Korean Opera Singers

Why are there so many good Korean opera singers around today? Opera companies, particularly those in Germany and Austria, rely heavily, for soloists as well as chorus, on them. Look at the Operabase website under “artists” and you will find literally hundreds of them with the surname Kim, Lee and Park”. Whether this has something to do with the climate in Korea, the national temperament or the quality of vocal training, it is difficult to tell. Whatever the explanation, the teaching establishments in Seoul produce a seemingly endless stream of talent for what must be, for them, a foreign culture.

In recent years, I have had some thrilling performances from, for example, tenors Yonghoon Lee and Alfred Kim. Yet, apart from perhaps the soprano Sumi Jo and the bass Kwangchul Youn, the number who may be considered international stars is still rather small. Why is this? I irreverently, I wonder if it has something to do with their names many of which, to Western eyes and ears, may appear to be only too similar. Names clearly are important for marketing purposes: Would Maria Callas have had the same success if she had sung with her original surname Kalogeropoulou? There is a first-rate German conductor Christoph Prick, who for understandable reasons has never made it in the Anglophone opera world, though he has appeared there sometimes under the name of Christoph Perick.