We're back on the scene with another Adler Profile: vocal coach-in-training Sun Ha Yoon
. Born in Korea, and a former student of both the Juilliard School and the University of Maryland, Sunny has had the amazing experience of coaching classics such as Il Barbiere di Siviglia
and Don Giovanni
. In the Summer of 2012, she began her work with San Francisco Opera as a member of the Merola Opera Program. While in the process of receiving her doctorate in collaborative piano at the University of Maryland, Sunny coached the Maryland Opera Studio in the world premieres of Later that Same Evening
by John Musto and Shadowboxer
by Frank Proto. Her work as an Adler Fellow includes the world-premiere of Nolan Gasser's The Secret Garden
and this summer's production of Mozart's Così fan tutte
What was your favorite Merola experience?
The best part of Merola was the rehearsal process for Dominic Argento's opera Postcard from Morocco. I played for the rehearsals and enjoyed every single moment. One day, we had a rehearsal for the 'Aria of the Lady with a Cake Box' (sung by soprano, Aviva Fortunata) and I saw some tears from maestro. It was the most precious moment in my life!
How did you first get started with the piano? What is your family’s background with classical music?
No one in my family is a musician. When I visited Korea just before I started the Adler Fellowship, I was told that a family member read a book about opera because she wanted to know what I work on. That was really sweet! I started piano when I was seven. All my friends went to the after school music program, and I wanted to hang out with my friends there. So, I just asked my mother if I could play the piano there. I was much faster than other students and my teacher encouraged me to keep working on it. My parents have never forced me to practice. They let me do whatever I wanted. I think that is why I can still enjoy playing the piano!
Who would you say your musical role model is/was?
I have two people in mind: Justina Lee and John Churchwell. Justina is a head coach for the Maryland Opera Studio at the University of Maryland and John is head of music staff here at San Francisco Opera. The most important thing I have learned from them is that a pianist not only plays for singers but also cares for them and supports them in many different ways. I also have my lifetime role model, my teacher Rita Sloan. Not only is she a great teacher and amazing performer but a mother of three, wife of a professor, and a big supporter of her students. Whenever I have a problem in my life, I go and talk to her and she gives me simple advice, and everything is well.
What do you think is the biggest difference between studying piano in Korea and in the United States?
I think my early education on piano built my technique securely. When I was in middle school and high school, we had more than sixty pianists in my grade, and we were competing all the time. Everyone wanted to go to the best college and university, and there was no other way to do that than by practicing hard. The education in the United States has made me enjoy more music. When I had my second performance at Juilliard, I felt something different on the stage. I actually felt that people were listening to my music, and they were sending their energy towards me. It was an eye-opening experience. Since then all the process of music making is so much more enjoyable.
What suggestion would you give to people unfamiliar with opera as a genre?
Until I started my fellowship as an opera rehearsal pianist at the Maryland Opera Studio, I was not a fan of opera. Once I saw all the process for how one opera production is prepared, I was amazed by how much work everyone puts in for one show. Before I knew this, I had only listened to the singing and followed the story. But there is more than just music there is the set design, lighting design, costume and wig design that one can look carefully at. Many operas have some dance numbers with movements and actions that are all choreographed. All the stage crew works so hard behind the scenes. I enjoyed watching them moving the crane for Olympia in this summer's production of The Tales of Hoffmann. I know they probably practiced moving Hye-Jung more than a hundred times for sure! It is a genre where all different artists come together and work together towards one purpose to create a total art form that one can enjoy in so many ways.
Where did you find your inspiration to be a collaborative pianist as opposed to a soloist? What are the differences in preparing for a recital with solely instrumentalists as opposed to a performance on an operatic stage?
My answer might be too simple: I just enjoy playing the piano more when I work with people. I love being on the stage with someone I can trust. I think preparing opera or recital is similar in the beginning: Just practice hard, get the information as much as I can and rehearse with the people. At the end I can actually see the final product for opera. I always have some tears when this moment comes. But for recital that moment comes after the performance. Being on the stage is very exciting and I usually don’t get nervous even though I make mistakes no matter what. When I feel the energy from the audience, I cannot describe with words how precious that moment is.
What are some of your favorite…
Spots to hang out in San Francisco?
Chestnut Street – It has a lot of restaurants, shops, bars etc. and Japan Town – I love Japanese food.
My very first opera: Later the Same Evening by John Musto. It was the first world-premiere work that I've done. It was a great experience to work with a living composer and librettist.
Non-classical music groups?
X Japan. I was crazy about them when I was in high school. Right after I graduated, I went to Japan to see their two concerts. I still can’t believe my parents let me go there!
Sweet potato - it might be a little weird here, but it’s a very popular topping in Korea. Also, Jalapeno - I can only think of something strong and spicy since I am currently in Italy traveling. Everything is so mild, soft and smooth here.
Cities you’ve been to?
Chicago, Tokyo, Denver, and Singapore. I have a funny story from Singapore. I visited the city with four of my best girlfriends. One night we dressed up with gold make-up for a night safari. We all thought it was a night club called Safari. When we got there, we found out it was actually a zoo where you could see the animals at night. Our high heels and dresses were not very comfortable for the purpose, but we saw everything there.
What are you looking forward to most in the year ahead with San Francisco Opera?
Mefistofele! Before I came to San Francisco, I watched the DVD of the production that SFO made. The first day I got to the War Memorial Opera House, the first picture I saw was the picture of the huge chorus scene of Mefistofele. I also saw Samuel Ramey in the elevator who was there for the production of Attila around that time! I can’t wait to see a live performance of Mefistofele in the fall!