“Of course the ear is the most important factor, our greatest ally. It helps us imitate. Imitation forms a large part of our study. We hear a beautiful tone; we try to imitate it; we try in various ways, with various placements, until we succeed in producing the sound we have been seeking. Then we endeavor to remember the sensations experienced in order that we may repeat the tone at will. So you see Listening, Imitation and Memory are very important factors in the student’s development.
“I have just spoken of a beautiful tone. The old Italian operas cultivate the bel canto, that is—beautiful singing. Of course it is well for the singer to cultivate this first of all, for it is excellent, and necessary for the voice. But modern Italian opera portrays the real men and women of to-day, who live, enjoy, suffer, are angry and repentant. Bel canto will not express these emotions. When a man is jealous or in a rage, he will not stand quietly in the middle of the stage and sing beautiful tones. He does not think of beautiful tones at all. Hatred and jealousy should be expressed in the voice as well as in action and gesture; they are far from lovely in themselves, and to be natural and true to life, they will not make lovely tones in the voice. We want singing actors to-day, men and women who can adequately portray the characters they impersonate through both voice and action.
“In taking up a new part I vocalize the theme first, to get an idea of the music; then I learn the words. After this I work with the accompanist who comes to me every morning. Of course, besides this, I do daily vocalizes and vocal exercises; one must always keep up one’s vocal technic.
“But learning words and music is only a part of the work to be done on a role. It must then be interpreted; more than this it must be visualized. This part of the work rests largely with the singer, and gives opportunity for his individuality to assert itself. Of course the general idea of the characterization is given us, the make-up, posturing and so on. To work out these ideas, to make the part our own, to feel at home in it, so that it shall not seem like acting, but appear perfectly natural—all this takes a great deal of thought, time and study. It is all a mental process, as every one knows; we must project our thought out to the audience, we must ‘get it over,’ or it will never strike fire!”
On the subject of individuality in interpretation, Mr. Johnson was convincing. “I feel that if I have worked out a characterization, I must stick to my idea, in spite of what others say. It is my own conception, and I must either stand or fall by it. At times I have tried to follow the suggestions of this or that critic and have changed my interpretation to suit their taste. But it always rendered me self conscious, made my work unnatural and caused me speedily to return to my own conception.