Asian Heritage Month 2017: Celebrating the Asian Singers Dominating the Opera World Today

By David Salazar

May is Asian Heritage Month in the United States and in honor of cultural diversity, OperaWire will look at honoring the Asian opera stars making major headlines at this very moment.

Yonghoon Lee

There are few tenors at this moment who can truly dominate the spinto tenor repertoire like Yonghoon Lee does. The South Korean tenor has established himself as the go-to singer for “Il Trovatore” and has also turned “Don Carlo” into one of his signatures.

Sumi Jo

Arguably the biggest name on his list, the South Korean soprano is not only a Grammy-Award winner but also an Academy Award nominee in 2015. That honor came after years of performing at major opera houses all around the world. She first made waves when he performed “Rigoletto” in Trieste, drawing the attention of Herbert Van Karajan. She is also a noted animal rights activist.

Ying Fang

The Chinese soprano has had a strong career, making her mark as a Julliard graduate and then eventually making her way into becoming a regular at the Metropolitan Opera. With the company, she has appeared in such productions as “The Nose,” “Le Nozze di Figaro,” “Hansel and Gretel” and “Tannhäuser” among others.

Hei-Kyung Hong

Another Met regular since her debut in 1982 after winning the Met Opera National Council Auditions, the soprano has performed over 300 times with the company in such operas “Le Nozze di Figaro,” “Don Carlo” and “La Bohème” among others. In fact, she is one of the go-to’s for the role of Mimì, taking it on 66 times at the house in the last three decades. She also famously became the first Asian soprano to sing the lead role in “La Traviata” at the Met. She has also appeared at the Royal Opera House in London, Vienna State Opera, Bayerische Staatsoper, Arena di Verona and La Scala.

Guanqun Yu

The Chinese soprano has made a name for herself singing the role of Leonora in “Il Trovatore,” an opera she sang to great acclaim at the Metropolitan Opera. She has also performed around the world, making appearances at Parma, Los Angeles, Marseille, and Munich. She also famously worked with Plácido Domingo in Valencia, performing “I due Foscari” and “Simon Boccanegra.” She also performed the title role in “Lucrezia Borgia” in Valencia.

Hui He

The Chinese soprano has become synonymous with the title role in Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” performing it around the world to great acclaim. She has sung the opera in 13 separate runs since 2012 in Munich, Palermo, Oslo, Berlin, Barcelona and Copenhagen among others. She is slated to sing it next season at the Metropolitan Opera, and this summer at the Teatro Real de Madrid and Arena di Verona. She has also been featured prominently around the world as “Aida,” among other Verdi roles.

Yunah Lee

The Korean-American soprano is another famous “Butterfly,” slated to sing the role at Washington this month. Since 2012, she has sung the role in nine different cities, including Boston, Quebec, Salt Lake City and Tampa among others.

Sae-Kyung Rim

The South Korean soprano has also made waves in Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” singing it in eight runs since 2015. She is also slated for another two runs this summer with yet another in Leipzig in 2018. She has also performed the title role of “Aida” throughout the last few years.

Kathleen Kim

The coloratura soprano has had tremendous success around the world taking on a wide range of roles. She recently sang a successful Sophie in “Der Rosenkavalier” at the Met and has become a household name as Olympia in “Les Contes d’Hoffmann.” She is slated to take on Mahler’s 2nd Symphony this month and Orff’s “Carmina Burana.”


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