Jennifer Johnson Cano is a mezzo-soprano from Missouri who got her "show me" degree from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, where she debuted in 2009. "Her voice," said Corinna da Fonesca-Wollheim in the New York Times, "seems to come out of a happy nexus of heart, soul and brain that lends an authoritative weight to every note."
During October, Cano will play Mercedes in Carmen at the Met; just before that, she is scheduled to sing in the world premiere of A Palace Among the Ruins, a classical commission by Oscar and Grammy-winning composer Howard Shore in La Jolla, California.
And we get her at the 2014 VOICE Festival. Cano and her husband Christopher, an acclaimed classical pianist, will appear in recital Aug. 2 in the Christ Church sanctuary.
Consisting of works by of Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Vaughn Williams, Britten and other composers, the Canos’ English-language recital was first performed in the fall of 2013 at Carnegie Hall.
For tickets, details and scheduling information, see savannahvoicefestival.org.
Do you think it’s important to do what VOICExperience does, to introduce quality opera into a city where people just aren’t used to it?
Jennifer Johnson Cano: If people aren't aware of the art form, of course they're not going to flock to it as something that they want to set aside time in their schedule to take part in. I think the work that Maria and Sherrill are doing, in bringing opera to Savannah and sharing it, is very important. I took my parents to their first opera. They had never bought tickets to go see an opera themselves when I was growing up. I picked an opera that I thought they would like, which was The Abduction From the Seraglio by Mozart. I thought "Mozart is familiar to them, they already know some of the music, and this might be a good pathway for them to experience opera for the first time." And they really loved it! It has heart, and some comedy to it. For my parents that was the gateway opera, if you will. Opera is another form of entertainment, and not every opera is going to be every person's favorite ... it goes back to sharing the art form in a community, and making sure that people aren't nervous about attending. Some evenings are lighter, some are darker, but it's all about exploring the human condition in various guises.
People who work in opera are always talking about attracting new audiences, from younger folks to those who maybe have just never given opera a chance. What’s your take on that?
Jennifer Johnson Cano: I think it's a matter of exposure, and continually giving a very fantastic, human experience. People go to concerts and events really to be a part of a community, and to share in an experience as a group of people. We as a culture have always used music to celebrate, to mourn, to mark any kind of special occasion ... it's always a part of things. So I think we just have to continue working our hardest to bring a really high product, and a really human product, and really polished and well thought-out programs to audience members.
You're not talking about dumbing it down, no "Stars of the Met" Happy Meals? In other words, not simply changing the art to suit the audience?
Jennifer Johnson Cano: No, absolutely not, pandering might work for a short period of time but certainly it's not a long-term solution. We as performers have to be absolutely mindful and aware of the current culture in which we live. And it is different from when many of these operas were created. People used to go spend a whole afternoon and evening at the opera house! It was the thing to do. And today, we do have to compete with television and media and all of these things ... but it's just a different world. It's not that the art form is any less relevant. We're still telling human stories, and it's our job to keep at the core what this art form is all about. Which is telling human stories. And as long as we're doing that to the best of our ability, and we're sharing that openly with as many audience members as we can find, people do respond. Always. They respond to the human element, and the power of music.
Have you worked with Maria and Sherrill?
Jennifer Johnson Cano: Yes! I actually met them more through my husband, Christopher, because Christopher has had a relationship with Maria and Sherrill for many years. I first knew them socially through my husband, and traveling with him when he goes to work for their programs, and attending the events in Florida and up in New York City. And the relationship has grown from there.
And ... have you been to Savannah before?
Jennifer Johnson Cano: I've never sung there before, but my family traveled to Savannah a few times when I was younger. My family loves historical homes, and tours, and we went on a lot of road trips throughout my childhood. Savannah was one of our favorite cities as a family. I was so disappointed last year that I couldn't travel down there while Chris was there. And this year we're fortunate enough to give a recital and I'm thrilled to be visiting a place that I'm familiar with, that I'm sure has changed quite a bit since the last time I was there.