South Korean bass JONGMIN PARK has distinguished himself as one of the the most outstanding operatic singers of his generation. He was born in Seoul and studied singing at the Korea National University of Arts. As alumnus of the Accademia del Teatro alla Scala, Milan, he was taught by Mirella Freni, Luciana Serra, Luigi Alva and Renato Bruson. From 2010 to 2013 he was a member of the Hamburg State Opera, Germany where he sang important roles including Sarastro (Die Zauberflöte), Colline (La Bohème) and Sparafucile (Rigoletto). From 2013 to 2020 he was a member of the Vienna State Opera, Austria with whom he sang a number of leading roles such as the title role of Le nozze di Figaro, Leporello (Don Giovanni), Ramfis (Aida), Banco (Macbeth), Ferrando (Il Trovatore), Sir Giorgio (I Puritani), Raimondo (Lucia di Lammermoor), Don Basilio (Il barbiere di Siviglia), Vodnik (Rusalka), Fasolt (Das Rheingold), Hunding (Die Walküre) and Fafner (Siegfried). Since the 2020/21 season he has been a guest singer at major houses and festivals around the world. He has performed at the Metropolitan Opera House, Teatro alla Scala di Milano, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Teatro Real in Madrid, Berlin Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Salzburg Festival, Arena di Verona, Savonlinna Opera Festival, BBC Proms, Vienna Musikverein, Wigmore Hall in London, NHK Hall and Suntory Hall in Tokyo. He works with conductors such as Christian Thielemann, Valery Gergiev, Semyon Bychkov, Riccardo Chailly, Ádám Fischer, Franz Welser-Möst, Jiří Bělohlávek, Peter Schneider, Myung-whun Chung and Marco Armiliato. He won first prize at the 2011 International Tchaikovsky Competition, the Birgit Nilsson Award for Wagner and Strauss roles at the 2011 Operalia Competition and the Song Prize at the 2015 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition. Future engagements include appearances at the Teatro alla Scala di Milano, at the Teatro Real in Madrid, at the Opera National de Lorraine in Nancy.
Dear Jongmin, first of all thank you for having accepted my invitation and congratulations for your most recent achievements, among which Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi at Teatro alla Scala and your jump in as Banco in Davide Livermoor’s production of Macbeth! You’ve been quite a permanent presence in this theater lately. What does this stage mean to you, considering that your career started as a student of Accademia del Teatro alla Scala?
Thank you for inviting me! When I first came to Europe, Milan was my first real place of residence. In this city I spent a very important time of my life in my early twenties. The person making this possible for me was the then former Casting Director of La Scala Opera House, Luca Targetti, one of the earliest victims of the Corona pandemic. In 2007 I took part in the Belvedere competition in Vienna, where he was part of the jury. Chosen by him, I received the offer to study at the Accademia della Scala. There I was trained for three years to become a professional opera singer. During these three years I was given the valuable opportunity to perform in large and small roles on the La Scala stage. I have sung, among others, Don Bartolo in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, Medico in Verdi’s Macbeth, Keeper in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress and have performed as a bass soloist at La Scala’s annual Christmas concert with Mozart’s Vesperae Solennes de Confessore. Since then, more than 10 years have passed, and I recently sang Capellio in Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi and substituted in for the role of Banco in Davide Livermoor’s new production of Verdi’s Macbeth. So, I had a very happy time at the end of last year. Appearances in Don Giovanni, Ariadne auf Naxos and Un ballo in maschera are planned for this year. I owe all of this to Sovrintendente Dominique Meyer, whom I met at the Stella Maris Competition in 2010. During our time together at the Vienna State Opera and afterwards, he always believed in me and valued me as an artist. As a quick note, the Stella Maris Competition selects one alternate entrant from each of various Young Artists programs around the world. Luca Targetti recommended me to represent the Accademia della Scala at the competition, where I met Sovrintendente Dominique Meyer for the first time. I am deeply grateful to both. Singing at La Scala in Milan is certainly a big dream, not just for me, but for every opera singer. I’ve dreamed of becoming an opera singer ever since I was a young – I knew even then about the excellent reputation of La Scala in Milan and listened to and watched audio and video recordings of performances there. Ever since I started getting serious about singing, I had one goal in mind: “I will definitely sing at La Scala in Milan and the Metropolitan Opera House in New York one day.” Now La Scala has become a place to which I always long to return from the bottom of my heart and which always reminds me of my youth with warm feelings.
You were 20 when you left Seoul and went to Italy to study, am I right? Building a successful career in the opera field in the 21st century is a hard work to do. What are the sacrifices required by this path, especially at the beginning, and what is the biggest sacrifice that you personally have done?
I was only 20 years old when I first came to Milan in 2007. It was then that I experienced everything for the first time. As a young Asian person in the middle of a foreign country with a completely different culture and language, I was on my own. The separation from my family and the great longing for my parents and my grandmother, who had raised me, was particularly difficult for me. There is a time difference of 7-8 hours between my home country South Korea and Europe – that’s how big the distance is. While my European friends could travel to France, Germany or Spain for a short weekend to see their parents and acquaintances, that wasn’t possible for me. On the one hand I was happy about the new acquaintances I made here, on the other hand I gradually lost touch with my friends in my home country with whom I had grown up. At that time there were no modern mobile phones, so it was not easy to get in touch with my parents. I’m an only child, so my parents must have missed me a lot. I tried to fly to Korea at least once a year to visit them. When I was too busy to fly to Korea, they used to visit me here in Europe. Since I couldn’t do much about the situation myself, I always prayed for the health and well-being of my parents. Through the prayers, I’ve also tried to keep my firm belief in the music I make. As in any other field of activity, it is very difficult to be successful in opera. Fewer than 100 opera singers in the world have had as much success as Placido Domingo or Jonas Kaufmann. Of course, it is important to gain fame as an opera singer. But not everyone can become a star, which is why we should always keep in mind that with our music we have the power to peacefully reconcile a society divided by political and social conflicts. We should be proud and grateful for what can make us happy in life.
Read the entire interview here, in the 2th/2022 issue of OPERA Charm Magazine.