Soprano back in homeland for opera debutIf anyone is the hope and pride of Korean opera singers, it’s Jo Sumi. Ever since the soprano was discovered by the famous conductor Herbert von Karajan, she has been traveling the world, gracing some of the most important opera houses such as Carnegie Hall, Paris Bastille Opera and Vienna State Opera.
Ms. Jo’s international opera debut was in 1986, in Trieste, Italy, for Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto.” Almost 20 years later, Ms. Jo will be reprising the title role of Gilda, with Italian baritone Leo Nucci, at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts from July 23 to 25 and 27 and 28. She has been in “Rigoletto” with Mr. Nucci before, for the Metropolitan Opera and the Vienna State Opera.
This tragedy about a cursed hunchback court jester whose beautiful daughter is courted and abducted by the Duke of Mantua debuted in 1851. On opening night, Verdi’s opera, particularly the duke’s aria “Le donne e mobile,” and the cast of Felice Varesi as Rigoletto, Raffaele Mirate as the duke and Teresina Brambilla as Gilda, was a triumph.
The performance of “Rigoletto” at Sejong, staged by Teatro Comunale di Bologna, is also significant as Ms. Jo’s first appearance in Korea in an opera. She has toured here extensively, but mostly for gala concerts.
Born in Korea in 1962, Ms. Jo initially studied at Seoul National University but withdrew in 1983 to enter the Accademia di Santa Cecelia in Rome. Under the guidance of greats such as Carlo Bergonzi and Grannila Bonelli, she studied voice and keyboard, graduating in 1985.
A few years later, she auditioned for the role of Oscar in “Un Ballo” in Maschera, where she caught the eye of Mr. von Karajan, who has been credited with launching the careers of Maria Callas and Cecilia Bartoli. He called Ms. Jo “a voice from above.” She has a four-octave range and an expressive but very controlled voice that has been called warm, dazzling and gorgeous.
Her much-lauded career includes performances of the great coloratura roles such as Queen of the Night, Lucia, Zerbinetta, Fiorilla and Amina. She’s worked with conductors like Sir Georg Solti, Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel and Richard Bonynge. She performed with Placido Domingo in Washington, D.C., in August 2001.
She also won a Grammy in 1993 for a recording with the London/Decca label of “Die Frau ohne Schatten” with Sir Georg Solti. She has done more than 45 recordings, including those on her new album, “Be Happy.” This one is a collection of popular songs from movies such as “Beauty and the Beast” and “Moulin Rouge.”
In “Rigoletto,” Ms. Jo and Mr. Nucci will alternate with Norwegian soprano Elizabeth Norberg-Schulz and baritone Ko Sung-hyun. The tenors Aquiles Machado and Dvorsky Miroslav will perform as the Duke. Giuseppe Giuliano, former director and managerial adviser of the Roma Theater, will direct; music will be performed by the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Croatian Vjekoslav Sutej. Personal LCD screens will have subtitles in English, Korean, Japanese and Italian.
by Joe Yong-hee
Performances start at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices are 40,000 won to 300,000 won. For more information, visit the Web site at www.sejongpac.or.kr.