Korean Baritone, Joo Won Kang
, is a second-year Adler Fellow and made his San Francisco Opera debut as the Second Priest in Mozart's The Magic Flute
in 2012. Joo Won has since been seen on the War Memorial Opera House Stage as Captain Gardiner in Heggie's Moby-Dick
, Marullo in Verdi's Rigoletto
, and as a Noble in Wagner's Lohengrin
. He was most recently seen as Hermann in this past summer's Tales of Hoffmann
. Prior to his Adler Fellowship, Joo Won was a member of the Young Artist Program at Florida Grand Opera where he sang the role of Giorgio Germont in Verdi's La Traviata
and the Duke of Verona in Gounod's Roméo et Juliette
. Joo Won will be seen this upcoming fall in the role of Figaro in 'Barber of Seville for Families'
in a special English translation on November 24 and 30.
What have been some of the highlights of your Adler Fellowship thus far?
I have had so many wonderful experiences thus far! The experience of working with great singers and conductors and being involved with so many productions has been invaluable -- there is no way I can buy those experiences like a recording or DVD! That's the best thing I have gotten as an Adler Fellow.
Many singers are known for singing roles by a particular composer -- is there a composer that you particularly identify with and what are some of the roles and/or works you hope to someday perform?
There are many great composers but Verdi is definitely my favorite. Not only do I love his music but I also love the characters he has created in his works. Many roles in Verdi's operas have complicated personalities and emotions, so, it is fun to play them. I can play these characters in many different ways. There are several roles I really would like to sing later in my career, namely, Rigoletto
, Renato in Ballo in Maschera
and Gerard in Andrea Chénier
(Above: Joo Won Kang as 'Marullo' in Verdi's Rigoletto. Photo by Cory Weaver.)
How early did you begin your musical training? Does your family have a background in classical music?
I started training when I was seventeen years old after my voice had begun maturing. My aunt is a singer and I was inspired a lot by her performances. My father also loved classical music and had many great recordings that he always listened to. I had never thought I'd be an opera singer and had never learned an instrument before I started vocal training, but classical music was still something I really enjoyed listening to - it's never been strange or boring to me.
What has been the greatest challenge for you as an opera singer thus far? How do you continue to overcome this challenge?
I consider myself very lucky because I am doing what I love. Still, the biggest challenge I've faced as an opera singer is being away from my family. My family is the most important thing in my life and it is difficult to be away from them. Luckily, I have a great wife who is very supportive and even my three year-old son understands and hopes to see me succeed. When I am with them, I try to be the best father and husband I can.
Do you have any musical role models?
I worked with Warren Jones as a student at the Manhattan School of Music and he has been an inspiration for me. Studying with him for two years shaped my goals as a singer. Not only is he a great pianist and teacher, but, he instilled in me a sense of artistry. I really admire his attitude towards music: he is passionate and works incredibly hard. I hope to be an artist like him.
You came to the United States for graduate studies after college in Korea -- have you returned back to your homeland to perform? How does opera & classical music differ between our two countries?
I have gone back to Korea to visit for only short visits and have not had the chance to perform there. I hope though that I will be able to return soon to sing in my country and in my own language! Western classical music in Korea is still relatively new to the country. There are many opera fans there but the repertoire that Koreans love tends to be more traditional and many companies are afraid to present contemporary works. Prior to my work here as an Adler Fellow working on John Adams' Nixon in China
and Jake Heggie's Moby-Dick
, I too had a misconception about the value of contemporary works. Korean people are very enthusiastic about music in general and so I think they will soon enough be open to more contemporary works in opera and classical music.
(Above: Joo Won Kang performs at the 2012 Adler Gala. Photo by Kristen Loken.)
How do you typically prepare for a performance? Do you have any backstage rituals that you'd like to share?
Unlike many singers, I usually don't vocalize much before a performance -- I'm not lazy or supernaturally talented -- I just prefer to warm up my body rather than just my voice! Like an athlete before a competition, I try to move my body a lot before a performance: dancing, running, jumping, etc. The most important thing to do before a performance though is to get myself excited and remind myself how lucky I am to be doing it!
What do you usually do for fun when you are not busy with rehearsals or performances?
I love to cook and develop new recipes. I also like to take photographs, listen to symphonic music and take day trips around the Bay.
What are some of your favorite:
Non-Classical Music Artists:
Michael Jackson; Adele; Boyz II Men; Beattles...
Spots in the Bay Area:
I love the Palace of Fine Arts as well as Muir Woods;
I love food and am not afraid of trying something new. Indian food is my favorite right now and I also love French inspired Vietnamese dishes.
If you weren't pursuing a career as an opera singer, what would you choose instead and why?
I think I'd probably be a professional chef if I weren't a singer. I love making people happy with food and I think that cooking is a creative endeavor, much like singing! No dish is exactly the same as the one before and no performance is exactly the same as the last performance -- it's different everytime!