Breath and Breathing: Hera Hyesang Park’s Breathe

Korean soprano Hera Hyesang Park’s new album on Deutsche Grammophon, Breathe, had its roots in the COVID crisis. Ms. Park was confronted with the sudden death of her loved ones and a realization that there were a lot of unexplored emotions let loose: loneliness, uncertainty, self-doubt, anger, failure, and that catchall, existential angst. Within all this turmoil, she realized that ‘life exists in the moment, so we must take a breath.’ By confronting her fear, she conquered it and this album salutes that liberation.

Hera Hyesang Park

Hera Hyesang Park ©

The repertoire on the album ranges excerpts from Rossini, Massenet, and Verdi operas, Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, and other classical songs, and works by modern composers, including Korean Hyowon Woo. The work by Woo, for soprano and ajaeng (a Korean version of the Chinese zheng, but which is played with a bow rather than plucked), combines Korea ceremonial music (Eoi Gari) with Woo’s Requirem aeternam.

This work is indicative of much of the album’s works filled with silence and beauty. Her two different versions of Massenet’s Ave Maria, based on the Meditation from Thaïs, one with choir and orchestra, and the other with choir, orchestra, and violin obbligato are impressive in their two different readings.

Jules Massenet: Ave Maria (after Thais: Meditation) (arr. M. Spindler for voice, violin, choir and orchestra)

Bernat’s Vivancos’ Vocal Ice only sets one vowel, ‘ah’. It’s difficult to tell a story with such a minimal text, but Park makes herself the instrument of the sound, and in doing so, conveys more than just a syllable.

It’s a remarkable album that brings us to the inner soprano, the thinking woman, the reactive soul. Much of the music is concerned with death: Woo’s Requiem, the death of Cecilia from Refice’s Cecilia, Desemona’s ‘Ave Maria’ from Verdi’s Otello, and yet there’s also life: The Flower Duet from Delibe’s Lakmé, sung with mezzo Emily D’Angelo, brings to life the flowers and beauty around us.

When faced with all the difficulties of the COVID period, Park’s fears for the future became the springboard for a musical recording that makes us stop, pause, take a breath, and then continue to find life around us.

BREATHE Hera Hyesang Park album cover
Jules Massenet: Ave Maria (after Thais: Meditation)

Performed by
Hera Hyesang Park
Orchestra del Teatro Carlo Felice
Jochen Rieder

Official Website

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