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[Herald Interview] Samuel Youn celebrates career in ‘From Darkness to Light’

Bass baritone celebrates 25th anniversary of international debut with solo concert

By Park Ga-young

Published : Oct. 13, 2023 - 17:07

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Bass baritone Samuel Youn sings during a press conference at Pony Chung Hall in Seoul on Friday. (Arts and Artists) Bass baritone Samuel Youn sings during a press conference at Pony Chung Hall in Seoul on Friday. (Arts and Artists)

Korean bass baritone Samuel Youn made his international debut 25 years ago when he took the stage in “Faust.”

The year of 1998 was an unforgettable year. Youn won the Treviso Toti dal Monte, a renowned singing competition, not long before his wife was due to give birth to their first child. He was then given a chance to take the stage in Charles Gounod’s opera, “Faust.” From there, he had the opportunity to participate in an audition for the Cologne Opera.

For 25 years since then, he achieved many accomplishments including earning the German title of "Kammersanger” given to distinguished singers of opera and classical music.

Last year, Youn joined the faculty at Seoul National University.

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of his international debut, Youn is preparing a solo concert, the first time in eight years in Korea, titled “From Darkness to Light.”

“I put a lot of thought into the title and program to reflect my career as a signer,” Youn, 52, said during a press conference in Seoul on Friday.

“Some people are good from the get-go, but in my case, in college it appeared that I had little chance as a professional singer,” Youn said, adding that he didn’t stand out among his classmates, many of whom had won awards.

The concert on Oct. 29 is also set to reflect Youn's transition from a period of darkness. “The first half of the program shows somewhat “dark” sentiment with songs by Schubert, Brahms and Purcell that touch the theme of death, love and heartache, and existential questions like Schubert’ “Doppleganer,” Purcell’s “What Power Art Thou?” from opera “King Arthu” and Brahms’ "Nicht merhr zu dir zu gehen.”

Youn said his family and his religious beliefs helped him get through difficult times. Finding the right part was also an important part of overcoming hardship. He was initially a baritone and then changed to a bass when he finally won a competition without much preparation.

“I realized I should choose the part through which I can express myself more,” he said. After one year as a bass singer, Youn said he is more comfortable as a bass-baritone, which falls between the bass and baritone ranges.

Bass-baritone Samuel Youn speaks during a press conference at Pony Chung Hall in Seoul on Friday. (Arts and Artists) Bass-baritone Samuel Youn speaks during a press conference at Pony Chung Hall in Seoul on Friday. (Arts and Artists)

In 2012, Youn stepped in to take the lead role in Richard Wagner's opera, “Der fliegende Hollander,” known as “The Flying Dutchman” in English, on behalf of Russian baritone Evgeny Nikitin.

The Bayreuth Festival, an annual event in Bayreuth, Germany, which showcases stage productions of Wagner's works, became one of Youn’s career-defining moments.

After receiving the Kammersanger title, Youn came back to Korea, seeking a more meaningful purpose for his talents.

"I was guaranteed to have a role until the age of 65, with ten months of performances each year. However, I felt the need to be of service. Is being the center of attention and living an outstanding life meaningful … (at) the age of 65?," he explained. "I had a desire to explore various avenues. I want to make classical music something that is not enjoyed by only a few individuals in the music industry. Music not shared with the audience has no hope," he said.

His concert will take place at the Seoul Arts Center on Oct. 29 with the Korea Coop Orchestra. The second half of the concert includes opera bass-baritone arias by Wagner, Mozart, Donizetti, Weber and Gounod.