But the celebration and the launch were not to be. The flight that Williamson arrived on from Miami on December 22, 2009, was American Airlines 331. The plane crash-landed at Norman Manley International Airport.
As a result of the accident, Williamson told The Gleaner in an interview on Sunday, the passengers “were all covered in jet fuel. We could have been cooked.”
Back in Jamaica for a couple for weeks (from Canada where he now lives), Williamson said he still needs physiotherapy for a knee and shoulder injury and is fearful of flying.
Still, he takes the pragmatic approach. “Travelling is part of my career. I can’t avoid it,” he said.
And he has been travelling and performing quite a bit in recent years. Between 2005 and last year, he appeared in important roles in operas by Burry, Donizetti, Weill, Handel, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rossini and Glinka. Of these, his favourite role was that of Umberto, in Rossini’s La Donna del Lago (The Lady of the Lake).
Appearances in Oratorios
His appearances in oratorios since 2007 have been in works by Bruckner, Gounod, Du Bois, Britten, Beethoven, Mozart and Handel. He sang in 2010 in the last named composer’s Messiah in a presentation by the Thunder Bay Symphony & Bach-Elgar Choir of Hamilton, Ontario.
Other producers of his shows include Opera in Concert, the University of Toronto, the University of Manitoba, MasterWorks of Oakville and Tryptych.
Over the last two years, Williamson has completed not just one, but two CDs. The one that was recorded first, in 2008, is to be launched later this year. It is a recital CD of songs in French, German, Russian and English.
The CD released in November 2009 is titled Sound an Alarm and is a collaboration with Williamson and organist Marty Smyth. The 15-track, sacred music album contains oratorios and arias by Mendelssohn, Bach, Puccini, Handel, Britten, Rossini, Beethoven and Verdi. It runs just over 70 minutes.
The recording “took months of rehearsing, lots of work and many re-takes”, said Williamson, but he is happy with the result. He hopes, in fact, that he and the organist will be able to perform the pieces in Jamaica.
Ironically, Williamson was not happy when, at his mother’s insistence, he started piano lessons at age six. He found the lessons disagreeable but they continued for a decade, during which time he and his teachers discovered he had an excellent singing voice.
At Wolmer’s Boys’ School, he joined both the school choir and the drama club, both of which were to help his then-unimagined operatic career.
After high school, he attended the Houghton College School of Music in New York, graduating with the Bachelor of Music degree, and later got a master’s degree in opera performance from State Glinka Conservatoire of Nizhny Novgorod, Russia.
Williamson has been getting good notices for his performances. Toronto’s Globe and Mail, for example, stated of his 2008 performance in Toronto’s Opera in Concert’s production of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden. “High tenor Paul Williamson, as the czar, had some ecstatic moments; his springtime aria was a high point”; while Opera Canada’s review of the performance noted that Williamson “impressed as the czar.”
Williamson said his next major appearance will be in May at a Tchaikovsky recital at Heliconian Hall in Toronto. Fans and friends can follow his musical journey via his website www.paulwilliamson.ca.