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Young Artist Highlight: A Chat with Rising Star Deepa Johnny

Posted on: February 4, 2023

Canadian mezzo-soprano Deepa Johnny is a member of the 2022/23 Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program. See her in the role of Barbarina in "The Marraige of Figaro".

What role are you singing in The Marriage of Figaro, and can you describe your character? 
I sing the role of Barbarina. She is a feisty, bold, and confident young girl whose eyes are set on Cherubino. I see her as a Susanna in training; she is very intelligent and knows exactly what she needs to do to get what she wants. 

You made your company debut as Eliza in Omar (which you killed). How was your experience with that role? Did you learn anything about yourself or about opera?
Thank you! This was my very first experience with a new opera/working with living composers and it was an incredible experience. Omar’s real and raw story is one that needed to be shared for the world to witness and take part in the healing as a community. Seeing the audience’ reaction to this opera reminded me of the great importance of storytelling and highlighting voices that have been suppressed for centuries. It was thought-provoking and revolutionary in pushing the boundaries of what opera can be. 

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 Daniel Okulitch as Owen (left) and Deepa Johnny as Eliza (right)

In your own words how would you describe the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program? And what has being a part of the program taught you? 
The Young Artist program plays a vital role in continuing to develop the upcoming generation of opera singers by bridging the gap between a singer’s days as a student to a professional.It is so important to invest in the new generation of talent because that is what ultimately furthers the future of opera and the arts. It has been a great honor to work with renowned veterans of this artform such as Susan Graham, to be guided by talented and devoted coaches Nino Sanikidze, Dr. Stephen King, Peter Walsh, and the entire administrative team that works behind the scenes to ensure the success of this program. I am grateful to this company for giving me the opportunity to continue to learn and grow as an artist in an environment that demands excellence. 

When did you know you wanted to be an opera singer and how did you go after your dreams? 
Music was always a part of my home and childhood. My dad used to sing all the time while growing up. I had no plans to pursue music as a career. Initially, I thought I would go into dentistry. When I was in high school, I was singing at church with my praise band when my youth pastor came up to me and said that I should consider taking voice lessons to continue developing my skills. I took his advice and went to a very well-known voice teacher in the area, who was an alum of The Jacobs School of Music [at Indiana University]. After my first voice lesson, she saw something in me and told me that I should become a voice major and pursue music. From then on, I have walked in faith. Meeting her changed my life forever as she instilled in me the joy for singing and a great love for classical music. I followed her footsteps and attended Indiana University for my master’s degree where I was fortunate to receive expert training and have many wonderful onstage experiences. What has made my musical journey so transformative are the people that mentored me and continue to guide me every step of the way. I am blessed to have this amazing village of people in my life. Music is and always will be my ministry.  

Deepa Johnny (circled) singing in choir in 3rd grade in Muscat, Oman.

If you could give advice to your 18-year-old self, what would you say? 
“Be patient with yourself and trust the process as hard as it may be at times. At 18 years old, you don’t need to have everything figured out other than your passion for music. Remember your ‘why’ daily and allow your love of making music propel you through everything in life.” 

 What advice would you give young people who are pursuing the arts, and even more specifically, opera? 
You are a student for life. There is always something to learn in every situation, like for example if an audition you prepared for didn’t go the way you wanted or you received a rejection letter from a program you applied for. Don’t be discouraged by closed doors. They will open at the right time for you when you are ready for it. Until then, practice and persevere. 

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Deepa Johnny performing in "L'incoronazione di Poppea"  at Indiana University (Photo Credit: Sarah Slover)

You recently partnered with A Better World Canada, what made you choose that organization and why? 
A Better World is a fantastic organization based in Lacombe, Alberta, Canada, where I did my undergraduate degree. It was a great honor to partner with them recently to fundraise for their efforts in local education reform. This nonprofit has changed millions of lives on both local and global scale with a mission to break the cycles of poverty in underprivileged communities by investing in education, health, and water resources. Their humanitarian work has impacted communities all over the world, with ongoing projects in over 15 countries. I believe that our number one duty as citizens and human beings is to serve our communities and help the world and those in need. 

What is a quote that sums up your life right now? 
“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” 
-Theodore Roosevelt 

What is the most challenging thing you face as a singer and how to do work to overcome it? 
Learning a brand-new role can be very daunting at first if you try to do it all at once. Everything is easier if you have a plan: start with the text, then rhythms, then music. 

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Deepa Johnny performing in "A Doll's House" at Burman University (Photo Credit: Jonathan Jacobs)

What are you looking forward to most in your career?  
I would love to keep performing new works by living composers. I’m excited to keep challenging myself creatively as an artist and I hope to continue sharing stories that are relevant and inspires the audience to leave feeling transformed in some way. 

 Any dream operas you’d love to be a part of?  
Any Rossini and Mozart opera. La Clemenza di Tito and Idomeneo would be very exciting!