Verdi opera cools off summer heat

Marking the 200th birthday of 19th-century Italian opera virtuoso Giuseppe Verdi, a concert gave opera lovers in Korea a pleasant respite from the torrential rains of the typhoon season. 

Singing the masterpieces of the Italian opera master were four Korean opera singers who are active on the European stage -- soprano Lee Myung-joo, soprano Seo Seon-young, tenor Chung Ho-yoon, and baritone Kim Dong-seop. 

The special opera gala concert was held at the Seoul Arts Center (SAC) on July 14. 

The Prime Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Yeo Ja-kyung rehearses before the July 14 concert.
The four globally recognized singers flew in to Korea to appear on stage for the same cause: shedding new light on Giuseppe Verdi whose legacy still lives on even long after his death, including La Traviata, Aida, Un ballo in Maschera, and Rigoletto. 

Three opera singers from Austria -- soprano Lee Myung-joo, tenor Chung Ho-yoon, and baritone Kim Dong-seop -- who are now under contract with the Linz Opera House, the Vienna State Opera, and the State Theatre Innsbruck, respectively,  showed off their operatic virtuosity already highly recognized in the European opera community by taking turns singing parts of La Traviata as an opener.

Brightening up the stage were also other world-class Korean opera singers including mezzo-soprano Yang Song-mi and tenor Chung Eui-geun, both of whom used to be major singers at the Vienna State Opera and the Lucerne Theater, Switzerland. 

Korea.net had an interview with Lee Myung-joo and Kim Dong-seop after the July 14 concert. 

▷ Interview with soprano Lee Myung-joo

Q. Who has so far influenced your music the most?

A. Definitely Verdi. He has been and will always be my greatest inspiration. His works remain sort of challenges I keep trying to achieve and something that drives me to want to get “there.” His masterpieces require profound musicality and high-level techniques, which stimulate a sense of challenge among many opera singers. That’s why we opera singers and opera fans love his music. 
There are still lots of beautiful operas of his I’d like to master. Among others, the character Desdemona in his Othello is one that I aspire to take on. 

Soprano Lee Myung-joo
Q. You have been active on European opera stages. What is the best ever performance you have had there?

A. That would be La Boheme by Giacomo Puccini, no doubt. That work brought the biggest opportunity to me. Although the main character Mimi is a poverty-stricken, pathetic soul, many contemporary singers have depicted her in a vigorous, powerful manner. Meanwhile, I tried to bring out the pathetic side of the character, which probably touched the hearts of many audiences there. I am really grateful that many of the fans empathized with my character. 

Q. What does “opera” mean to you?

A. Opera is my life in itself. Every time I take on a certain role, I try to put my life into it. I strive to find a “character” in any relationship or situation. I learn a lot from movies and plays I watch where I look closely at every single facial expression or the moves displayed by every character. In the meantime, singing skill is a prerequisite to back up all the things. You need to practice every day. 

No less important is “studying a language,” as well. In operas where you express your emotions in a foreign language, you have to know the language first to get a deeper understanding of the characters. If I stage opera works I put tremendous time into studying, and successfully move the audience no matter where they come from and what color they are, then that is my whole world I intend to make. 

▷ Interview with Baritone Kim Dong-seop

Q. This concert marks the 200th anniversary of Verdi’s birth. What made you choose the two works, La Traviata and Rigoletto?

It is not too much to say that the two works represent the greatest composer. Both of them have been much performed and well-known to the public all around the world. Among numerous pieces composed by Verdi, the two are good examples of the highest operatic art and the most Verdi-style mastership. 
Personally, I would say they are gifts that Verdi left behind for baritones like me. Especially Rigoletto full of beautiful arias and melodies is the best of the best.

Baritone Kim Dong-seop
Q. Who has so far influenced your music the most?

This year is the Year of Verdi and Richard Wagner, as it marks the 200th anniversary of the two greatest composers’ births. I had a chance to take on the role of Wotan in The Ring of the Nibelung, an epic opera by Wagner in Germany earlier this year, and will play Amfortas in another Wagner masterpiece Parsifal this autumn. 
And I have also performed Verdi’s works numerous times. I think I am so lucky to have the voice that allows me to juggle both Wagner’s and Verdi’s. 
However, the thing is that it is the late Korean composer Yun Isang who has had the greatest influence on my own music. If I had not had a chance to play Shim Bong-sa in Shim Chung by Yun a decade ago, I wouldn’t now be that much absorbed into the music of other global composers from Mozart and Wagner to Schönberg. Since I went through with the demanding role created by Yun, I now have a better understanding of Wagner’s music which many find quite difficult to understand.

Q. You have been active on European opera stages. What is the best ever performance you have had there?

Upon hearing this question, one project popped up in my mind. I was part of a project of singing the whole parts of The Ring of the Nibelung at the Colon Theater in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Everything was perfect from the stage setting and the beautiful theater to the audience who all seemed to be part of that, not to mention the great singers. Everybody cheered and clapped for us and their support motivated all the performers including me to do everything they could to complete the project to perfection. It was really a touching moment. 

Q. What does “opera” mean to you?

To define it, opera is a composite art. Art is a life for me. Through opera, I reflect my own life into other characters and put myself into the lives of the characters. For me, opera is a window to a new world where I can live the lives of others. 

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