Meet Asia’s next generation of opera stars

by Mariko Kato

Sumi Jo isn’t the only Asian star to have taken the Western opera scene by storm in recent years. Below are three other talents fast stamping their presence on the international stage.

Who: Liao Changyong, baritone, China

Background: Born in 1968 to a farming family in rural Sichuan, Liao was recruited by the Shanghai Conservatory of Music at the age of 19. Considered the best baritone in China, Liao has accumulated a long list of international awards. He made his much-acclaimed U.S. debut in 2000 at the Kennedy Center singing Count de Luna in “Il Trovatore” with the Washington Opera, conducted by Placido Domingo.

Star potential: Domingo says of the rising young star: “It’s hard to imagine that he possesses [such] a deep heart at such a young age.” Liao continues to wow audiences with the winning combination of a flawless technique and raw musical instinct. This rich-voiced baritone is also noted as one of the most dramatic actors of the young generation.

Who: Wookyung Kim, tenor, South Korea

Background: At the tender age of 30, Kim has already made a mark on the operatic world by winning the Placido Domingo International Voice Competition, the world’s largest international vocal competition, in 2004.

Star potential: As a promising young tenor with a powerful yet lyrical voice, Kim is currently making his Metropolitan Opera House debut as Alfredo in Verdi’s opera “La Traviata.” He stars alongside the Korean-American soprano Hei-Kyung Hong, and together they are quickly accumulating rave reviews. Described as “creamy” and “elegant,” Kim’s beautiful vocal instrument crowns this opera first — a Western opera production with two Korean natives in principal roles. He is anticipated to become one of the world’s leading Verdi singers.

Who: See Too Hoi Siang, soprano, Singapore

Background: Slightly older at 46 but with her best years ahead of her, Siang is a treasured icon in Chinese opera. Winner of the “The Outstanding Young Person in the World Award” for Cultural Achievement in 2001, she was the first Singaporean in Chinese Opera to perform “Madam White Snake” in English. She has given almost 2,000 performances at home and overseas.

Star potential: As a pioneer in Chinese opera, she mesmerizes audiences with her passionate tones and extraordinary beauty. She is the lead singer in the Chinese Theater Circle and continues to tour the world, displaying her unique talent as the only homegrown artist who can play both civilian and military roles with equal prominence.

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