Remembering Roland Johnson, 1920-2012

Maestro Roland Johnson with Ann Stanke
(Madison Opera General Director 1984-2005).
We are very sorry to report that Roland Johnson, the co-founder and former music director of Madison Opera, has passed away at the age of 91.
Johnson and his wife Arline started what became the Madison Opera with an Opera Workshop performance that included the second act of Die Fledermaus in May 1962. This was followed in March 1963 by three sold-out performances of Puccini’s La Bohèmeat Madison East High School. As Madison grew in the years that followed, so did the company, moving its performances from East High School to the Union Theater and then the Oscar Mayer Theater.
Johnson conducted almost every performance; under his baton, the company performed a diverse repertoire, from classics such as Carmen to more unusual works such as The Bartered Bride. In February 1977, the company presented a live telecast of Massenet’s Manon – one month before the Metropolitan Opera did its own first live telecast. In another first, Madison Opera commissioned Shining Brow from composer Daron Aric Hagen; the opera premiered in 1993, conducted by Johnson.
Johnson remained music director of Madison Opera until the end of the 1993/94 season; his final performance was Aida in April 1994. He continued his association with the company after his retirement, conducting several more operas in the years that followed and preparing the chorus through 2008. He remained an active supporter of Madison Opera, attending the company’s 50th anniversary gala in May 2011 and speaking with great affection about the company he had built.
John DeMain, who succeeded Maestro Johnson at both the Madison Symphony and at Madison Opera, credits Johnson with truly advancing the cause of classical music in Madison, playing a major role in developing the Madison Symphony as a professional regional orchestra. “He was a consummate musician and gentleman,” says DeMain. “I enjoyed working with him and have boundless respect for what he brought to our community.”
Kathryn Smith, Madison Opera’s General Director, says: “I first met Roland in May 2011, when he attended the meeting at which the board of trustees voted me in as the new general director. Such a gesture of support from the founder of the company made me feel incredibly welcome to Madison Opera. My admiration for his work has only grown in the time I’ve been here – he truly built something amazing that we are privileged to continue to share with our community. He will be missed by everyone.”
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, June 9 at 11am at Midvale Community Lutheran Church in Madison.

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