Christina Johnston talks about her life as an opera singer in Suffolk. This is the full article following on from the feature in the See Suffolk Autumn magazine.
Many ask me why I moved back to beautiful Suffolk, my answer; “Suffolk captivated my heart and will always be my home, there is nowhere like it!”
I moved to London at the tender age of 18 when I went to study at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama. When I was 20, I was engaged and married at 21 before I graduated and moved to Prague, Czech Republic.
Prague was beautiful and wonderful for the start of my singing career, but it never felt like home or had the pull of my heart strings like Suffolk had! We always wanted to move back but didn’t have the opportunity until before the pandemic.
Moving back to Suffolk was exactly what my heart wanted. We found a beautiful home in Felixstowe near to the sea and haven’t looked back.
I have found an array of amazing local businesses to help me in my working life as an Opera singer.
I wanted to share with you some of my favourite places to sing, as well as my go to local businesses for my dresses, jewellery, manicures and hair. You can read my full article on the See Suffolk website where I also share my favourite restaurants.
Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds
The Theatre Royal is a vibrant 200-year-old theatre, located in the beautiful Suffolk town of Bury St Edmunds. It was first built in 1819 and was restored to its original regency design in 2007. As a Grade I listed building it is the only theatre in the National Trust portfolio and the last working regency playhouse in the country.
I had the pleasure of singing there in May this year. It is such a stunning theatre and has a rich programme, from plays to comedy, theatre productions and even pantomimes! It really is a beautiful gem in Bury St Edmunds and one I highly recommend going to!
Louisa and Steve Flavell and their beautiful family moved into Otley Hall in 2020.
Otley Hall has a magical and mystical ambience. It draws you in the moment you step into the gardens and see the beautiful, elegant peacocks with their fanned-out plumage.
A Grade II listed Tudor moated hall built in the 12th Century; it is full of history. It is an idyllic setting for the arts to be brought alive within its walls.
I performed Italian opera and crossover songs here in August for a fabulous night of Italian food and wine. It is one place I hope will become a regular place to perform at.
They have an array of events lined up for the coming year and Louisa is really bringing the place alive. I believe it soon will be ‘the’ place to be!
A beautiful Grade II listed Georgian Mansion set within the Suffolk countryside.
What a beautiful place to perform at. It has been a joy and a pleasure since Covid struck to get to perform here more than three times!
Jonathan Senior and his team of wonderful staff have put on incredible events throughout the past year and with great success! Do visit and explore their beautiful grounds and fabulous events.
There is never a week short of interesting things to see and do from Cinema Nights, Opera in the Park, Summer markets, Family fun days, Christmas Markets and many more!
I can’t recommend them highly enough!
I have had the joy of being asked to sing here, unfortunately it was cancelled because of Covid-19. However, I do hope I get the opportunity to grace the stage their once more.
I used to attend many concerts with my parents as a child and I remember finding the place so magical. They always have so many interesting concerts with amazing musicians.
Ashton Jayne Bridal
Ashton Jayne Bridal specialises in bridal wear with stunning wedding dresses available in the Felixstowe boutique.
I personally go there for my dresses for my concerts. The store offers a fantastic range of non-bridal dresses for those special occasions!
Jinnie is one of the most talented clothing designers and dressmakers I have ever met! Her company, Clothing By Jinnie, specialises in bespoke clothing design, tailoring, dressmaking and alterations. Based in Bramfield (near Halesworth) she studied a BTEC in Fashion Design at Norfolk Institute of Art & Design, then went on to start freelance work. Founded in 1994 Jinnie has over 25 years of experience designing bespoke clothing.
She has created many of my dresses and also made me outfits for certain concerts for example my Michael Jackson concert. She also does interiors, upholstery, curtains and decorations!
Tony’s Nails and Spa
Tony’s Nails and Spa is run by husband and wife team, Khuyen and Hoan.
It is based in Felixstowe and is a fabulous place to treat yourself. They offer everything from manicures, pedicures, facials, nail extensions to facial treatments, eyelash extensions and eyebrows.
I have been going to them since I moved to Suffolk and I think they are wonderful! The team regularly offer spa days, great treatments and prices.
To book call: 01394 286588
Carley Hill Hair
Based in the beautiful historic town of Framlingham, where I grew up, I have loved Carley Hill Hair since I was at school.
Every time you walk in you feel like you are in a top London salon; you feel unique and they treat you that way too.
The salon specialises in Aveda hair products and their team of professionals guide you to what your hair needs and makes you feel great!
Even though it is a 40 minute drive from where we live, we both make the journey because Carley Hill hair is worth it.
Sandra Jones Relax, Felixstowe
Based in Felixstowe, Sandra offers a variety of treatments from holistic, beauty, massage, facials, Reiki and laser treatments, including tattoo removal.
Her salon is based at the side of her home and has a separate entrance, and when you walk in you feel like you are at a hotel spa. It is beautifully decorated and has a calm and tranquil feeling that makes you feel instantly relaxed.
Alba Chiara, Felixstowe
Alba Chiara is a cosy traditional and authentic Italian restaurant on the Felixstowe seafront.
The restaurant specialises in fresh homemade pasta and sauces, cooked using only the finest Italian ingredients and the Roman style pizzas called ‘Pinsa’.
Owners, Stefan from Sardinia, and Falvio, source local produce and use only the best ingredients in their dishes, and you can tell. Their food is like stepping into Italy itself, it’s so delicious you have to go back. For me it is one of the best Italian restaurants I have been to in the UK.
Based in Ipswich, this traditional Chinese restaurant run by Foo and his team is one of the best I have been to in Suffolk.
I have sung many times in Asia, and spent a lot of time in China and Hong Kong, and I usually get disappointed with British Chinese food. However Trong’s has changed my mind entirely!
Foo and his wife Michala founded the restaurant in 1997 and it very much feels like a wonderful family atmosphere. Foo’s parents are still involved as is his brother who is head chef and his sister Lucy. It has received a Michelin Recommendation and when you taste the food you know why.
Wine Boutique, Felixstowe
A great find in Felixstowe, but they also have shops in Ipswich and a few in Essex.
Not only do they sell some wonderful and interesting wines, they also have a superb area of tables to sit and enjoy the wine; it is the perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine or beer.
The lovely Samantha and staff are very helpful and knowledgeable about the wines and beer and help you choose one that suits your taste.
East Coast Hampers
East Coast Hampers offers luxury Suffolk gifts from local producers. Neil and Holly created the business out of an enthusiasm for food and a love of the stunning coastal county of Suffolk.
The producers they work with are friends, neighbours and members of their community and they are proud to select products that have been made right here in Suffolk.
Holly said; “We don’t feel the need to bring in products from outside the region for our hampers and aim to keep our ‘food miles’ as low as possible.”
Holly is a nurse and Neil a born entrepreneur who runs a production company. Finding he had more time on his hands during the pandemic, Neil started exploring the idea of the Hampers. For Holly it is a totally different type of work but she really loves doing something different to her day job.
They live in rural Suffolk, a returning to home for Holly but a totally new lifestyle for Neil who was more used to town and city life. They have two young daughters who are often found ‘helping’ around the office.
About the author
International Coloratura Soprano, has sung for Heads of State and in Opera houses all over Europe, Asia and South America.
A firm favourite of Presidents including, President of China and Czech Republic who both named her ‘The Nightingale’.