A Canadian Star Shines for the World
IT WAS the closing performance for the season, in New York, of the Metropolitan Opera Company. Most of its members were to leave that night on their spring tour of southern cities. The great opera house was packed with a fashionable audience, eager to do final tribute to its favorites, before parting with them for a whole summer. From the boxes which throughout the winter had been the privileged vantage ground for the richer clients of the company, the oldest, wealthiest and most aristocratic of Gotham’s elite looked down on the splendid scene. Here, those eminent in social, financial, commercial and diplomatic life gave the prestige of their names to the encouragement of art. The Vanderbilts, Astors, Morgans, Whitneys and Belmonts were present. The family names of Whitelaw Reid and of Nicholas Murray Butler gave the occasion the stamp of intellectual approval, while those of Clews, Kahn, Gary and Harriman, indicated how widely interest and patronage were distributed.
The opera was “La Bohème,” with music by Giacomo Puccini, and as each of the artists took their places in the ensemble, they were greeted with the plaudits of their admirers.
Presently from the wings there emerged a trim figure, who moved with easy grace to the centre of the stage, while from the pit came a tumult of applause. The demonstration could scarce be restrained as he lifted up his fine tenor, and with true histrionic gesture, and chivalrous, romantic ardor, sang the role of Rodolfo.
Though his was almost the only English name on the programme, this was not required to reveal to his admirers, behind reddish beard and wig, and artistic costuming, the face, figure, and voice of Edward Johnson, of Guelph.
Finally the curtain fell. But the crowd would not be denied.
Curtain call followed curtain call in increasing crescendo. Some of the audience reluctantly withdrew. But the devotees persisted.
They swarmed into the aisles, and at each elevation of the curtain, pressed further and further forward to see and hear.
Rudolphe, beaming with delight, bending low to share the compliments with his associates, and to the seats of the mighty patrons and critics, drew back the heavy curtain for his final exit. But ere it swept him behind its folds, he turned from both pit and boxes, and looked upward to one of the loges. It was but a momentary act, but a new and loving look of comprehension passed from stage to balcony. A lady, still so young that she might pass for one in a very different relationship to the star, acknowledged the compliment with a flutter of her kerchief, and an expression of such tenderness that it swept away the short interval in their ages.
The Early Days
Tj'OR Edward Johnson’s mother * was only nineteen when he was born. And her young husband was but twenty. Being Welsh and Irish, both were fond of music, and there seemed no reason why the regular orchestra practice in which her husband was so interested should be deferred because the young wife’s hour was approaching. So Edward Johnson’s first vocal effort, whether a wail of woe, or a pean of praise, was lifted up to the accompaniment of his father’s orchestra.
Doubtless the mother thought of
that as she witnessed his triumph on the night just mentioned. Or her smile may have been in recollection of the little fife and drum band of which he was a member, and which used to march so bravely about the streets of Guelph, so many, yet seemingly so few, years before. Or of the boy choir in St. George’s Church where the little lad of eight sang on Sundays, and of her distress when, with adolescence, the sweet soprano became mute, and baseball and other rude activities attested that the child had been supplanted by the lusty boy. Or possibly she recalled the vociferous rendering by him and his brother of “Duffy’s Cart” and “Keep in the Middle of the Road” which used to draw an audience of gamins from the neighborhood, and several blocks around.
To all Canadian music lovers, the name of Edward Johnson is a familiar one. But hozv many know that he is one of the most popular operatic stars of the European stage as well, and that when he appears behind Italian footlights as Edouardo Di Giovanni, he receives that wild acclaim accorded usually only to a native son?
Maybe so. But more likely her mind dwelt on a tenderer incident still. It was when after ten years abroad, and already famous, he returned to this continent and rushed to greet his mother that he might share his triumph wdth her. But fame brings its penalties. His contract forbade him singing anywhere until his season started. But he was granted permission to sing one song for his mother. The new7s traveled, for Guelph is prouder of its opera star than of any of its other sons, and the ample grounds of the Johnson home soon held an eager gallery. And none can wonder if she liked the song he sang that evening better than those of even such a lyric drama as Bohème. For he sang in English, and the theme was “Mother O’ Mine.”
Johnson’s father w7as the leader of the European band, the only musical organization of its kind in Guelph when the future opera star was a child. Many old timers remember the band concerts w’hich used to be given in the Exhibition Park, where the singer’s father conducted the programme. And many still recall the summer night twrenty years or more ago when the little lad, attired in short trousers, with flowing Eton collar that came down on his shoulders, wearing a high hat and twdrling a cane, sang to the accompaniment of his father’s band the then new7 and popular, and now old favorite, “Annie Rooney”:
“She’s my sweetheart, I’m her beau,
She’s my Annie, I'm her Joe. . . .”
It is doubtful if the acclaim which has since so often greeted his singing in classic harmonies and in foreign tongues, has ever been more sincere, or more tumultuous than that which greeted that popular ditty, as sung by the boy soprano.
When, in his late ’teens, Edward Johnson’s voice returned, and the boy came to sing again, it was in the pure, sweet tenor which has since charmed thousands in various lands, and in divers tongues. For Johnson is not alone one of the world's great tenors. He is a linguist, a student, a traveler, and a speaker w7hose humor and charm have entertained many companies.
A Young Athlete
But before his musical instincts revived, he paid the usual boyish toll to athletics. In his ’teens he developed a passion for all sorts of sport. The Guelph Collegiate school had a strong football team, and contested regularly for a trophy known as the
Hough cup Of this team. Johnson, \V. Lacey Amy, whose writings have since brought him fame, J. Edgar Milla, a son of the late Dr. Mills, then head of the Ontario Agricultural College, and others who later found distinction in other fields, were prominent members. He was active, too, in the Collegiate Literary Society, and here his musical gifts were in constant demand. Johnson had the reputation of never being "stingy” with his selections, and was as generous with his encores as with the original numbers.
The late Col. Clark, the drill instructor of the Collegiate, at this time, had developed a show troupe of sailors. Daughters of the Empire, and Highland cadets, from among the students, and used to take them on tour in Ontario cities. The cadets were dressed in the picturesque Stewart tartan and the company were in great demand in London. Belleville.
Toronto. Kingston. Stratford, and other places. Johnson was one of this company, and doubtless in that connection caught some of the infection which comes from popular acclaim.
The funds obtained on tour were devoted to building the fine gymnasium of the Collegiate, and here Eddie Johnson developed another talent. He was well built for the fistic ring, and soon became very "handy with his dooks.” Some of his athletic friends bemoaned the increasing time he gave to music, feeling that the ring was thereby being deprived of one who might have become as famous in the manly art as in the vocal one. The gym" formed a favorite retreat for some bouts which would never have been approved by the teaching staff, had they Known how bloody some of them became. Here, after school hours, the ropes would be put
up. and the more doughty of the contestants would battle for supremacy before a select gallery of boys, and sometimes of girls, too. Two of the fastest boxers in the school were Johnson, and Louden Cranston, a brother of the Rev. J. A. Cranston, of Toronto. But ’he former was handicapped by reason of being rather which compelled him to wear glasses. These he generally disposed of before fighting. But on •me occasion he left them on, and in the encounter ( ranston struck him in the face and broke the glasses. Johnson was quick-tempered, and there followed a battle royal in which all the rules went by the board, and the spectators forcibly had to intervene to prevent bloodshed, and avoid the noise of the fracas reaching the ears of the faculty.
The two passions of his life have been to sing and to ’ravel, and both have been gratified to an unusual degree. New or unseen lands have always allured him.
He confesses that the desire
"For to admire and for to see For to behold this world so wide,”
has finally determined the direction and distance of his tours as often as any other motive. It took him to >outh America toward the close of the war, when submarines were sinking vessels on every hand. His wife refused to forego her share in the pleasure and the peril, and so with their baby the two made the journey together. The following year he was offered big money for a repeat engagement, but the invitation had no appeal. He had seen that part of the world. This summer, instead of accepting an advantageous opera contract in America, he is off on a tour of the Orient, ’.hough the trip will be made amid the discomforts of 'ravel in an Eastern summer. The wanderlust will not be denied.
The Flicker of Genius
TT WAS the passion to sing, however, that first carried * him outside the orbit of the little city which is almost as proud of him as is his mother. And it was a Canadian artiste that was responsible for that decision. He was then just emerging from boyhood, finishing his education, and secondarily preparing himself for the profession of law for which his parents intended him. Though he had now developed a fine tenor, and was singing in one of the city choirs, and taking his turn at appearances in neighboring villages and towns, no sensible parents at that time ever thought of music as a career. Certainly not his father, who, though he had himself the musical instinct, associated it as a career only with long-haired and invariably impecunious citizens. Yet by a curious twist of fate, it was that same father who unconsciously determined the path which his son was so successfully to follow.
The boy returned from school one afternoon, and his father said: "Eddie, you are to go up to Stratford tomorrow night, to sing at a concert there.”
The lad looked his amazement, and his father added by way of explanation: "The tenor from Detroit who was billed for the concert has fallen ill, and they phoned to our neighbor next door to see if he could get a substitute from here. So I told him you would go.”
"But. father," was the reply, “I have only three songs.”
"Well, that’s enough. Sing them,” was the conclusive reply.
The songs were by no means new. They were all immortals Dream of Paradise, The Holy City, and The Lost Chord. They were doubtless all already old
to his Stratford audience. And the boy was more nervous than he has ever been since, though he has sung in many of the courts of the Old World. However, the songs went over well, and a pleased audience gave the young singer his first foretaste of that popularity so dear to the soul of the public entertainer.
He had one discriminating auditor, at least, a contralto, Edith Miller, then a soloist at St. Bartholomew’s in New York, who had come up from the metropolis to charm her fellow-countrymen. For she was a Canadian, a native of Winnipeg. Her artistic ear was delighted with the promise of the boy, while her patriotism was fired by the prospect of adding another star to the Canadian musical firmament. The lad traveled back with her as far as Guelph, on her return to New York, and during the entire journey she enthusiastically encouraged him to follow his art, and to expand his talent by expert tuition. When he stepped off the train at the Royal City, his decision was made.
Into the World
HE DID not disclose his ambition for some time, and vainly tried to interest himself in collegiate studies. The time came when he could stand it no longer and he told his father of his desire to go to New York and to fit himself for a musical career.
He met with stern discouragement. “You go back to school as long as I can afford to send you,” said his father. “An education is the easiest thing that I know of to carry around with you.”
So Eddie dragged his reluctant steps to school for a while longer. But it was of no use. He brooded over the matter, and harmonies, instead of Latin conjugations and mathematical equations, were constantly chasing themselves through his brain. He fell behind in his studies. In fact, almost a year was lost in a futile attempt to overcome his instinct. At last he could bear it no longer, and made a sporting proposition to his father: “Let me try it, dad,” he said. “Let me try it for a year. If at the end of that time it doesn’t come up to my expectations, I promise I will come back, and finish my education, broken year and all, and you’ll never hear about it from me again.”
Johnson, senior, probably thought the bargain one in which the odds were strongly in his favor. At any rate, he consented, and agreed to help to finance his son during the period of probation. So gathering his limited effects together, the boy struck out for the rainbow’s end.
His father concealed a tender spirit under a rather stern exterior. But there were tears in his eyes when he handed the lad aboard the train. As for the boy,
as the train pulled out of the station, and he saw the last of the familiar faces, he put his head in his arms on the top of the seat in front of him, and cried all the way to Hamilton.
One of the attractive traits in the character of Edward Johnson is his unaffectedness, and his readiness to share the credit for his success with others. “Sometimes artists are selfish and forgetful,” he says, “and take all the credit for their success to themselves. But our work is often the complement of that of others. We are generally the work of others’ hands.”
At practically every epochal stage in his career, he acknowledges the fortuitous aid of friends. It was so even when he landed, a lonely boy at the old 42nd Street Station in New York. He smiles still at the recollection. “I can see my luggage yet,” he laughs. “It was one of those old-fashioned trunks, with a rounded top, tinned. You know the kind. All the goods I had in the world were in it.”
But he had a distant relative in New York, who took an interest in him. It was early in the spring, in April, a time when most of the changes take place in the church choirs, or when preparations are being made for these changes. He had been studying hard, could read music well, and his voice was natural. This proved a good introduction, and he soon closed an arrangement with Frank G. Dossert, who was the organist and choir leader of a church in Jersey City. This was to sing in Mr. Dossert’s choir in exchange for instruction which the other would give him in music.
Thanks to this tutor, who was an accomplished musician and a good teacher, he had thus the benefit of excellent training. Thanks, too, to the arrangement with his father, he violated all the traditions of budding art, and ate with regularity.
Further good fortune came in the spring. Genius knows no sectarian limits, and the boy who lifted up his voice regularly every Sunday -in Christian praise, was soon singing the songs of Judah as well in a synagogue on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. Then he caught odd jobs in male quartettes, church concerts, and Y.M.C.A. entertainments, getting what looked like a princely honorarium of five dollars a night. These combined efforts brought at least sufficient to pay room rent and board, and the drain on the exchequer back in Guelph was lifted. He was on a self-sustaining basis. In this, as in many subsequent incidents, it will be noticed that Mr. Johnson differed sharply from the conventional musician in that his business sense was keenly developed and active. This was soon to be put to the test.
HE HAD now progressed so far as to attract still wider attention and his services were in some demand. He had given up his Jersey City post, and had gone to the Brick Presbyterian church on 5th Avenue in New York, where Mr. Archer Gibson, a famous organist, was in charge. Here again under favorable and competent direction, his art was further improved.
One day came an invitation to go to Cincinnati to sing Elgar’s “Dream of Gerontius.” He was in the midst of preparing for departure when he received a telephone message from Mr. Wolfsohn, of the Wolfsohn Musical Bureau. This gentleman had always been very kind to the young singer and had great faith in his capacity. Over the telephone he asked him to come to the New Amsterdam Theatre to sing at a producer’s and manager's rehearsal there. Mr. Johnson said he would leave a little early and call at the theatre on his way to the train.
The conductor, on his arrival, played over two or three selections which the young man had no difficulty in singing. Then the manager turned to Mr. Wolfsohn and said:
“This fellow will do. How much does he want?”
Keen as the newcomer was to get into the larger field, the shrewd business acumen which never deserted him did not permit him to make a hasty and improvident bargain. Mr. Wolfsohn turned to him and asked him how much he would take. Johnson replied: “Well, I don’t want it at all unless there is a lot of money in it.” He had a discerning coadjutor in his patron. Perhaps it was a recognition of the latter’s quality which accounts for the fact that he ever since has been the tenor’s manager. At any rate, Mr. Wolfsohn turned coolly to the manager and said:
“We will take $1.000 a week.”
Hiring singers is as useful a sharpener of wits as trading horses. The manager threw up his hands, and asked from what madhouse his callers had come. But both Wolfsohn and Johnson were imperturbable. Finally came an offer of $600, with a provision that Johnson should sing in addition to his regular engagement, at the Wednesday matinees.
The young singer promptly declined, and declared he didn’t want the job. However, after some further parley, he said he would give them his answer on his return from Cincinnati, and to let him have the score to run through while on the train.
Conning over the “Waltz Dream,” on the journey, Johnson found it far from difficult. But he had no opera stage experience, and again the useful Wolfsohn came to his aid. Finally a bargain was struck. He was engaged for ten weeks, with a guarantee of $6,000 whether the show “flivvered” or not. He accepted, but only on condition that he be released in the spring to permit his singing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. To this his new employers consented.
That fall he went on to Baltimore, Philadelphia and other cities, meanwhile industriously preparing himself for his new work.
Early in January he faced, for the first time, a metropolitan audience. He had a great reception. But as an actor his friends insisted he was a “ham.” Those who have seen him in later years, not only singing in ravishing cadences the lines of Butterfly, but actually creating a new character in his Pinkerton, the naval officer, less repellent, but more tragic and moving than any previously seen in that role, can scarcely picture in the graceful, creative actor there revealed, one whose histrionic qualities at the first, were decidedly limited.
The Future Beckons
OW he began to see the future^beckoning. Europe he knew must be the next step. So he worked hard, and saved his money till, at the end of the season, he was able to indulge his next ambition.
And so to Paris! He had achieved fame in singing the lighter forms. He now had the confidence and determination to essay operatic roles.
His foot was on another rung of the ladder of fame, but he was again in a strange town, and one where the handicap was worse than in New York, for here he encountered a strange tongue.
But again that infallible friend was at his elbow. The manager for the Sun Life Company for France, Belgium and the Orient, resided in Paris. His name was Harry B. Higinbotham, and he was a native of Guelph. He at once befriended his fellow townsman, and made him at home in his own house. Johnson started studying under Richard Barthelmey, who had been coach and accompanist to the great Caruso.
Under his tuition, the young pupil began to absorb the more intimate technique of the profession.
At Mr. Higinbotham’s house, too, he met many of the painters, critics, and others of the artistic and musical
crowd with which Paris swarms. They included many who, like himself, were perfecting themselves in some department of art. But among them was one who more than any other was profoundly to influence his life and assist in shaping his subsequent artistic career.
This was Beatrice D’Arneiro, daughter of Vicomte D’Arneiro, a distinguished Portuguese nobleman and musician. Her father was a composer who had written much church music and whose principal work, “Te Deum,” had been rendered in Lisbon. She was studying music as a dilettante, and met Mr. Johnson at the Higinbotham home. Soon she was playing his accompaniments, and a warm attachment sprang up between them.
Mr. Johnson returned to America the following year, but kept up a frequent correspondence with the young lady. He returned to Paris the next season, and under the sponsorship of his friends, Mr. and Mrs. Higinbotham, he asked Beatrice D’Arneiro to share his fortunes and his name. The two crossed to London and were in Grace Church, Dulwich
From that time the genius of the star became so closely identified with the loving co-operation of his wife that it is difficult to say which was most responsible for his success.
She warmed his career with romance and her death six or seven years later threw a tragedy across the pathway of his fame. Her ambition
for him was as intense as was his own. Under her suggestion they went to Florence, and there near the Old Bridge which has stood a thousand years, he established his household in a villa which he still calls his home. Here under his wife’s encouragement, he studied Italian, French, and the Italian operas, and began to acquire that love of the Italian character and art which marks him to-day.
Here, too, he had a second Caruso instructor in Vicenzo Lombardi. It was Lombardi who taught him the Italian bel canto. Of course, there were many discouragements, for there was so much to learn. He had two new tongues to master. But his wife knew seven languages, and this enabled him to make rapid progress. Morever she sang well, understood technique, and was able so to appreciate his difficulties as to help him master them. Several years of plodding and intense study followed. The one goal, the operatic stage, was kept constantly in view by the artist and his devoted wife, and finally a tour of the principal cities of Italy, including Bologna, Florence and Rome, brought reassur-
ance, by its success, that the years had not been spent in vain. His debut was made at Padova in 1912 at the Verdi theatre, where he sang the opera “André Chenier” by Umberto Giordano, and two years later the seal of authority was given to his career when the director of La Scala of Milan came to Rome and engaged him for the first production in Italy of Wagner’s “Parsifal.” Till then his work had been a development and a preparation. Now he had arrived—no longer seeking, but sought.
Followed seven years of triumph. As Edouardo Di Giovanni, (Edward son of John) the Canadian singer swept through the nation, singing to the Italian people in their own tongue, and under one of their own names. He created the tenor roles in “II Tabarro,” “La Nave,” “Fedra,” and “Gianni Schied.” He received Royal recognition by being decorated with the “Order of Cavaliere della Corona d’ltalia,” or Knight of the Crown of Italy. One of the treasured possessions of Mr. Johnson is a large photo of Gabriele D’Annunzio with the following words above his autographed inscription: “To Edouardo Di
Giovanni who animated with his noble breath ‘Ippolito,’ the trainer of horses, and ‘Marco Gratio,’ the dominator of the tempest. From his ever grateful Gabriele d’Annunzio.” Perhaps more treasured still is the photo of a late lamented composer with the following inscription: “To my very dear friend, Edouardo Di Giovanni, who with so much love and valor, performed ‘Tabarro’ and ‘Schied.’ With ever grateful love, affectionately, Giacomo Puccini.” He was the original in Puccini’s opera, “Girl of the Golden West,” singing and creating the role in Rome where the composer came to see his work interpreted by the young Canadian, while it was put on simultaneously in New York.
The War, Royalty and Home
JOHNSON’S career was at flood time when the war broke in devastation upon Europe. The theatres were closed. There was no work, and the singer had a wife and child to support. So he wrote his brother in Canada to try to get him a job in this country, and was actually preparing to come back to join up with a Canadian regiment when all Britishers in Italy were called to stand by for service. The single men were sent back to England, and married men were retained for service in Italy. So with others, he was kept busy in camps and hospitals. Here he had the valued friendship and aid of Sir Rennell Rodd, the British ambassador to Rome, and Lady Rodd. Then in the closing years of the fighting, off to South America on a tour which included Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Ayres, and Montevideo. Then back to Madrid, where he was engaged at the Royal Opera.
At his debut performance, he was commanded to the Royal Box.
“Oh, do you know English?” inquired Queen Victoria, who is a princess of the British Royal House.
“Why, that is my native language, Your Majesty,” Mr. Johnson replied. Continued on page 60
A Canadian Star Shines for the World
Continued from paye 11
“I am a Canadian, and was born in the Royal City of Guelph, which was named for Your Majesty’s family.”
The Queen was delighted. “Ob,” she exclaimed. “I have beard a lot about Canada from my uncle, the Duke of Connaught.”
Guelph came in for more publicity when Mr. Johnson was singing in Rome. The mayor of Rome gave a reception in honor of the Prince of Wales, who was then visiting the Fternal City, and the Canadian star was asked to sing. Afterwards His Royal Highness sent for Mr. Johnson, and the latter took occasion to urge him to come to Canada, and when be did to visit Guelph, which bad been honored by a visit from King Fdward the Seventh when he was Prince of Wales.
The Prince, leaning against the door, with a “fag” in his lips, replied: “I might do that, too, if this bally war ever gets over.” (It was in 1918.) As a matte of fact, he did so the next year, and included Guelph in hisitinerary. Onthe steps of the city hall as he acknowledged the warm welcome of the mayor and council, His Royal Highness explained that while be had been courteously solicited by the city fathers, his first invitation had been from a young townsman of theirs whom he had met in Rome the previous year.
The armistice was signed, and early in 1919 business was resuming. Mr. Johnson was singing Puccini’s “Girl of the Golden West” and other operas. Then came his great bereavement. His wife died.
During the summer he went on a tour with Toscanini and his orchestra, and was with them when Campanini, then director of the Chicago Opera Company, arrived in Italy in search of new artists. A contract was soon arranged, and in the fall of 1920 the expatriated Canadian returned to this side of the Atlantic.
“I landed on the twelfth of October, 1920,” he says, “with a child, a governess and a maid, none of whom knew English, and with sixteen pieces of bagcage. I got them all safely to Canada.” Then off to see his brother in Michigan.
This brother, Fred, is a successful manufacturer of Bay City, and always manages to be home at Ouelph when his brother is there on holidays. Fe is a golfer of more than local fame. Fdward Johnson owns a nice bungalow with ample grounds, on the Flora Road in Guelph, where his father and mother reside, and where he and his daughter and brother still enjoy their vacation.
Johnson the Man
THE brothers had not met for years, so there was a reunion at Bay City. The younger man listened patiently to Edward render the gems from his operas and then took him out for a game of golf. Nine holes sufficed to form an opinion. “Ed., I must say that as a golfer you are a first class singer,” was his verdict.
In November he made his debut in Chicago in “Fedora” by Giordano, and was heard in the various operas of “La Tosca,” “Aida,” etc. The next year saw him under concert contracts, and also with the Victor Talking Machine Company. Three seasons were spent touring with the Chicago Opera Company from coast to coast, then back to Europe for two year?, and finally came the contract with the Metropolitan Opera Company.
The business man in Edward Johnson is constantly in evidence. Heisan artist, but he has given a new significance to the term. There is nothing eccentric in either his appearance or his manner. He has the bearing and speech of a widely traveled, cultured business man, and is quite free from affectation or pose. “An
artist,” he says, ‘ is just a business man. He has something to sell. That’s why I’m a Rotarian. I’m selling goods, like other Rotarians. Only I come in closer contact with my customers. I am there when the goods are delivered, and my customers decide right there and then whether the product pleases them or not.
“Our business has been commercialized like every other form of entertainment. We develop our artistic side as far as possible to please the public. But it has to be properly presented. That is why we have the press, ticket sellers, etc. The attitude of the public varies according to how we are presented. Sometimes a good artist is snowed under, not because he hasn’t the right thing, but because he isn’t presented right. The public is not always discerning. Other artists, not so good, get over, and are successes, not because they are better artists, but because they are presented better. That is where the business side of our calling comes in. Supply and demand. The more demand for the article we have to sell, the better prices we get.”
Mr. Johnson finds a great difference between Latin and Anglo-Saxon audiences, and in nothing is the difference more marked than in their reception of an artist. Opera is second nature to Italians, and before the war twenty cents would admit one to the best performances. Instead of two or three opera companies for over 100,000,000 people as in America, there are in Italy over one hundred companies for a population of 60,000,000. So there is more field for the singer. But the audiences are pop'i’ar ones, the theatre being a social institution at many of which oranges, bananas and fruits of all kinds are sold. The result is that the warm-hearted sons and daughters of the south have ready at their hands the weapons with which to register distinct approval or otherwise of the singer, and they do not hesitate to employ them. “When they like a thing, they applaud ■ ' .ferously,” he says, “and throw up tneir hats. But if they start to whistle, you had better dodge. Something is likely coming your way. It may be a hat or an orange, but the aim is deadly. I have, luckily, never been a target, but I have seen a near riot in an Italian theatre over a song, or singer, that the audience did not like.
“The Anglo-Saxon is not so demonstrative. He will always applaud, whether the act be good or bad. But he is rarely warm or responsive. The result is that an impressario may put on a singer, whom the audience applauds perfunctorily. He will never know till the crowds begin to fall off, whether or not his show is a success. And in the meantime he may lose much money. In Italy he could tell after the first act.”
How It Is Done
LONG residence among the Italian J people, and familiarity with their traits and characteristics as well as their tongue, has made of Mr. Johnson one of their warmest admirers. The quick appreciation of, and intelligent interest in art, in every form, which even the unlettered display, is to his mind, a striking indication of how deeply real culture has struck into the soul of the Italian people. His regard is ardently reciprocated, and Edouardo Di Giovanni is as popular in Milan, Florence and Rome, as is Edward Johnson in New York, Chicago, Toronto or Guelph.
The process by which an operatic star comes to his kingdom, Mr. Johnson describes as a laborious one. “The singing business is a hard, uphill game,” he says. “There are some singers, I know, who deliberately work to get to certain theatres. I can’t say I possessed that determination. My policy was to work at the thing at hand, do the very best I could, and when a better opportunity offered, seize it.
“This getting to the Metropolitan, for instance, is regarded by some as a Mecca. With me it was not an objective, but a progression. The route lay by Italy, South America, Spain. The next world to conquer was obviously America.
“Europe is the best school for repertoire and experience, and the matter of arriving lies in experience, and in knowing your repertoire. Singing the roles at the Metropolitan is not altogether a question of voice.
"Language is a very serious handicap, for you must sing the operas in the language of the country in which you
perform. It takes hard study to become conversant with a foreign tongue.
“You get your technique as you go along, and while doing so must perfect yourself in the language. You learn the language and the role together. They work simultaneously.
“You must never tell the public your age.” And this great star who looks little more than thirty, laughed heartily/ “It’s a funny thing, but after a man has appeared for two or three seasons before the same audience, men will shrug their shoulders and say: ‘What! that fellow
here yet! Why, we have been listening to him for ten years.’ So if they know we are old, it’s all off.
“Caruso understood that. When some one spoke of the high fee he received, he replied: ‘But you are not paying me alone. You are paying all those fellows who tried to excel and failed.’ ”
At the mention of Caruso’s name, the singer drifted off at once into a reminiscent rhapsody on the golden-throated Italian.
“Of course, Caruso was unique. As a singer one can only compare him to the difference between a man of eight feet in height and others of five or six. He was a superman. He was born with an extraordinary vocal apparatus, and nature had at the same time endowed him with a great physique, and with the feeling, sentiment, and temper of an artist. All these, super-developed in the same man, gave us the phenomenon that he was. We shall never see his equal.
“It is risky to decide immediately for opera,’’ he says, speaking of beginners. “That is a development. The best training I ever got for opera was my church and concert experience. Classics are the base, the backbone, for voice, piano or violin. It’s a lot harder to sing Bach than Wagner. The preparation is Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schubert. The other is then child’s play.
“Modern opera is the singing of the dramatic phrase. And it is emotional. But you must have your technique.”
Proud of His Native Land
R. JOHNSON’S pride in his native j country is reflected in the pleasure i with which he regards the great successes that have attended the group of Canadians who have done so well in the same organization as that in which he sings. Of the Metropolitan Opera Company, six hail from the Land of the Maple Leaf, and their achievements prove that talent easily vaults international boundaries. The list includes Florence Easton, who though born in England was educated in I Canada; Kathleen Howard, of Niagara: Edmund Burke, of Montreal; Wilfrid Pelletier of the same city, and Jeanne Gordon, of Chatham. j
No sketch of Edward Johnson would fairly reflect the man if it treated of him merely as a musical genius. That, he undoubtedly is. But he is, as well, a man of wide reading and culture, of a humor that can afford to laugh at himself, and a successful artist possessed of a voice of rare beauty, and with unusual intelligence and skill in the use of it His eager mind reaches out in every direction to compass the interests and accomplishments of other people in other lines, and he loves to talk to them of their work.
This is notably so in the case of business men, for whom he has a great affinity. “My conception is this,” he says, “that any man who accomplishes anything worth while which requires imagination is an artist, and his production is a work of art. So we are all alike. I think the successful artist to-day has a good deal of business sense. The dreamer type is gone —a misfit in this keen, active age.”
It is this student sense, this ability to project himself into worlds outside his own, which probably accounts for his almost phenomenal success in various roles. To many of them he has given an entirely different interpretation to the accepted one. Singing ten roles in thirteen weeks at the Metropolitan Opera is a tax upon the mental resiliency as well as the vocal powers of the greatest of artists. Yet this Mr. Johnson did, with increasing security and authority for his art. He is more than a tenor; he is an artistic personality.
REFERENCE has been made to the pride which his home city takes in Edward Johnson’s career. This is not
mere gratification in world recognition of his talent. It is as well an appreciation of his unaffected love of his birthplace, and his delight whenever he has an opportunity to return. “It is a pleasure to know,” declared his fellow townsmen in the address which the Mayor and Council, Chamber of Commerce, and Canadian Club presented him, following a monster welcome in 1920, “that your pre-eminent success has not in any way robbed you of the joyous handclasp, the friendly grace, and the congenial charm of your boyhood days. You are still one of us, our own dear gifted son, with surpassing talent and fame, but with the same glad home-coming heart as of yore.”
From amongthose who attendedthe old Collegiate, and those who taught there, the singer has kept some of his closest friends. When he returns to Guelph two of the first calls he makes are on James Davison, principal emeritus of the present Collegiate Vocational Institute, who was principal of the school for almost half a century; and John W. Charlesworth, language master, and former professor of English at the Ontario Agricultural College. The late Col. Clark was included in these first calls, as long as he lived. Johnson was also a warm personal friend of Col. John McCrae, author of the immortal “In Flanders Fields,” who was also a graduate of Guelph Collegiate school, and of Arthur W. Cutten, the famous broker of Chicago.
The great singer has hundreds of other ardent admirers and champions in his own city, who never heard an opera, and can’t sing a note. But they know Eddie Johnson, and they all agree that he is “some guy.” And the native son who can maintain that reputation in his old home, after he has wrung tribute from the world, is greater than he that taketh a city.