Ahead of her Australian tour, the Korean diva answers Facebook and Twitter questions.
Thanks to Limelight readers for this collaborative interview effort! Glamorous Korean soprano Sumi Jo has responded to your questions, submitted via Facebook and Twitter, and we’ve collated it all in this lively Q&A ahead of her upcoming recitals in Sydney and Melbourne. Here are some extra questions we asked Sumi in an interview where she confesses that she loves flirting, boxes two hours a day (so don’t cross her) and that her favourite duo partner is her dog, Cindy Crawford.
Was there any advice or mantra given to you as a young singer that has stuck with you thus far? And do you have any advice for young aspiring singers? Ali Manifold
From the time I first arrived in Italy 28 years ago to study opera until now, my teachers are the ones who have carried me through. What I am trying to say is most of the things you learn come from what you have tried and experienced. Nothing truly becomes yours unless you practise it yourself. What I can say to the young singers is that it really requires a lot of effort to make yourself a good singer. After you prepare yourself, this unpredictable LUCK factor plays around you. But remember: the GOOD LUCK comes around and passes by, but this mysterious power only works for the people who are ready to catch it!
If you weren’t an opera singer, what do you think you would want to be doing instead?Caitlin Potts
I have always appreciated how lucky I have been — I really cherish my life and can’t imagine doing anything else. But when I feel lonely and alone, I happen to long for a more simple life. That’s how I grew up, in the suburbs with dogs and kids around with me, and I loved all of those humble things. So if there is a next life and if I can choose what I want to be, I would choose to be either a veterinarian or kindergarten teacher.
What advice would you offer to an ordinary joe/joan who has never had any musical training and little exposure to classical music to help him/her appreciate opera singing?Adriene Leong
I believe understanding opera is not an easy task for anyone who has never seriously thought about opera before. Like anything else, it requires investment of your time and effort to educate yourself and develop a passion for it. It might start with reaching out to a friend or someone you want to get to know better who likes classical music. There’s research and discovery involved, but the more your understanding grows, the more chances you will get to enjoy it. And it’s also up to us musicians to broaden the fanbase by trying our best to bring this wonderful history and legacy to the public.
What skills and processes are involved in performing opera? Adriene Leong
Making yourself a good vocalist requires a lot of effort. In addition to the talent you’re born with, you need to learn proper language skills, acting skills, how to work well with conductors and other musicians/vocalists. Maintaining strong mental and physical status is another important factor when you consider performing on stage. A positive mindset and the ability to adapt to unfamiliar circumstances surrounding opera stages are also important.
What is it like to play with a different Maestro and orchestra every week? Mercedes Larrobla
It happens to me everyday in different cities and stages. To me, it is one of the very serious issues that I face when I sing onstage. And I pray all the time not to face a conductor who is egoistic! That said, the importance of the role of the conductor to vocalists cannot be over-emphasised. A good conductor understands vocalists — when to breathe and when to rest. For that, a conductor who understands songs is crucial for the best performance. With many years of my career behind me, now I am in a position to choose conductors for most of my recitals and concerts. When I have conductor of my choice, I can relax and feel confident for best possible performance.
Of all operatic roles, is there one particular role that is outside your range that you really wish the composer had set for your voice type so you could sing it? Deen Hamaker
There are many roles I cannot sing even though I have such a fascination with them. Puccini is the composer that I fell in love with early in my singing career, but many roles of his greatest heroines are for the lirico or lirico spinto sopranos, whereas my voice is in a very light coloratura soprano range. I feel sad whenever I think that I may not be able to sing those beautiful arias of Puccini’s operas forever. Wanger is another such composer that makes me feel like it’s a real pity only to be a listener.
If you could play a male operatic role, which one would you choose? Arthur Boyce
I have admired Don Giovanni ever since I first started singing opera. Unlike many 19th-century romantic tenor roles, Don Giovanni shows this strong desire to liberate passion from the social constrictions of his time. No one can fully appreciate how difficult it would have been for Mozart to take on this bold new concept and philosophy in his music – that thrills me.
Throughout your time performing, who has influenced you the most and what is the most important thing you’ve learned from them? Kiran Rajasingam
I wouldn’t hesitate to say Maestro Karajan. Meeting him changed everything. He made my name known to the world. After him, I worked with world-class musicians, singers and conductors; I can honesty say Maestro Karajan is the most influential person to me to this day. He advised me, “Sing songs suitable for your voice only and never overload your voice.” I have been keeping to this advice for all my career and have never broken his rule. Secondly, he told me choose the appropriate time to stop my music. He did not tell me exactly when and how to judge this decision myself, but I believe I will follow his suggestion when the time comes.
Do you have a mentor or singers you admire? Lai Shwu Mei
To a young Asian girl like me 28 years ago, Dame Joan, Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi were the greatest divas of all time. These singers have taught me how to make myself a strong, bold prima donna. Those divas are the ones who had mystique and glamour in their lives. But, as I learned over the years, the modern-day divas are required to reach out in new ways. Those are efforts to market yourself with Facebook and Twitter, make yourself known and let everyone know you are breathing in the same way in the same space. Furthermore, a modern-day diva has to have a strong philosophical base to contribute their musical powers to make the world a better place to live.
How did Herbert von Karajan influence your career as a musician?Alex Sahagian
I have always felt deep gratitude towards him, ever since I was able to make my debut to Salzburg Festival and recording deal with Universal Music. His words made me think about many aspects of music and my career. I still reflect on what he advised me and it informs many decisions of mine.
Ms Sumi Jo, what is the first piece of music you remember as a child that deeply touched your soul? Simone Stewart
A song called Home, Sweet Home used to be sung by Dame Joan Sutherland. This song was the one that my mother always played to start our morning. It’s still very special to me and always makes me emotional since it reminds me of my mother.
Which aria, if any, do you never ever want to hear again? Daniel Kovacs
Most of the arias I have been singing were definitely challenging ones. Instead of talking about songs, I’d rather talk about the roles of the opera that I would not want to play on stage. One of those roles is Constanze in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail. I was cast as her about 20 years ago and after I completed the role, I swore myself not to sing this role any longer. And I kept my promise so far!
Any chance of a duet with PSY? Allan Keung-wah Hong
I know he visited Australia the other day. I am a big fan of his and I do his horse dance on my encore stage, then the audience goes wild! I am open to duet idea with PSY as long as he feels ok with the idea.
What is your opinion regarding the song Gangnam Style by the South Korean pop artist PSY? Charlie Lee
PSY’s Gangnam Style is a kind of unexpected phenomenon which made whole world as one. I think it is a kind of miracle! And he is the right person at the right time. His style of music reflected the trend of young people’s mind. It’s totally unique; I don’t think there will be anything quite like it for years to come.