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Opera singer John Holiday on his dream role, getting stuck in airports and ... boudin balls

Countertenor John Holiday plays The Refugee in The Dallas Opera's production of 'Flight.'
Lynn Lane
The Dallas Opera
Countertenor John Holiday plays The Refugee in The Dallas Opera's production of 'Flight.'

8 questions for the star of The Dallas Opera's new show Flight

The Dallas Opera opens its newest show Flight tonight. It's about a group of passengers and crew members who get grounded at an airport after a storm and are forced to spend the night together in an airport lounge. The group gets to know each other very well and meet a refugee who's been stranded at the airport for several weeks.

Countertenor John Holiday plays the role of The Refugee. He's a rising star in the opera world, with a versatile resume. He's sung everything from the lead in Handel’s Xerxes to a stint on TV's The Voice.

We caught up with him to ask about the misconceptions about opera, dream roles and guilty pleasures.

What is the one thing that you wish the average person knew about opera?

I do think that there are large misconceptions about opera. One is that opera is not for the everyday person. The reason why that should be demystified is that most [operas] are telling the stories of everyday people, not of the rich--although there are some that do that too. The ones that really stick, and the ones that are most popular, are stories about everyday people. The story that I'm doing right now is about a refugee, and how poignant is that story right now?

Your character in The Dallas Opera's latest production, Flight, is inspired by a real person who was unable to leave an airport for nearly two decades. Have you ever been stuck in an airport? And how did you pass the time?

I did get stuck in an airport once in Las Vegas going home. I ended up getting home but it like seemed like forever. But that's a first-world thing, you know. I played the slot machines and complained like we all do.

But I remember at the onset of the pandemic, I was in Rouen, France, which is like an hour-and-a-half or two hours outside of Paris. And I thought I was going to get stuck because all travel to the United States was basically ending and I thought, "I am not French. I don't speak great French. I need to get home." And I can remember thinking that how terrified I was that I was going to get stuck in France.

What helps you keep going when the going gets tough?

What helps me when things get tough is remembering that opera is about the human condition. So much of what's going on in the world is reflected in this opera that we're doing right now. And so I think about that all the time when I'm on the stage. This story that I'm telling is a universal story, and it's one that maybe if I do it right, I can help people to see that everybody, no matter their circumstance, is human.

Everybody, no matter their circumstances, socio-economic status, their sexual orientation, their political spectrum, everybody is worthy of love.

And everybody wants to give love. Everybody wants to share love. And so when I do it right, that's the thing that I hope most people take away from opera.

What keeps you awake at night?

You know, as an adult in the world who has many nieces and nephews who are really young, I oftentimes worry about the world that we are creating for them to have to fix. Then I think, what can I do to fix it? So, I start trying to fix it, and for me, it's my music. I'm always wondering how I can do something musically that can change the world and change the human condition. How can my music be real?

What's your dream role?

The one role that I've always wanted to sing is a role that hasn't been created yet. I'd like there to be a major opera about Bayard Rustin, who was a civil rights leader but is oftentimes overlooked because he was gay.

He was Martin Luther King's right-hand man, and most people don't know about Bayard, but he was incredible and was so important to the civil rights movement. So many things would not have happened had there not been Martin Luther King's right-hand man. And the awesome thing about Bayard was that he was also a singer. He was a very good singer. So, I would love to do but it just hasn't been written yet, or at least it hasn't been written for me yet.

Sounds like you need to write that opera.

I might have to. I might have to write it.

What's your guilty pleasure?

Lately--and this is terrible--my guilty pleasure has been boudin balls. There's this place here in Dallas called Southern Classic Daiquiri Factory, and they have boudin balls. Oh, I have been having the boudin balls! That's my guilty pleasure.

How do you sing in a language that you don't speak? Is there a trick?

You learn your music and you memorize what's coming. And you don't just memorize your lines--that's the trick--you learn everyone's lines so that you don't get lost. And you know what? If your colleague gets lost--because it can happen--you help them out. To me, being a good singer is not just singing your own lines, it's about knowing the lines of your friends and your colleagues so that if something happens, you help them. That's what being a good colleague and good friend is when you're stuck out there on a limb and it seems like nobody's got your back. Somebody in the lion's den has got your back.

What is a fun way to describe what it is you do?

I am a world-changer and shifter with music, connecting the dots with a gift that transcends all boundaries. Music is the universal language, and I'm someone who is fluent in a universal language.

The Dallas premiere of Flight is at the Winspear Opera House March 4, 6, 9, & 12.

In Good Question, we're getting to know movers and shakers in the arts a little bit better with a few quirky and thought-provoking questions. Who should we talk to next? E-mail me at

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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