Like it or not, 2016 was Sumi Jo’s year, with well-received concerts from Texas to Japan (Seaside Jazz Festival), Paris (she got a standing ovation at Chatelet Theater), Italy (with Andrea Bocelli) and Australia
This year, she will have a return engagement with Hong Kong Philharmonic Feb. 3-4. She will also be heard in Manila for the second time at Meralco Theater Feb. 7.
A good sampler of her voice can be heard on her recording “A Christmas Album,” accompanied by varied instruments and ensembles.
A review by David Vernier notes: “It’s certainly not the usual Christmas program sung by a big star soloist with the orchestra and choir getting their own turns to shine.
Jo’s contribution is equally eclectic in terms of repertoire, and also features accompaniments that range from none (her opening, somewhat tentative a cappella ‘I Wonder as I Wander’) to fortepiano (her heartfelt rendition of ‘O Holy Night’) to orchestra (cantatas by Scarlatti and Christoph Bernhard; Mozart’s ‘Exsultate, jubilate’). ‘Silent Night’ gets two treatments–one for soprano, alto, choir, and orchestra, is performed in the original German with a decidedly ländler flavor…. the disc’s concluding track shows Jo in her sweetest, most tender voice, singing in English, accompanied by violin and fortepiano.
Ecstatic audience reactions at Paris Chatelet Theater and Australia show her vocal artistic prowess has remained unblemished through the years.
From Australia, critic Lynn Lancaster reports: “The major highlight of the first half was a ravishing, spellbinding version of Handel’s ‘Lascia Ch’Io Pianga’ from ‘Rinaldo’ that stopped everything else on its tracks with its powerful emotion. Screams of brava followed after Dell’Acqua’s Villanelle—another fiendishly difficult showcase aria. We then jumped to Spain for Delibes’ ‘Chanson Espagnole’—Jo was passionate and seductive, unleashing her inner Carmen.”
Asian singers seldom land on lead roles made for European divas, but with Jo it is different. She sang Gilda (“Rigoletto”) in Trieste in Italy and got the attention of the German music icon Herbert von Karajan, who cast her as Oscar in “Un Ballo in Maschera” opposite Placido Domingo. She reprised the same role with the Vienna State Opera and proceeded to sing the title role in Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” with the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
In the 2008-2009 season of the Toulon Opera, the second largest opera house in France, she got to sing her first Violetta (“Traviata”).
Did she experience some “resistance” in the world’s most revered opera houses singing Gilda, Oscar and later Violetta with a distinct Asian face?
She intimated she conquered all likely resistance by just being the best she could be.
“There must have been,” she said. “ But I wasn’t very daunted by conventional pressure about my race or my face. To ensure that people would not focus on such minor things, I really tried to perfect my technique and everything I did with my body on stage in order to show the great music of ‘Rigoletto’ and ‘La Traviata.’ I think that nowadays, there are many more singers of diverse ethnicities, so I’m glad it is getting easier. I feel proud to have perhaps opened the door in some way.”
For her Feb. 7 Manila comeback, Jo will be accompanied by pianist Najib Ismail.—CONTRIBUTED
Concert is in partnership with Marco Polo Hotel Manila, 98.7 DZFE The Master’s Touch, Steinway and Sons Piano and Leica.