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Sujung Kim returns to the Virginia Opera stage to sing the title role of Handel's little-known "Rodelinda."

Going for Baroque


Cold and flu season hit many of us with its usual unsympathetic ferocity this year. Even opera singer Sujung Kim was not spared. But when this talented soprano catches a stubborn cold, more than a few tissues are at stake. "Our bodies are our instrument," Kim says. "[When you have a cold] your instrument is not in a condition to perform."

Luckily, opera fans will not have to cancel their plans to catch Kim in Virginia Opera's upcoming production of "Rodelinda" in which she sings the title role. "I've suffered for 10 days now, and it is finally fading away," Kim says reassuringly after opening the show at the Harrison Opera House in Norfolk to standing ovations.

Though "Rodelinda" "is as beautiful as many other Handel operas," according to Kim, it is staged far less frequently than other baroque operas. The gloat factor is optimal — Kim suggests that a lot of opera lovers will be impressed with the fact that they were able to see this gem.

"We're riding the crest of a wave of renewed interest in Handelian repertoire," says Peter Mark, Virginia Opera's general and artistic director. Virginia Opera joins New York City Opera and the Metropolitan Opera in mounting new productions of this rarity. Mark attributes the resurgent popularity of baroque opera to features both musical and extra-musical. Audiences have long expected baroque opera to trot out lavish sets and exquisite costumes. The sets created by Stage Designer John Conklin for this new production will, according to Mark, provide "a new, intense, colorful experience." Mark also stresses the acrobatic challenges to the voice that make audience members feel like spectators at a sporting event. "The singers take risks," he says.

Kim also notes the particular demands of Handel. "It does challenge [you] dramatically when you perform baroque opera," she says. She points out that, on the surface, "baroque opera can be dull ... there are a lot of da capos and the same words [sung] over and over again. ... You announce one sentence and you have to repeat it and embellish it." It is these embellishments, the filigrees, ornaments and decorations, that require singers of superstar stature. And at the same time a singer is creating musical lines that a nightingale would envy, she has to act. Every time she utters a sentence she has to inflect it or perform it differently.

This will be Kim's fifth appearance with the Virginia Opera. Performing for the same audience so frequently places demands on Kim's acting talent as well as her vocal skills.

"Each time is a challenge," she admits. "[The audiences] know my singing very well." But Kim also sees her return engagements with Virginia Opera as an opportunity to test herself, "to show my ability to sing different roles, in a different style of music and with a different style of acting."

Kim says she's thankful to the Richmond community for its support and interest in her career. With not the barest trace of ego, or even a hint of how adored she is by a new generation of operagoers, Kim remarks, "I'm improving. I'm young. I'm putting my experiences in my

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