Celeste Johnson

When you think of opera, what do you picture? Palatial stages? Magnificent costumes? A huge cast hitting ear-splitting notes?

Former Rochesterites Celeste Johnson and Evan LeRoy are here to make it easy.

LeRoy, a tenor, and Johnson, a pianist and vocal coach, will perform selections from Carmen, Roméo et Juliette, Eugene Onegin, and Rigoletto, among others, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 3, at Zumbro Lutheran Church (624 3rd Ave. NW).

They’ll answer questions, share their experiences after years of classical training, and generally try to make the art form accessible.

Intimidated? Don’t be. Johnson, who began her affair with opera at age six (Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte/The Magic Flute, more on that later), said it was love at first sight.

“The best way to experience opera is to be in the audience of a live performance,” she said. “There is an electricity unique to the human voice; hearing a singer carry over an entire orchestra without amplification is thrilling. I wish more people had an opportunity to connect to the visceral emotion of opera, and to have a sense of the passion and commitment of everyone involved.”

Most people are aware of the spectacle of opera – the costumes, grand sets, and showstopping arias. But behind all of that showmanship is something much simpler – a group of highly trained individuals working hard to dazzle the audience.

As a pianist in opera, Johnson usually works behind the scenes on finished productions, rehearsing music with the cast. She finds it exciting to be part of a project “that has such a large scope,” even though her contributions usually don’t reach the stage on opening night.

“I think opera sometimes has a reputation as elitist or exclusive, but it’s really just a bunch of people who love this art form working day after day, pushing themselves to become their best musical selves, in order to make it happen,” Johnson said. “The emotions the characters of opera share with us are the strongest and deepest ones we know--passion, jealousy, anger, fear, and love, to name a few--and continue to be relevant to our experiences of being human.”

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Anne writes for Rochester Magazine and the Post Bulletin, and edits 507 Magazine. She hails from Lafayette, Indiana and enjoys reading, tea-drinking, and her cat, Newt Scameownder.