This Week in History


Edward Johnson's Life as a Tenor

For the week of Monday August 20, 2012

On August 22, 1878, Edward Johnson was born in Guelph, Ontario. This internationally renowned tenor made his mark on the musical world with his performances and his management of the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Edward Johnson in the role of Romeo
© Library and Archives Canada / Music Division / nlc-11927, 1923
As a child, Edward Johnson sang in local churches. Wishing to pursue a musical career, he moved to New York, where he performed in churches and at evening events. He proceeded to perform at concerts throughout the United States. Finally, in 1907, at the age of 29, he landed the leading role in the North American version of A Waltz Dream, an operetta that ran on Broadway for 14 weeks. This role made him famous and allowed him to earn enough money to study in Europe. He went to Paris, where he met Beatrice d’Arneiro, whom he married in 1909.

The couple settled in Florence so that Edward Johnson could perfect his art. It was in this city that Edward Johnson – now known as Eduardo Di Giovanni – made his opera debut in 1912. He experienced his first major success in 1914. For the following five years, he performed throughout Italy, Spain and Argentina.

Edward Johnson in his home in Guelph
© Library and Archives Canada / Music Division / nlc-11929, 1958
After the death of his wife in 1919, Edward Johnson returned to North America. Having become an American citizen, he made his debut at the prestigious Metropolitan Opera in New York, where he sang for 13 seasons. During that period, he also helped to create two operas. He was named general manager of the Metropolitan Opera in 1935, a position that he would hold for 15 years.

Upon his retirement, he returned to live in Canada, where he became involved with the Toronto Conservatory and created a foundation which supports the Guelph Spring Festival. In 1959, he died of a heart attack in his home town

In honour of his contribution to the opera world, Edward Johnson was designated a person of national significance in 1974.

To learn more about Edward Johnson, visit The Virtual Gramophone. To learn more about Canadian singers, read A Canadian Diva, Quebec's Star and Canada's First Chansonnière, and Portia May White: the Legendary Contralto, in the This Week in History archives.

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