This year, the Boston Lyric Opera (BLO), New England’s largest opera company, has an exciting season lineup. Their first production, a new English adaptation of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, marks the highly anticipated debut of soprano So Young Park, currently a student at the New England Conservatory (NEC). She will be interpreting the iconic role of the Queen of the Night.
Speaking about how he discovered Ms. Park, the Artistic Director of the BLO, Nicholas Russell, said: “Both Esther Nelson (our General & Artistic Director) and I heard Ms. Park in separate performances at the New England Conservatory a year or so ago. As a result of that she was invited to sing for the Boston Lyric Opera panel. She offered one of the Queen arias and knocked it out of the stratospheric ballpark. When the opportunity came to invite someone to sing the role for BLO, it was both rewarding and heartening to be able to include this newcomer to Boston’s best in opera. Sometimes, casting can be about career, growth and maturity; Ms. Park is, however, in the right place at the right time, and our audiences are going to love her.”
I had the chance to speak with Ms. Park over the phone about her upcoming debut with BLO.
The Tech: How long have you been in Boston, and how do you like it here?
So Young Park: I like it here, in Boston. I’ve been here since 2010. This is my first city to visit in America.
TT: You started singing when you were 13, right?
SYP: Yes, I did.
TT: When did you decide to pursue singing as a career?
SYP: I started to sing as a hobby — actually, my mom asked me to do it. Then I decided to go to arts middle school in Korea. Singing has been my major since middle school.
TT: What is your favorite classical music composer?
SYP: I love Mozart and I love Bellini. Of course, I also like Puccini, Verdi, and the others, but I really love Mozart and Bellini.
TT: Do you have a role model among the contemporary sopranos?
SYP: I really really love Diana Damrau. She is the most amazing contemporary singer.
TT: Do you listen to other kind of music, besides classical?
SYP: Of course. I love American pop songs, hip hop, R&B and jazz. When I started singing, I used to listen mostly to other kind of music, not classical.
TT: Let’s talk about the BLO production of The Magic Flute. I know NEC produced The Magic Flute a few years ago and you sang the same part, the Queen of the Night. How is the BLO production different from the one from 2010?
SYP: First of all, they are both in English, but they are different translations. Secondly, the NEC one was a school production and it was … safer. The BLO production is professional. It has more energy.
TT: You must be one of the youngest singers in the cast. How does it feel to work with all these established professional artists?
SYP: It is my first time working with professional singers, and it is really different than working with other students. Everyone does their work very professionally and it is very easy to work with them. No stress, no competition [laughs]. It is really nice — and they are also so humble.
TT: I was reading a little bit about the BLO production. Besides being in English, it has some other innovative elements, such as the use of a Mayan temple, instead of an Egyptian one. What do think of these innovative elements?
SYP: First time I heard of the concept, I couldn’t really understand it, but I can see now that it is really really cool. It makes the story flow easier and I think people will understand the opera better. They also changed some dialogue to make it easier and to explain the situation. I think it’s really nice.
TT: I can’t wait to see it! Now, the Queen of the Night part is quite difficult.
SYP: It is really difficult!
TT: When did you first sing these arias — and how did you choose to sing them?
SYP: When I was in college, my voice teacher asked me to sing the second aria of the Queen of the Night, which is the most famous one. My teacher was a tenor, so he didn’t know a lot about sopranos. I just learned it, and after that it really became my aria. I didn’t know how hard it was, until I started to sing it.
TT: It must have been very exciting to realize that you can hit those high notes, especially the high F. Not a lot of people can do that.
SYP: [laughs] I know, yeah. It’s been really hard for me too.
TT: When you interpret the Queen, do you draw some inspiration from personal experience?
SYP: The Queen is really not my personality. I’m thinking of a Korean angry mother [laughs]… angry because her daughter is not listening to her, and not studying hard … I really imagine that. But my mom was nothing like this.
TT: So, you’re thinking about the Queen along the lines of a “Tiger Mom.”
SYP: Yes, yes [laughs].
TT: You probably first learned these arias in German. How does it feel to sing them in English?
SYP: I feel the German text shows the personality better, more anger. The English [text] is smoother. Singing-wise, I don’t really feel any difference. But I tend to prefer singing these arias in German.
TT: Not a lot of young people know about opera in general, or enjoy going to the opera. Why do you think that’s the case?
SYP: I think opera is often from a really long time ago, and it feels kind of cheesy and boring for young people. However, the [opera] music is really beautiful. But to really feel it, perhaps you need to know a little bit more about it. Even myself, I go to watch opera, but I get bored sometimes too. If I know something [about it], it definitely makes it easier [to watch]. I’ve watched Don Giovanni six times, and I never got bored, because I know the music and I know the text very well.
TT: Do you feel opera, as a musical genre, has been changing recently?
SYP: Opera has been changing a lot. Opera singers now are in good shape, work hard for their bodies and they are very good actors too. They are certainly going in the right direction — they sing well and also look really good on stage.
TT: How do you see the future of the opera? Do you envision a lot of technology, special effects?
SYP: I feel that mixing old classical traditions and some contemporary interpretations is better than going all contemporary. A lot of the contemporary elements (I know some companies for example have scenes where the characters are naked), or excessive technology may not be necessary; opera should stay more classical.
TT: What can you do to get people more interested in the opera?
SYP: People are touched by the human voice. We, as opera singers, can inspire by singing better and acting better. Singing is the most important part. We have to sing better and be the characters on the stage, make them look real and musical ... The most important difference between opera singers and musical theatre singers is the [singing] voice; they are using microphones, we’re not. Opera singers have very beautiful voices and people would like to hear that.
TT: After The Magic Flute which opens on Oct. 4, what are your future projects?
SYP: I’m going to do another opera at the New England Conservatory, next spring. It hasn’t been decided yet which one.
The Magic Flute will be performed on Oct. 4, 6, 9, 11, and 13. The company offers a 50 percent student discount on tickets for seating sections C and D in advance, and student rush 50 percent discount for any unsold seats (including premium sections) are available at the theatre box office one hour prior to performance.