James Johnston

11 August 1903 Belfast –17 October 1991 Belfast

Picture of James Johnston as Calaf
I wish to thank Daniele Godor for the picture.

James Johnston singsSimon Boccanegra: Oh horror
In RA format

James Johnston sings Il trovatore: Ah yes! Thou'rt mine

James Johnston sings Carmen: See here thy flow'ret
James Johnston was a butcher in Belfast, having inherited the business from his father; and he was a passionate amateur singer, appearing in concerts around Ireland. In 1940, he even made his operatic debut in Dublin, as Duca, with great success. From now on, he would sing opera about twice a month – just as often as not to be negligent of his butcher shops.

However, he proved too successful to go on like that. Although he had never got (and would never get) any formal training as far as singing or acting, he was offered a contract by the Sadler's Wells Theatre in London in 1945 – and accepted. For the next 14 or so years, he sang main roles in London, minimum 270 performances at Sadler's Wells (1945–51), and 284 at Covent Garden (1949–58). Then he returned to his butcher's business in Belfast, which he had not only retained but even expanded during his years in London and in opera.

Reference 1: Kutsch & Riemens, reference 2, reference 3

Rigoletto – Dublin, Gaiety, 25 November 1940
Faust – Dublin, Capitol, 21 April 1941
La traviata – Dublin, Gaiety, 19 May 1941
Cavalleria rusticana – Dublin, Gaiety, 6 November 1941
Il trovatore – Dublin, Gaiety, 13 April 1942
Don Giovanni – Dublin, Gaiety, 8 May 1943
The Bohemian girl – Dublin, 23 November 1943
Carmen – Dublin, Gaiety, 22 November 1944
Madama Butterfly – Belfast, Grand Opera House, 25 July 1945
Prodaná nevěsta/The bartered bride (Jeník) – London, Sadler's Wells, 1 October 1945
La bohème – London, Sadler's Wells, 23 January 1946
Tosca – London, Sadler's Wells, 18 December 1946
Pagliacci – London, Sadler's Wells, 5 January 1948
Simon Boccanegra – London, Sadler's Wells, 7 January 1949
Rusalka – London, BBC, 1 April 1949
The Olympians (Hector de Florac) – London, Covent Garden, 29 September 1949
Hugh the drover – London, Sadler's Wells, 9 May 1950
Der Freischütz – London, BBC, 22 September 1950
Der Rosenkavalier – London, Covent Garden, 23 November 1950
Don Carlo – London, Sadler's Wells, 16 January 1951
Turandot – London, Covent Garden, 22 October 1951
Aida – London, Covent Garden, 1 February 1952
Macbeth – Glyndebourne, 2 July 1952
Un ballo in maschera – Cardiff?, on tour with Covent Garden, 11 March 1953
The beggar's opera (Macheath) – London, Sadler's Wells, 4 October 1954
Sir John in love (Fenton) – London, Camden Theater, BBC, 12 February 1956
Les contes d'Hoffmann – London, Covent Garden, 9 July 1957

Reference: Leslie Gilmore At last, a great tenor, James Johnston, Farset Press, Belfast, 1994
Anton Bieber has contributed the Trovatore and Carmen recordings (plus label scans): thank you!

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