Korea National Opera to stage ‘La Boheme‘
Chung Myung-whun to conduct 50th anniversary performance
By Do Je-hae
Those who are familiar with renowned conductor Chung Myung-whun’s career history would agree that there is no one better to lead the orchestral accompaniment at the 50th anniversary concert of the nation’s premier opera company.
The Korea National Opera (KNO) will fete its 50 years with a production of Giacomo Puccini’s tragic love story “La Boheme,” in collaboration with Chung’s Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra (SPO) accompanying a cast of established and up and coming vocalists. The performances will take place April 3-6 at the Seoul Arts Center’s Opera Theater.
He is well-known for conducting operas from memory, as he did during a performance of “Simon Boccanegra” with the Vienna State Opera last year. This is an incredible feat, considering that an opera usually lasts more than two hours.
Opera has been hugely important in the development of Chung’s career in Europe, where he made a name for himself as an opera director in the late 1980s-1990s.
Chung’s expertise in opera
This is the third time Chung is working together with the KNO. Chung was at the podium when the KNO introduced two masterpieces that are rarely performed in Korea; Mozart’s “Idomeneo” in 2009 and Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” in 2011.
“Maestro Chung and I worked intensively on music reading when we collaborated in Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra last year. I hope we can create another masterpiece with Chung and our opera singers this year,” Marco Gandini, director of KNO’s “La Boheme” said during a press conference, Tuesday, at the Sejong Center for Performing Arts.
French stage designer Loic Thienot will re-create Latin quarters in Paris in mid-19th century, the backdrop of the tragic love story of Mimi and Rodolfo.
Because Chung is mainly committed these days to the SPO and his French ensemble — the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra — his opera engagements have decreased.
Since taking the helm of the SPO, he has brought the orchestra to accompany ballets and operas, expanding the SPO’s repertoire while advancing its flexibility to work in different types of performances.
Chung’s roots in opera date back to the 1980s. For an Asian conductor, he has made unique achievements in opera.
He made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1986 with “Simon Boccanegra.” At the end of the 1987/88 seasons, he received the Premio Abbiati Award from Italian critics, and the following year the Arturo Toscanini prize. From 1989 to 1994, Chung served as the music director of the Paris Opera. He opened the inaugural season at the new Opera Bastille with Berlioz’s complete “Les Troyens” and received highly praised reviews from the music circle.
Chung’s recording history in opera is impressive as well.
An exclusive recording artist for Deutsche Grammophon since 1990, he has produced many recordings that have won international prizes and awards. One of his primary achievements as an opera director is the recording of Shostakovich’s “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” with the Opera Bastille Orchestra.
50th anniversary plans
The KNO will repeat the production of “La Boheme” in Beijing in May, as part of celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of Korea-China diplomatic relations. The Beijing tour is the start of the company’s future plans to perform internationally. The company will make a debut in France in the second half of 2013.
Renowned Soprano Kim Young-mi, a faculty member at the Korea National University, will perform the title role of Mimi and tenor Kim Dong-won, a leading opera singer in Staatstheater Kassel in Germany, will sing the part of young poet Rodolfo.
Kim, 58, is among Korea’a leading vocalists and is one of the nation’s first generation of opera singers to gain international recognition. She won the Maria Callas International Competition in 1980 and the Luciano Pavarotti Competition in 1981.
Because “La Boheme” is a story of young, poor artists, Kim said that she was reminded of her student days.
“I am trying to make Mimi sound as romantic as possible,” Kim said.
During this landmark year, the KNO will present a number of major productions in the months ahead.
“Following “La Boheme,” we will stage Bizet’s “Carmen” and R. Strauss’s “Der Fledermaus,” KNO Executive Director Kim Eui-joon said.
For more information, call (02) 586-5284 or visit http://www.nationalopera.org.
As Puccini’s “La Boheme” is such a popular piece, numerous recordings have been made. But it is hard to find a better recording that the one starring the late Luciano Pavorotti and Mirella Freni.
This 1972 Decca recording was conducted by Herbert von Karajan and was made before Pavarotti became an international superstar.
The 1973 RCA Victor conducted by Sir Georg Solti with Montserrat Caballe as Mimi; and Placido Domingo as Rodolfo is also lauded as one of the finest. It won the 1974 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording.
Since its premiere in 1896, “La Boheme” has become one of the most frequently performed operas in the world.
It is the story of young artists in Paris in the mid-19th century. Based on Henri Murger’s novel “La Vie de Boheme,” the opera is in four acts. Rodolfo and Mimi’s unfulfilled love story is told through some of the most gorgeous arias ever written.