The Bel Canto of Life: An Interview with Sumi Jo



Korean coloratura soprano Sumi Jo made her reputation in Europe starting in the late 1980s with appearances at the Salzburg Festival, the Vienna State Opera, and the Metropolitan Opera. She will be appearing at the Guangzhou Opera House in May 2015 in their Fifth Anniversary Concert.

We asked her what it was about bel canto that appealed to her, as one of the big names in what had nearly become a lost repertoire. She loves to sing bel canto and uses both her technique and the characteristics of roles such as Olympia (The Tales of Hoffmann), Gilda (Rigoletto), and Lucia (Lucia di Lammermoor) to bring her art and her voice to its ultimate level. She finds that the bel canto roles, although quite demanding, embody sensitive and susceptible characters that fit well with her personality.

Sumi Jo: Lucia Mad Scene

In the bel canto repertoire, she’s found that the mix of tragic heroines such as Gilda and Lucia, the comic roles such as Maria (La fille du regiment), and the roles such as Anina (La Sonnambula), Elvia (I Puritani), and The Queen of Night (The Magic Flute) gives her a range of expression that is very important to her.

Sumi Jo: The Queen of Night

Although she loves Italian music for the voice, she finds something in every national style that appeals: German music has a structure and grandiose style, French music has a complex harmonic balance, and Spanish music has its strong emotional expression. Throughout her career, she is always making new musical discoveries that suit her voice.



Of the conductors she’s worked with, she says that Herbert von Karajan was the one who was the most influential in her career. He was the first major conductor to recognize her talent and, following her 1986 stage debut in Trieste, asked her to audition for him for the Salzburg Music Festival. She says she was quite nervous at her early morning audition and he not only calmed her fears, but also took her step-by-step through her capabilities. Many of the insights he gave her at that audition, such as the care she must take in singing The Queen of Night, still influence her today.

Sumi Jo and mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča will be singing one of the most beautiful duets in opera, the “Flower Duet” from Delibes’ Lakmé, at the Guangzhou celebrations. We asked her about this work and she was very enthusiastic about it. “It is such an incredible piece of music! I feel like a flying butterfly in the air, moving flower by flower enjoying the spring sunshine. This is one of my favourite duets.”

Sumi Jo and Ah-Kyung Lee: Flower Duet

Although she loves the operas standards, such as Carmen and The Magic Flute, she’d like to see more operas come into the repertoire, such as lesser-known 19th century French operas and even more Baroque operas.

Sumi Jo: Carmen

We talked about the increasing number of opera DVDs and the correspondingly fewer number of opera CDs and asked her if she thought this was an ongoing trend. She agreed, saying that opera videos, which are able to carry not only the orchestral and vocal sounds but also convey the acting, the sets, and the costumes make this more visually appealing to the audience. It’s a commercial approach but one that makes opera more accessible to more people.

We asked about how she spends her spare time and she said she enjoys it just like a normal person: shopping, playing with her pets, visiting friends’ houses for dinner and spending time together. She also takes a great interest in looking at current trends in the world through television and magazines. And, she concluded, her spare time also goes into learning new repertoire.

Official Website

Guangzhou Opera House

You May Also Like

More Interviews

Leave a Comment

All fields are required. Your email address will not be published.