Sumi Jo with the VSO

Date and Venue Monday, 21 January 2008 @ 8pm | The Orpheum Theatre

Conductor Tania Miller

Rossini Barber of Seville: Overture Gounod: Roméo et Juliet. "Je veux vivrea" Bellini I Capuleti e i Montecchi: "Eccomi in lieta vesta … Oh! quante volte" Verdi La Forza del Destino: Overture and Rigoletto: "Caro nome" Bizet L’Arlesienne Suite No. 2 Meyerbeer L’Étoile du nord: "C’est bien l’air que chaque matin" Donizetti La Fille du Regiment: "Il faut partir" Verdi La Traviata: Prelude and "E strano … Ah, fors’e lui … Sempre libera"

Reviewer J H Stape

Once in a generation a voice like Sumi Jo's comes to the opera stage. Born in Korea, trained in Italy, and "discovered" by the late Maestro Herbert van Karajan, this great coloratura soprano has enjoyed a twenty-year stratospheric career on the international operatic scene. This triumphant concert showed why this true prima donna assoluta is ever in demand in the major world centres: flawless technique, effortless production, an actress's stage presence, and communicative skills of the highest order..

The capacity audience, with the Korean community out in force, got a treat -- a concert so committed, charming, and accomplished that standing ovations, roared thanks, and grasping for superlatives could be the only responses to it.

The six arias on the main programme were interleaved with operatic overtures and Bizet's L'Arlésienne, the night opening with that bubbly confection the Overture to Rossini's Barber of Seville, energetically directed by Victoria Symphony's Music Director, Maestra Tania Miller.

If ever charm offensive were launched to capture non-opera lovers, Sumi Jo could head it singlehandedly with Juliet's first aria from Gounod's Roméo et Juliet. The voice shimmered, the trills were tossed off with abandon, and the complete absorption in her craft was evident. For fans, this was quintessintial Sumi Jo, for those hearing her for the first time, a revelation.

The more sombre Bellini aria showed off her expressive gifts, the vocal line coloured richly for a masterly performance, but her "Caro nome" concluding the first half of the concert was simply spellbinding. She offered a definitive version of this well-known aria, the vocal control astonishing, the communication of the text, well ... simply perfect. It the concert had ended there, the night would have been a memorable one.

But there was indeed more after the intermissison and the Bizet tit-bit. One can easily see on the basis of Meyerbeer's aria from L'Étoile du nord why this once immensely popular composer has failed to survive in the opera house.

Accompanied by two flutes, Ms Jo convinced us that she was of avian stock, but the music itself was of that tour-de-force (I'll show ya) kind that lacks any other than surface polish, and between Meyerbeer and Ms Jo, she was obviously the greater artist lending her voice to the tweets and twitters of the confirmed second-rater.

In Verdi's La Traviata, greatness met greatness, however, and her gem-like performance of the end of the first act was a rollercoaster moment of thrills and chills. She has no nickname in the operatic world, but perhaps it is time to reassign "La Divina" (the goddess).

Three encores were begged for and graciously offered: the much-loved "O, mio babbino caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicci, a Korean song, "Our Beloved Geumgang Mountain" written by Young-Sup Choi (I'm sorry to say, a Korean heir of Meyerbeer), and Olympia's aria from Offenbach's Les contes d'Hoffmann, the last acted out as the mechanical doll runs out of steam and needs revved up. Tania Miller jumped in with good spirit as the winder-upper, and Ms. Jo was having as good a time as her admirers.

This was a concert for the memory box: generous in impulse, flawless in execution, and darn good fun, and what a voice, what technique, what breathtaking artistry. Concerts simply don't get better than this, for the real gift she gave was joy, a sense that the world is right, after all, as the beaming smiles of the concert-goers braving the night testified.

© 2008 J H Stape