While Las Vegas has played host to many artists, the city recently became an outlet for one soprano singer to grow, find her sound and even host a concert in which to debut her first album.
“I almost feel like I grew up in Las Vegas because it is here where I grew as a musician and person,” said northwest resident Marisa Johnson, a native Californian. “It is here that I got to discover who I am as a person and as an artist.”
Johnson, who majored in vocal performance at the University of Southern California, moved to Las Vegas in January 2011 after getting a gig singing opera at The Venetian. Since then, she has continued to sing at shows such as “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding,” became part of the Young Artists Program at Opera Las Vegas and participated in the composer showcases at the The Smith Center for the Performing Arts.
“Moving to Las Vegas was the best thing that has ever happened to me,” she said. “I have fallen in love with the culture in this town, and I am really grateful for the support that artists like myself get here.”
According to Johnson, Las Vegas has a tightly knit community of musicians who support one another. Additionally, there are more opportunities for artists to perform in different venues in Las Vegas than in other cities such as Los Angeles because singers have more chances to perform on a consistent basis, and there is less competition.
“Having been a Las Vegas headliner has really given me that boost of credibility in the music industry,” she said. “Having the Las Vegas background has been important because it gives me an edge.”
Such edge and credibility do not come from the city alone but also from Johnson’s musical style and talent. She described herself as being not just an opera singer or a pop artist but an amalgamation of both in a style she called “classical crossover.”
While she was developing her musical style at USC, Johnson said she felt opera was too constricting and pop too free. She liked the idea of incorporating both styles and found that establishing herself as a classical crossover singer would allow her the flexibility to combine elements from classical and pop music without compromising her high musical standards.
“I have worked with her for a little over a year and have been able to see that she is extremely talented,” said Joan Zajac, Johnson’s vocal coach. “She has a beautiful voice and could easily sing opera if she wanted to, but the classical crossover fits her style well.”
Sometimes, when opera singers try to sing popular music, they don’t succeed because they sound illegitimate, but Johnson knows how to scale her voice in a way that is more natural and adaptable to popular music, said Jim Shore, director of the Young Artists Program at Opera Las Vegas and who has worked with Johnson since September.
“Marisa is a good stylist in popular music,” he said. “She really enjoys being able to crossover and has a good deal of skill in it.”
Johnson’s talent has allowed her to open for artists such as Enrique Iglesias and sing with Andrea Bocelli. Her crossover performances have received positive reactions from a variety of audiences.
Passion for music and the classical crossover genre led Johnson to release her first album, “My Own Way,” this month. The album is self-produced and took her three years to release as she wrote and produced all the songs.
“I strongly believe in writing my own music,” she said. “It has allowed me to sing what I like in the way I want.”
Given that the album is meant to garner the attention of record labels, Johnson said she wanted to put forth the best product possible and hired orchestrators, string ensembles and a film composer to produce the album.
“The most incredible thing about her is how driven she is,” Zajac said. “She works very hard to get what she wants. She makes things happen. Other singers don’t do that.”
To debut her album, she is scheduled to perform a concert at the Viva Las Vegas Event Center at 7 p.m. June 20. She is to be accompanied by some of the top Las Vegas headliners and will be backed by a chorus of the Las Vegas Masters Singers. The concert will be broadcast worldwide online through tunego.com/live.
Johnson said she is excited for the concert, as organic instrumentation and strong musicianship are important to her, and hopes to contribute to the rise of the classical crossover genre so that it can one day be part of Top 40 culture.
“The arts are a hard business,” Shore said, “but Marisa has a good combination of musical skills, background and technique. She has a lot to offer.”
Contact reporter Maria Agreda at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @mjfagre.