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Soprano says 20th century Korean songs best way to express her ‘free spirit’

German classical music label DG releases album with two Korean-language songs

Soprano Park Hye-sang at a press event held Tuesday at culture complex Ode Port in southern Seoul (Credia)
Soprano Park Hye-sang at a press event held Tuesday at culture complex Ode Port in southern Seoul (Credia)

Korean-language songs sung by a South Korean soprano will be presented around the world by the German classical music label Deutsche Grammophon.

Soprano Park Hye-sang, also known as Hera Park, made her Deutsche Grammophon debut with the release of her new album, “I Am Hera,” Nov. 6. The album consists of 18 pieces hand-picked by Park.

The album features two works of “gagok,” a traditional Korean music genre: “Like the Wind That Met With Lotus,” a poem by the late Korean poet Seo Jeong-ju set to music composed by Kim Joo-won, and “Psalm 23” composed by La Un-yung.

At a press event held Tuesday in southern Seoul, Park introduced herself as an avid fan of gagok. Her love for the genre is about more than just her nationality or sense of patriotism, she said.

“I thought singing songs in Korean is the best way to represent my free spirit,” the 32-year-old soprano said. “Of course, I would be able to promote Korean composers and culture (through singing these songs), but they were the best means to deliver my free spirit.”

Recording was not an easy process. It was the first official recording for DG after a monthslong hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The album was to be recorded in Berlin, where Park is based. Shortly before the scheduled recording date, new regulations imposed by the German government banned the gathering of orchestras. The recording moved to Austria and DG newly cast the Wiener Symphoniker and French conductor Bertrand de Billy.

“Traveling was not easy. Most performances this year have been canceled. The orchestra, the conductor and I recorded in joy, thankful that we could practice music again,” Park said.

Like most artists around the world, Park has had a chaotic year. Her debut at the Metropolitan Opera House with operas “Hansel and Gretel” and “Don Giovanni” was canceled. Her world tour -- which was to have taken her to Paris, London, Berlin and Greece -- has been postponed to next year.

The coronavirus, however, led her to come up with a more “authentic” repertoire for the DG album.

Though the album features celebrated arias from well-known operas “Don Giovanni,” “The Magic Flute,” “The Marriage of Figaro” and “La Boheme,” it also features lesser-known arias.

“I first decided for a more conventional repertoire, following the advice of others. During the lockdown, however, I had more time to think and changed the repertoire more than 10 times. I decided it would be a meaningful challenge for me to present less-sung arias and have people like them,” she said. 

Soprano Park Hye-sang at a press event held Tuesday at culture complex Ode Port in southern Seoul (Credia)
Soprano Park Hye-sang at a press event held Tuesday at culture complex Ode Port in southern Seoul (Credia)

Park follows in the footsteps of celebrated Korean sopranos Sumi Jo, Shin Young-ok, Hong Hei-kyung and Im Sun-hae. But the young soprano downplays the comparisons.

“I still sometimes wonder about what I am doing. It is awkward to be under the spotlight, but to deserve it, I must have responsibility. There are so many people who can sing well. I question myself every day about why it is me who gets the spotlight,” Park said.

Park will give a recital Nov. 20 at the Lotte Concert Hall, celebrating the album’s release. Ilya Rachkovskiy will play the piano. Tickets are priced between 30,000 won and 100,000 won.

By Im Eun-byel (silverstar@heraldcorp.com)
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