So, let’s start with South Korean baritone Hyung Yun, who trained as a young artist at the Washington National Opera and has had important roles in major American opera houses.
Metropolitan Opera: numerous roles, including Valentin in Faust, Ping in Turandot, Lescaut in Manon (with Renée Fleming), and Silvio in Pagliacci, among others
New York City Opera: Figaro in The Barber of Seville
San Francisco Opera: Ping in Turandot
LA Opera: Lescaut in Manon (with Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón), Angelotti in Tosca, Marcello in La Bohème, Micheletto Cibo in Die Gezeichneten
Santa Fe Opera: Ping in Turandot
Washington National Opera: Sharpless in Madama Butterfly
Mr. Yun has also appeared in numerous American regional houses including Opera Carolina (Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor), and he sung Count Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro in Seoul. He appeared as Melchior in the BBC TV production of Amahl and the Night Visitors with Francesca Zambello and Patricia Racette. He also appeared in the PBS TV Broadcast for “Domingo & Friends” with Washington National Opera and in a Spanish National TV broadcast of the Concert for Deaf Children with Juan Pons, Marcello Giordani and Ruggiero Raimondi.
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Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively – The larger-than-life Figaro – how do you avoid over-acting? What’s the recipe for a good Figaro, theatrically and musically?
Hyung Yun – Yes! It is true that Figaro is a character who is very tempting to over-act, since he has so much to say and do as being Figaro.
All great recipes require great ingredients. And I believe I have that here at Opera Carolina. I have a dream team here. Mr. Uzan, the stage director, is an awesome director with great ideas deriving from his acting background and knowledge of this opera. He is always eager to make me understand the historic background and reasons behind every lyric and acting. His meticulous way of working helps me tremendously because this is the exact way I like to prepare a role. I get goosebumps at times working with him because he brings into light certain moments which I was only thinking and imagining.
When singers and stage director agree on the same idea and interpretation of the role, that’s the way to produce that perfect recipe with just the right proportion of great ingredients.
OL – I have always thought that the “Largo al factotum” is harder than it seems. I’m actually rarely content with it, watching and listening to different performers. How do you go about it?
HY – “Largo al factotum” is a very ironic aria. It is vocally a rather challenging aria yet it must be sung care-freely with much ease. You can imagine a graceful swan gliding on water yet his feet are rather quite busy paddling to float.
I try to sing this aria as much as I possibly can to train my body and throat. It is always the perfect practice which makes a perfect performance. On stage, I pray that the audience only sees and hears the gliding swan.
OL – Great analogy! Most baritone roles are evil guys trying to thwart the tenor. Here you get a nice guy trying to help the tenor. How fun is it for you to play this character? Do you enjoy doing comedy more than other genres, or is it the other way around?
HY – It is unfortunate that most baritone roles are either evil or old. For the last 16 years I have been singing all these evil roles. It’s not easy to be a comical good guy singing Figaro. When I get irritated and angry at home, my wife makes fun of me by saying, “snap out of opera, you are not a baritone at home!”
It is very refreshing to be singing Figaro and in fact I enjoy it. Although I don’t seem to be funny or entertaining when I speak English, I was a class clown and entertainer back in Korea. My favorite childhood play was to gather all my friends in town and make them an audience for my one-man show. And my mother ended up cooking ramen for everyone who came.
OL – The same character created by Beaumarchais is older in Mozart’s Le Nozze than in Rossini’s Barbieri, and rather than a street guy, a jack-of-all-trades, he has settled down. You’ve been in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro as well, notably in David McVicar’s production in Seoul, Korea, when you sang Almaviva. So you are in a good position to compare and contrast the two Figaros in these two famous operas, theatrically speaking (of course, musically they belong to different voice types). What explains the character’s psychological arc?
HY – With The Barber of Seville, Figaro is quite an established business man and helping this young Almaviva to accomplish his goal of obtaining Rosina’s love. Their work is successful with Figaro’s brilliant ideas and help.
But time passes for in Marriage of Figaro Almaviva is no longer a young, naive and innocent lover but has become a Don Giovanni in character. Here Figaro has been living his life as Almaviva’s servant. Their positions have flipped and their relationship is at risk. Almaviva is pursuing Suzanna, and Figaro must feel quite betrayed.
OL – Please tell us about some of the vocal challenges involved in Rossini’s pater songs. How long does it take for a performer in terms of rehearsing/preparing, to memorize everything and make sure that it all comes out correctly at those lightening speeds?
HY – Figaro is a busy successful businessman if we are to compare to our modern times.
His jobs are many and he is wanted by many. It is only natural that Rossini depicted this busy character with pater songs. And it’s so Rossini in style, musically!
Luckily, it doesn’t take too long for me to learn and memorize this role or any opera. When I was in elementary school, my mother used to have me memorize my history (only about 5,000 years) textbook word by word. And I was a very obedient child back then, so I used to make her very happy by successfully memorizing my pages. I believe this almost nuisance way of learning programmed and triggered my memory ability. I can learn a new opera in a couple days. And Italian is my favorite to sing. It is the language most suited to operatic singing.
OL – Are there great former Figaros that inspire you?
HY – I have a couple of great former Figaros I admire. I like to listen to and watch Tito Gobbi and Hermann Prey. Gobbi’s detailed thought-out acting is worthy of attention. His interpretation as Figaro is very convincing since he is a native of Italy. The natural Italian gestures and reactions flow very smoothly, and his voice is second to none singing Figaro.
With Prey, it is very interesting to observe how he interprets the role as another foreigner to the Italian language. His singing always seems well prepared musically and theatrically.
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