[Herald Interview] Nomadic soprano Park Hye-sang finds refuge in music


For the past four years, Park Hye-sang, an emerging South Korean soprano, has lived as a cultural nomad, bouncing between New York, Berlin and Seoul to pursue her career as an opera singer.

The first four months of this year alone have been a whirlwind of gigs and long-haul flights for Park. In January, she was in New York to perform Pamina in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” with the Metropolitan Opera and in Prague for an opera gala with the Prague Philharmonic. From there she hopped to Seoul for her recitals in February, then back to New York for the New York Philharmonic’s Lunar New York concert before heading to Berlin to make her debut as Adina in “L’elisir d’amore” at the Berlin State Opera in March.

On April 3, she was in South Korea, replacing Russian singer Julia Lezhneva on less than 24 hours’ notice to close the 20th Tongyeong International Music Festival.

Her job takes her to many places around the world, but the singer says she has a few things to call home wherever she goes.

“I carry my rice cooker and a bottle of eel fish sauce to connect to my house,” Park told the Korea Herald in a recent interview. When she stays with friends or in hotels, these small objects connect her to her Korean roots. On other occasions, she achieves this same sense of stability by cooking Korean dishes for her friends in each city.

“I always check in with myself to make sure the sense of belonging I carry within is peaceful, just as I sing in ‘The: Psalm 23,’ the spirit of the Lord lives within me,” said the singer, also known as Hera. mentioned.

“‘La: Psalm 23” is a Korean song composed by La Un-yun and is one of two songs Park sang in Korean for his debut album “I’m Hera” released by Deutsche Grammophon in November 2020. The he other Korean song on the album is “Like the Wind That Met with Lotus” composed by Kim Joo-won and written by the late poet Seo Jeong-joo.

During the New York Philharmonic’s Lunar New York concert, she sang two Korean songs – “As If Spring Comes Across the River” and “The Song of Birds”.

Adding Korean songs to her album or recitals, as well as her love for Korean cuisine, is also part of her efforts to remember who she is – a long internal struggle that likely brought her to where she is today. today as an opera singer.

Park Hye-sang (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)


Park is no stranger to getting back up after a setback. It took her three tries to get into Julliard, a highly competitive performing arts school in the United States, although when she was finally admitted she received a full scholarship, which meant she didn’t did not have to rely on his family for financial support.

Park went on to explain that the pressure of being one of the few students with a full scholarship motivated her to try to cultivate a unique personality, in the belief that it would help her stand out in an industry. overcrowded. Now, however, she has realized that the most remarkable thing she can be is herself.

“I tried very hard to be special and someone else and it made me feel inadequate, especially when I got attention or won competitions,” she recalls.

She said she wondered, “Am I ready for this much attention?”

It was a constant struggle with feeling “so small, but people thought I was so big” and unprepared to take on the responsibility of representing myself, she said.

This experience made him understand the importance of getting to know himself and his own identity rather than trying to cultivate a unique, but ultimately false personality.

Now, “being ordinary is the most special thing for me,” Park said, adding that she’s not afraid to show her vulnerability.

Park Hye-sang poses for photos during an interview with The Korea Herald on April 4.  (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

Park Hye-sang poses for photos during an interview with The Korea Herald on April 4. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

deep emotional current

Despite its small size, Park creates a remarkably powerful sound. During the interview, she sang briefly with a resonant and emotive tone that immediately demonstrated why so many audiences across continents have been eager to hear her over the past 4 1/2 years.

The deep emotional current runs through his entire relationship with music. When most musicians are asked when they first started learning or playing, they tend to provide a single year or age. Park, however, focuses more on emotional maturity. Rather than providing the numbers, she explains how she started performing as a way to channel the negative and positive experiences of her upbringing into powerful, emotive and uplifting music.

“When I was a kid, there were times when I wanted to scream and get mad because of pent up difficult emotions, which I suppressed because I thought they were going to explode,” Park said. “But while singing, whatever emotion I had, it came out beautifully. I really loved that.

Despite his talent, Park is candid about managing nerves. Although she doesn’t show it, she has stage fright, though this is quickly stifled by her enthusiasm for art and her desire to interact with her audience. At her Seoul recital in March, Park returned to the stage for four encores, demonstrating just how eager to please she is.

Park Hye-sang poses for photos during an interview with The Korea Herald on April 4.  (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

Park Hye-sang poses for photos during an interview with The Korea Herald on April 4. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

Role models

However, achieving this level of commitment has not been without challenges.

Throughout her career, Park said she had faced explicit prejudice and discrimination against her as an Asian woman.

“Even before I sang for them, the manager of a world famous theater told me that they wouldn’t hire me because I was Asian,” she said. On another occasion, he was told during an audition: “We already have a Chinese.

Park added, “While I think racial issues persist, more and more Asians aren’t being held back, but are still striving to achieve their dreams.”

“Before me, many Korean women, including Sumi Jo, Shin Young-ok, Hong Hye-kyung, forged a narrow channel through this racism. I would consider my career a success if I could work to broaden this path for future singers to come,” she said.

The 33-year-old opera singer is now making her way. She became the first Asian opera singer to be signed by the Deutsche Grammophon label in 2020 and caught the eye of opera houses around the world.

She is currently in Glyndebourne, UK, preparing Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” in which she will play Susanna. After spending the summer in the role of Susanna, the opera singer will return to Berlin to interpret Adina for “L’elisir d’amore”. She will then become Nannetta in Verdi’s Falstaff during the Metropolitan Opera’s 2022-23 season.

Park credits her mother and grandmother for her tenacity and success. Her grandmother raised eight children on her own, and her mother continued to work, even with young children. She adds that seeing these strong female role models instilled in her a deep sense of responsibility: she wanted to live up to the examples they set for her. Now her dream is to “sing until the day I die!”



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