Sumi Jo was born on Nov. 22, 1962, in South Korea.
Her mother had been an amateur singer and pianist who, due to political circumstances, could not study music and pursue a professional career. However, because of this, Jo’s mother did all she could to ensure that her daughter never lost the opportunities she did. So she enrolled her in piano and voice classes from a young age.
In 1976, the soprano went on to study at the Seoul National University and the Accademia di Santa Cecilia. In between, she made her professional and operatic debut with the Seoul Opera. During her years as a student, she studied with the likes of Carlo Bergonzi, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, and Giannella Borelli.
In 1986, Jo won the first prize in the Carlo Alberto Cappelli International Competition. She also won competitions in Seoul, Naples, Enna, Barcelona, and Pretoria. That same year, she appeared as Gilda in “Rigoletto” in Trieste and then headed to Salzburg to sing Oscar in “Un Ballo in Maschera.”
Her La Scala debut came in 1988 in “Fetonte” and then she made her first appearance at the Bayerische Staatsoper. The Vienna State Opera was next up for her, followed by the Metropolitan Opera. Other companies that she appeared with included the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Royal Opera House, the Los Angeles Opera, and the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. She would continue a major international career thereafter.
She was nominated for an Academy Award in 2015 for her performance in “Simple Song Number 3” from the movie “Youth” by Paolo Sorrentino. However, the piece was excluded from the performance schedule during the ceremony.
Some of the more famous interpretations by the soprano include Gilda in “Rigoletto,” Oscar in “Un Ballo in Maschera,” and the Queen of the Night in “Die Zauberflöte.” It is with these roles that she made many of her major international debuts.
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Watch and Listen
Here she is in Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth.”
And here is her Queen of the Night.