Poor acting at KNO‘s ‘La Boheme‘
By Do Je-hae
One of the problems with Korean opera singers has been that their acting ability is not as proficient as their singing.
This seemed to be a problem at a dress rehearsal for the anniversary performance of the nation’s oldest opera company.
To mark its 50th year, the Korea National Opera (KNO) is staging performances of Puccini’s “La Boheme,” among the most popular operas of all time.
During an open rehearsal for the press Monday, two young Korean singers in their 30s sang the role of lovers, Mimi and Rodolfo.
Soprano Hong Ju-young (Mimi), and tenor Yosep Kang (Rodolfo), the first Korean singer to join the prestigious Deutsche Oper Berlin, were fine singers, but their acting failed to move the heart.
In particular, Kang, who had been hand-picked by maestro Chung Myung-whun for the role, seemed nervous on stage.
Kang and Chung met last year during a Mahler performance. The 34-year-old singer is one of the rising Korean tenors, who gained critical acclaim last year when he appeared at the Great Mountains Music Festival & School in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province.
However, singing solo and singing in an opera production as a lead character are totally different.
By casting two young singers in the lead roles, the KNO was aiming to introduce the talents of the next generation of Korean opera singers.
But for those who wish to see more seasoned singers singing the main roles, the KNO also cast soprano Kim Young-mi (Mimi) and tenor Kim Dong-won (Rodolfo).
Kim Young-mi is a respected artist who now teaches at the Korea National University of Arts (KNUA). It has been a long time since she has participated in an opera production; but she is one of the first Korean opera singers to gain success in international competitions and has a lovely and elegant stage presence, which would make her an ideal Mimi even at the age of 58. It seems that her singing and acting get better with time.
On the other hand, the orchestral accompaniment and the staging were excellent.
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.
During the rehearsal, Chung conducted without the score and seemed at total ease.
He gave directions and suggestions to the singers and exchanged ideas with the production director Marco Gandini.
As music director of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, Chung spends more time with symphonies and orchestral music, but it is with operas where he seems to find most joy.
He was completely immersed in the music and seemed to have a photographic memory of the score as well as the lyrics.
This is the third time Chung is working with the KNO. He 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 Boccanegra last year. I hope we can create another masterpiece with Chung and our opera singers this year,” Marco Gandini, director of the KNO’s “La Boheme” said during a recent press conference in Seoul.
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 a director of the genre in the late 1980s and ’90s.
He plans to return to opera at the end of the year, conducting Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde” and “Othello” in Italy.
The remaining performances of “La Boheme” will take place today and Friday at the Seoul Arts Center’s Opera Theater.
Tickets range from 10,000-150,000 won. Call 02-586-5282 for more information.