No to online singing for South Korean opera star Sumi Jo


SINGAPORE – South Korean soprano Sumi Jo doesn’t like to sing online.

The 59-year-old Grammy Award-winning opera singer gave a voice lesson virtually last year to students at Harvard University in the United States.

It was a disaster, she said. “It was really hard. The students on the other side, their voices were echoing and the images were disappearing. I was playing the piano at the same time. The sound was so loud and disturbing.”

Jo was so turned off by the virtual masterclass that she later refused to be a judge for an online singing competition.

She is thrilled to perform live again on April 30 at the Esplanade Concert Hall in a concert presented by Altenburg Arts. She will be accompanied by pianist Jeff Cohen, with whom she is currently rehearsing in Portugal.

The concert had to be postponed twice in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid-19 restrictions.

During the pandemic, the singer, who is single, has been spending time at home with her two rescue dogs, Chanel and Roy. The break was welcome at first, but she soon began to worry about the acoustics of practicing at home.

“The first two weeks I was happy, but after that I didn’t feel comfortable. I felt like I had to go places, play, teach,” she says. “If I don’t sing, I don’t know what else to do.”

Born Jo Su-gyeong, she has been training for the spotlight since she was a child. Her mother, who wanted to be an opera singer, enrolled Jo in voice lessons when she was six.

Young Jo, however, aspired to become a veterinarian. It wasn’t until she moved to Italy at 19 that she realized she had a talent for opera singing. “I gave up on my other dreams, like being a veterinarian, being an ambassador…and focusing on my career.”

Once she took her training seriously, her rise to fame quickly followed.

In 1986, she won first prize at the prestigious Carlo Alberto Cappelli International Competition in Verona, open only to winners of other major competitions. That same year, she made her European opera debut as Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto at the Teatro Comunale Giuseppe Verdi in Trieste, Italy.

Jo is a coloratura soprano who stands out for her vocal lightness and agility. She became a prima donna, the lead singer of a company, before the age of 30 and performed at metropolitan opera houses in New York, Vienna and Paris.

She has also worked in film and television, providing the singing voice of Veda Pierce, played by Evan Rachel Wood, in the HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce in 2011.

She won a Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording in 1993. Simple Song Number 3, which she performed in Paolo Sorrentino’s film Youth (2015), was nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Song.

As one of the few Asian singers to navigate a Western operatic tradition, Jo felt she “sounded different” from her Western counterparts.

His advice to young singers is to stay humble and learn about the European cultural context of the songs in order to improve their performances.

She last performed in Singapore in 2014. A nature lover, she fell in love with the Gardens by the Bay and the Botanical Gardens, and plans to visit them again on her two-day trip this year. , before traveling to Europe and the United States.

Travel also appears to be the theme of his one-night concert lineup, whose songs include genres such as Baroque and languages ​​such as French, Italian and Korean.

“Sit comfortably and travel with me through the music,” she says.

Book it / Dream with me: an exquisite evening with Sumi Jo

Or: Esplanade Concert Hall, 1 Esplanade Drive
MRT: Town Hall/Esplanade
When: April 30, 7:30 p.m.
Admission: $38 to $168 from Sistic’s website

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