giovanni at The Estates Theatre, Prague.
Christina has also starred as Mozart’s pupil, Katerina Cavalieri in the Broadway staged production of Amadeus in 2017.
Although, the Coronavirus lockdown has put her blossoming career on pause, she is delighted that she can still reach a global audience from her home in Suffolk.