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Posted : 2013-09-04 16:59
Updated : 2013-09-04 16:59

Opera star with crossover appeal

Moved by a YouTube video, soprano Sumi Jo invited BEAST member Yang Yoseob to sing with her at Olympic Park. / Courtesy of Credia

Soprano Sumi Jo explains why she decided to sing with K-pop heartthrob in next concert


Sumi Jo's "La Fantasia" concerts will take place Sept. 14-15 at Olympic Park.
By Do Je-hae

Soprano Sumi Jo has built an international career since the 1980s, putting her among the nation's first generation of opera singers to have a notable status outside Korea.

Although she has been based in Rome for almost 30 years, Jo remains deeply attached to her homeland and has consistently made herself available for big events that called for national celebrations. The 51-year-old singer has readily carried out the role of a cultural ambassador for Korea — a role she has come to share with idol pop groups such as BEAST that are increasingly spreading Korean culture beyond Asia.

Jo has invited BEAST's lead vocalist Yang Yoseob to her upcoming concerts in what will be a huge departure from her previous duets. Fans are used to seeing her being partnered with renowned tenors including Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Jose Carreras.

The Jo-Yang collaboration will be a highlight of the "La Fantasia" concerts on Sept. 14 and 15 at Olympic Park. The soprano said that a YouTube video of Yang provided the impetus for her admiration.

"I saw him singing a song called ‘Mother' on YouTube and was instantly moved," Jo said during a press conference in Seoul Tuesday. "He came across as a sincere artist, even though I had never met him before. It was not easy to have him come to this concert — BEAST is such a busy group." Yang said that he was honored to share the stage with such an accomplished opera singer.

Although a classically trained musician, Jo said she follows the latest trends in Korean pop scene.

"I don't limit my interest to just classical music. The public derives a lot of pleasure from the music of idol groups and as for myself, I listen to them when I work out in the mornings. They give me energy and I get to learn about what young Koreans are listening to."

La Fantasia is the fourth in a series of "Park Concerts" organized by Credia to bring classical music to a larger audience since 2010. They have been held at the Olympic Park, one of the biggest outdoor concert venues in Seoul.

Jo had to forego an invitation to the Salzburg Festival for the park concerts. The invitation was a result of Jo's participation in the latest Decca release of Vincenzo Bellini's "Norma" with the superstar mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli.

In this highly innovative recording, the mezzo-soprano sings the lead role of Norma, which is typically reserved for lyrical sopranos. Jo sings the role of Adalgisa, which is usually sung by mezzo-sopranos. Bartoli and Jo are longtime friends who both trained at Rome's National Academy of St. Cecilia and auditioned together for Herbert von Karajan in the 1980s.

"It is a unique recording. But when I do take part in a stage production of Norma in the future, I hope to do so in the role of Norma, not Adalgisa. I plan to sing Norma when my voice is richer, when I can more aptly convey life experiences through singing," Jo said.

The singer said that large-scale events like the park concerts could bring classical music closer to the general public. "People who like Yoseob will, by coming to the concert, experience classical music," Jo said. "And idol groups can grow musically through coming in contact with classical music. Someday, Yoseob might become a soloist. In order to have a long career, one needs a wealth of experience in different genres of music."

Jo is the first Korean opera singer to record for major labels like Erato and Decca and has appeared in major opera houses around the world since her European debut in 1986. The Grammy Award winning artist has over 50 recordings to her credit, including the "Carnaval! French Coloratura Arias" by Decca that showed off her sovereign coloratura technique.

When asked about the secret to her longevity as a singer, Jo underlined two virtues — hard work and love of challenge.

"From the minute I get up until I go to bed, singing is my main preoccupation. It is not easy for an Asian to maintain a prima donna status in European theaters," Jo said.

The La Fantasia concerts will combine famous tunes from operas, musicals with pop and folk selections. Guest artists include violist Richard Yongjae O'Neill, opera vocal group Rottini and the Ditto Orchestra under the direction of Adriel Kim.

For more information, visit www.credia.co.kr.


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