Q & A: Soprano Hyesang Park on Brahms’ German Requiem & Falling in Love With Opera

 

Soprano Hyesang Park is a star on the rise. Currently represented by IMG Artists, the South Korean artist has amassed a tremendous career to this point.

Not only has she been a part of the Met Opera’s Lindemann Young Artists Program and won the coveted Hildegard Behrens Foundation Award, but she has also appeared in a number of major opera houses around the world, including the Met, Bayerische Staatsoper, and Glyndebourne Festival.

At the moment, she is slated to perform Brahms’ famed “Ein deutsches Requiem” in Manhattan’s celebrated St. Thomas Church Concert Series under Music Director Daniel Hyde. Park recently spoke with OperaWire about her past, present, and what she hopes will be her future.

OperaWire: Let’s kick things off by talking about your upcoming performance of Brahms’ German Requiem. What does this piece mean to you? Do you have a spiritual association with the work or is it simply a musical connection?

Hyesang Park: I was thinking how Brahms felt when he had to compose this piece after his mother and his beloved friend, Schumann, passed away. I started to make my own career in America almost five years ago. That means, I had to be separated from my parents all this time. I don’t like to think about it, but recently I lost some of my family and my parents are now questioning if it was a good idea that they allowed me to study and work abroad and be separated from the family. While I was preparing this music, I was thinking my parents more than anything. And, since I am a Christian, the text from the Bible was getting along with my soul.

OW: What is the most challenging aspect of performing the Requiem and what excites you most about it?

HP: The most challenging part of performing the Requiem is making a big legato line with a soft and floating voice. I am a singer who has a lot of temper and fire. I was working on Nanetta from “Falstaff” recently for a concert and it really helped me to control my energy and manage the phrasing well. I am practicing almost the same way I’ve learned from Nanetta. This music has so much comforting and embracing feeling, like a mother’s hug. So, I really try to make it even clearer and as pure a voice as I can. I hope the audience will feel the warmth in the church through my voice.

OW: You are also slated for a recital in May. Tell me about what audiences can expect from that performance.

HP: My pianist, the incredible Ken Noda, and I have performed together for almost three years. He is always an inspiring musician and a very supportive pianist. But he never loses his own color as a pianist. We are both more spontaneous musicians rather than mathematic planners. Even though we are rehearsing two or more times in a week so far, it will be a totally different concert on that day of performance at Gusman Hall in Miami for the Friends of Chamber Music of Miami concert series. I hope you are ready to be surprised at how we manage to make a recital between two unpredictable artists. Though we do discuss a lot, we have the same picture in our head! It is always fun to feel how we show and make a phrase slightly different with the same pictures.

OW: Let’s take a step back at look at your career as a whole. How did you know you wanted to become an opera singer? What inspired you?

HP: When I was 7 years old, I joined a choir called, “World vision choir.” The choir traveled through many countries including Germany, America, Japan, Finland, and Denmark, and I was able to perform on many different stages. This experience led me to have a broader perspective and to develop a specific vision towards my dream as a singer.

I fell in love with opera watching a concert with three tenors singing as sopranos (!) and it made me want to become like one of them, by being on the stage and singing. I went out and bought some opera DVDs and watched and listened numerous times to build my dream to have myself on the stage and perform.

OW: What have been some of the greatest challenges you have had on your road to success? What did you learn from overcoming those challenges?

HP: Music is my daily life so I am always working on challenges. Music is so special, so it’s difficult to pinpoint one specific thing. For example, even yesterday, during practice, I suffered myself to make a note to sound even more beautiful when I was actually going through a painful root canal. My career is not one that can really work around being sick – I have to be very careful in the winter to try not to expose myself to locations where I could be likely to catch someone’s cold or the flu or some other bug. Sometimes that means just staying in rather than socializing. I know that I create a challenge for myself in that I feel a pressure to make people happy through my music.

Learning to speak English when I first arrived in the US was a challenge, and one that I am still working on! My personal relationships have sometimes suffered as my career requires a lot of traveling. It is a challenge to balance personal and professional – something all musicians struggle with in their lives. But all these challenges that I have experienced have always been solved when one really enjoys and loves what one is doing and keeps focusing on that. We all have different challenges in our lives, so let’s embrace it and tackle through it.

OW: Inversely, tell me about some of your greatest triumphs of your career and what learned from them.

HP: Well, in general, it would be every time I sing with respectful people, have an honorable contract in my hands, and am well-treated by people I love. Winning an important competition is a personal triumph. I remember recently, after the Operalia competition, when I was announced as one of the winners, I was very happy. However, I tried to keep myself very calm and hide my emotions in front of other candidates because I respect them as wonderful singers. But when I came back to my room at the hotel, I shouted “YES!” for a couple seconds to the room! Each success I have encourages me to stay humble and to work harder, to never be satisfied with what I have achieved, so that I can set another goal to achieve.

 

OW: What are some of your favorite roles to sing and why? How are they similar or different from you?

HP: I had my Korean national theater debut as Juliette from “Roméo et Juliette” – the emotion I had while I was in the production was just beyond this world. I loved every single note and the text, also the harmony and orchestration. I could really feel the character as myself. Another favorite role – there are so many but if I can list… Juliette from “I Capuletti e i Montecchi,” “Manon,” Mimì, Liu, Violetta, Gilda, Lucia, Amina…I can’t stop! Each role is its own character. I work to find something to relate to in each character, to believe their backstory so that I can become that character. When I take on a role I try to become that role, because that is who audiences want to see on stage. Of course, the character does get colored a little by my own personality, but that is part of what makes this so much fun!

The roles that I’ve already sung are all my favorites for sure, because I put a lot of effort and even though took a time to love each one, finally, I fell in love. Loving a role allows me to feel comfortable to sing and feel. Love is good!

OW: Looking forward, what are some dream roles you would want to sing?

HP: It could be cliché, but maybe Butterfly? I wasn’t really interested in this opera because I just didn’t like this idea that as an Asian singer, there are not so many options but Butterfly. But after I saw the beautiful production of “Madama Butterfly” at the Met, my mind has been changed. But I want to wait and be careful for the right time and save it until then.

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About the Author

David Salazar
Prior to creating OperaWire, DAVID SALAZAR, (Editor-in-Chief) worked as a reporter for Latin Post where he interviewed major opera stars including Placido Domingo, Anna Netrebko, Vittorio Grigolo, Diana Damrau and Rolando Villazon among others. His 2014 interview with opera star Kristine Opolais was cited in a New York Times Review. He also had the opportunity of interviewing numerous Oscar nominees, Golden Globe winners and film industry giants such as Guillermo del Toro, Oscar Isaac and John Leguizamo among others. David holds a Masters in Media Management from Fordham University. During his time at Fordham, he studied abroad at the Jagiellonian University in Poland. He also holds a dual bachelor’s from Hofstra University in Film Production and Journalism.

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