The first offering the Sixth Korea Opera Festival, held in May and early June 2015 was Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro”, performed by the Muak Opera Company on three consecutive days at the attractive and acoustically impressive Seoul Arts Center.
[Below: the Seoul Arts Center with the skyline of Seoul in the background; edited image, based on a photograph for Delta Air Lines.]
Kihwan Sim’s Figaro
The title role was sung by Korean and German-trained bass-baritone Kihwan Sim, who is a mainstay at the Frankfurt Opera.
Sim proved an engaging Figaro, vocally secure and a fine actor.
[Below: Bass-baritone Kihwan Sim was Figaro; edited image, based on a publicity photograph from alsteartists.com.]
Lyubov Petrova’s Susanna
His character’s betrothed (after all impediments to their marriage were cleared away), was the Susanna of Russian soprano Lyubov Petrova.
I had previously reported on Petrova’s Oscar in a Houston several years ago (in which Ryan McKinny, this performance’s Count Almaviva, also participated [see Vargas, Podles Brilliant in Puzzle Box “Ballo”: Houston – November 2, 2007] and her Elvira at the Kennedy Center [The Italian Girl in D.C. – May 18, 2006.]
Petrova was a brilliant Susanna, her last act aria Deh vieni, non tardar a memorable experience.
[Below: Soprano Lyubov Petrova was Susanna; edited image of a photograph from Intermusica.]
Hei-Kyung Hong’s Countess
Of great significance of Korean opera fans was the return to Seoul of Metropolitan Opera star soprano Hei-Kyung Hong after a decade-long absence from opera performance in the South Korean capital.
She proved a skilled Mozartean, adept at comedy, flirtatious with Cherubino while elegantly accepting her errant husband’s apology in the final scene.
Fortunately I did not have to judge which of the prima donne sang their most famous aria the most exquisitely – Petrova’s Deh Vieni or Hong’s Dove sono.
[Below: Soprano Hei-Kyung Hong was the Countess Almaviva; edited image, based on a publicity photograph.]
Ryan McKinny’s Almaviva
This is the second time in a six-week period that I have been present at a performance of Ryan McKinny’s Almaviva [see Review: New Faces for “Marriage of Figaro” – Los Angeles Opera, March 21, 2015].
McKinny has in recenet months added to his performance repertory such dramatic baritone roles as the Dutchman [Ryan McKinny, Melody Moore, Jay Hunter Morris Soar in “Flying Dutchman” – Glimmerglass Festival, July 18, 2013] and RIgoletto [Dramatic, lyrical and powerful: Ryan McKinny’s Rigoletto Role Debut – Houston Grand Opera, January 24, 2014].
Even so, his retention of the lyric baritone role of Almaviva provides him with a chance to display the depths of his acting skills and vocal flexibility that are not as obvious in the heavier roles.
[Below: the Count Almaviva (Ryan McKinny), in hiding, seeks a conquest; edited image, based on a Lyubov Petrova photograph, courtesy of Ryan McKinny.]
The remiander of the cast were Korean trained. Sunjun Kim was a sprightly Cherubino. The Don Bartolo was Nam Soo Kim, with Yoon Jin Song the Marcellina and Byoung Oh Kim to Don Basilio. Jong Sun Park was Antonio and Sae Joung Choi was Barbarina. The opera was conducted by Seung-Han Choi.
Sex Lives of the Almaviva Household
The stage director, Paula Williams, presented an Almaviva household in which the sexual attractiveness of the individual members of the household was far more important than each person’s position in the 18th century French class systems satirized by Beaumarchais, the dramatist on whose works “The Marriage of Figaro”, is based.
The armchair (familiar in traditional productions) in which Cherubino, and then Almaviva, hides is replaced by a bed. In the first of a couple of extra-textual appearances by Figaro in Williams’ conceptualization of the piece, Figaro sits on a bed with Marcellina. The older woman aggressively pursues Figaro’s sexual charms (until they later discover they are mother and son).
Cherubino briefly snuggles with the Countess in her bed,
Figaro, having learned that Susanna and the Countess have exchanged outfits, roams with his hands across what he knows is Susanna’s body encased in the Countess’ dress.
Of course, we know he knows the Count is watching him intimately embracing the woman the Count believes is his Countess, and we know that Figaro is seeking revenge for the Count lusting after Susanna.
But Figaro’s hands travel across his disgised wife’s body with so with such fervor as to leave me wondering whether Figaro might be fantasizing that it is the Countess herself in the Countess’ dress.
Dae Woo Park’s sets
Dae Woo Park’s first and second act sets were serviceable – interlinked panels each with portholes above openings representing windows or doors. Arranged one way, they formed the servants’ quarters with the doors to the Count’s and Countess’ respective rooms.
The panels were then recombined to portray the Countess’ bedroom with the closet and window over the garden that are both so important to the opera’s plot,
The open space of the third act, in which the wedding parties could freely assemble, ingeniously gave way to the fourth act in which the space was trnasformed into the orchard and garden in which the disguised women pursued their intrigues.
The Korea Opera Festival
Regrettably, travel constraints prevented my attending more than one of the Korea Opera Festivals five offerings. (The other “Western operas” were Puccini’s “Trittico”, Rossini’s “Mose” and Cilea’s “Adriana Lecouvreur”, rounded out by a Korean offering.
Even so, the opera I was able to see was brilliantly performed and reflective of the depth of talent that South Korea has produced to enrich the world’s supply of opera stars.