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PDX OPERAbeat | A Company Blog is the blog for all things Portland Opera, featuring a variety of guest contributors who will provide insider's tidbits on all we do to celebrate the beauty and breadth of opera.

Meet the Cast: John Holiday, countertenor

Our last Galileo Q & A comes from countertenor John Holiday, who is singing the roles of 1st Cardinal and 1st Oracle in our production. If you've seen Galileo, you've likely experienced a moment at the top of Scene 2, when this beautiful, otherworldly voice begins the interrogation and you wonder, 'wait, where is that coming from?!"


John is possibly one of the friendliest and most approachable people I've ever met. He has been an absolute joy to be around during this run, and I'm really hoping he can come sing with us again. He's also a person to watch -- he's definitely going to have a huge & wonderful career.


[John Holiday as 1st Cardinal (LH side)]


First off, I just love hearing you sing in this show. We have had a few countertenors come sing roles with us over the past few years, although they're still a relative rarity. A few years back, Gerald Thompson, the countertenor who sang in our production of Cavalli's La Calisto, spoke at our post-performance Q & A session, and reminded the audience that the countertenor notes are no higher than those you'd hear sung by, say, Prince or Michael Jackson, or anybody in an 80s hair band. Your voice, though, is different from the 'standard' countertenor voice, because you're not singing in falsetto. Could you tell me a little bit about that?

No, I'm not singing in the falsetto voice. There are some countertenors who do sing in the falsetto and some who sing in their modal voice. This is my real voice. I had an ENT doctor perform a scope on my cords, and when I sing my vocal cords completely touch, which means that is my true voice. In fact, she told me that my vocal cords were very much like those of a woman.


I've heard that southern accent. Where are you from?

I was born in Houston, Texas and I'm from a little suburb in the Houston Metroplex called Rosenberg, Texas.


When did you start singing? Were you musical from a young age?

When I was two years old, my maternal grandmother would put me on top of tables and have me sing. I've been singing since that time, and have always felt that music was a part of my life. I really believe that this is what I'm supposed to do, and I do it with joy.


At what age did you develop an interest in opera?

It was in the third grade that I became a member of the Fort Bend Boys Choir of Texas (FBBC). and it was at that time that I really developed a curiosity for opera. I actually fell in love with opera during performances of Berlioz's Damnation of Faust and Orff's Carmina Burana as a member of the FBBC. In the performance of Damnation of Faust, Denyce Graves was the Marguerite, and seeing her allowed me to realize that it was possible for me to be an opera singer.


I'm sure that a large portion of the roles you sing are from the time period we're depicting -- the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. What is it like to sing a piece written so recently? Is there a big difference?

In fact, I love singing this music. Glass does a particularly great job of depicting the emotion that he likes for his music. I've become very interested in modern music, and Galileo Galilei has sparked my interest even more. In the music that I typically sing, Handel and some Mozart, there are usually da capo arias that feature beautiful coloratura passages and musical lines that I get to ornament or interpret in my own way. There is not so much of that going on in modern music, but it doesn't mean that the music is less interesting. It's beautiful in its own way.


What's the most challenging thing about performing your roles in Galileo? The most enjoyable thing?

I wouldn't particularly say that there are any challenges about singing the roles of 1st Cardinal and 1st Oracle. Because the music is so beautiful, it is very easy to be hypnotized by the gorgeous melodies. So, I have to really pay attention to everything that my colleagues are doing and to the maestro.


What are some of your favorite roles to sing?

I have several favorites, but I will say that I sincerely love each role that I've ever done. For me, I love the idea of putting on someone else's skin for the day and depicting a character that would otherwise be lifeless and on a sheet of paper. I like putting my spin on it.


What do you like to do in your spare time?

In my spare time, I enjoy taking my dog, Grace, for a walk. And, I love to play the piano and sing around the house. I am a huge jazz fan and love to dabble in it myself.