‘Music brings me closer to people’: John Holiday on his love of opera

The multi-genre countertenor stars in Annapolis Opera’s 'Voices of Our Time' concert on April 15.

John Holiday is, according to the Los Angeles Times, “one of the finest countertenors of his generation.” A Marian Anderson Award winner, he has performed at some of the world’s most renowned stages, including the Metropolitan Opera. On April 15, at Maryland Hall, he stars in Annapolis Opera’s concert Voices of Our Time. A multi-genre artist, Holiday generously spoke with DC Theater Arts about his love of opera.

John Holiday. Photo by Shervin Lainez.

What was your journey to loving and performing opera?

John Holiday: Well, like most singers, I started my journey as a youngster in the church choir. I had the privilege of being directed by my grandmother, whom I lovingly call Big Mama! She was the music minister and the pianist, so I learned so much under her tutelage. Oftentimes, I tell folks that she truly was my first voice teacher. I’d imitate what she did with her voice.

Then, as a second grader, I auditioned for the Fort Bend Boys Choir of Texas (FBBC), under the guidance of William R. Adams, founder and artistic director. It was in the FBBC that I was exposed to classical music and to my shero, Denyce Graves. Once I saw her singing, I thought that whatever she was doing is what I wanted to do. Now, I realize how blessed I am to have had her as an example, at such an early age. I was 12 years old when I sang with her as a member of the FBBC and at a concert of The Damnation of Faust, in 1997.

Everything else is history. I went to college, as a tenor, and by the end of my freshman year, I’d begun singing as a countertenor. Ever since then, I’ve never turned back. I was an apprentice with the Santa Fe Opera in 2011, and my upward trajectory started after that summer — having received management with Columbia Artists Management. Truly, I’ve always loved to sing and be with people. At my core, I’m a people person, and music brings me closer to everyone.

You’ve performed in some amazing roles recently, from Orpheus’ Double in Eurydice to Nerone in Agrippina. What are some of your favorite operas, either performing or enjoying?

I have three favorites: The Refugee in Flight, Xerxes in Xerxes, and John Blue in We Shall Not Be Moved. One of the things that I love doing is creating new works, so every new role that I sing is super-special to me because I get to put my own stamp on it.

Is there a “dream” opera or role that you’d love to take on in the future?

I’d love to do an opera about the Civil Rights icon Bayard Rustin. For the longest time, I’ve wanted to tell that story about this incredible man. It’s not been written, so I’m hoping that someone, someday will see the value in telling Mr. Rustin’s story. I’d love it to be done so that his partner, who is still living in New York City, can see it.

You’re a proud member and supporter of the LGBTQ+ community. How do you feel about the recent wave of anti-trans and anti-gay legislation that several states have passed?

Yes, I am a very proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community, and I am absolutely gutted by the recent wave of anti-trans and anti-gay legislation. It’s something that saddens me, and I have always used my platform to uplift and encourage my community, which will never stop. Whenever there is such discord, I find that it’s important to extend an invitation to people to have difficult conversations. From those difficult conversations, I believe they can help to usher in clarity and understanding.

What do you hope audiences will come away with from this Voices of Our Time concert?

I hope that the audience will come away knowing how grateful I am for the opportunity to be with them and to spread love. In a world where there is such dissension, I’m hoping that I can help them to realize that we are all so much more similar than we are different. In addition to that, I’m a huge proponent of sharing love and light, and this is one of the ways I know how to do that. I am thankful that I get to be a beacon of love and of light and of hope. We need that right now, and I pray that each person leaves the concert with their glass overflowing with joy.

Voices of Our Time plays one night only on Saturday, April 15, 2023, at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts – 801 Chase Avenue, Annapolis, MD. For tickets ($15-$60), call the box office at 410-263-5544 or purchase online.

The event program is online here.

COVID Safety: Masks are encouraged for all performances but are optional inside the building and theaters.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here