By Vivian Miezianko
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Apart from opera singing, what does Yu Seok Oh, a 30-year-old, Korean-born baritone based in Shoreline, have in common with renowned opera singers Renée Fleming, Ben Heppner, and Hei-Kyung Hong?
Fleming, Heppner, and Hong were participants in the Metropolitan Opera National Council (MONC) auditions in the 1980s. Oh also participated and won at the MONC Western Washington & Alaska District Auditions last October and is going to sing at the MONC Northwest Regional Auditions on Feb. 7 at Meany Hall.
The Metropolitan Opera (the Met) in New York City began an auditions program for young singers in 1935. In 1952, the MONC was formed by a group of opera devotees from around the country to support the Met through financial contributions and volunteer work, according to the MONC auditions handout. The goal in having the council organize and establish regional auditions was to make the auditions a nationwide event.
Participants are to be identified in the district competition, compete in the regional auditions, and go on to the national semifinals in New York. Ten finalists are selected for the National Grand Finals Concert.
The baritone Yu Seok Oh
Yu Seok Oh was born in Seoul. Being the youngest of six children, Oh credited his late father for encouraging him to pursue what he liked. Neither his parents nor any of his five older sisters were musicians. Oh liked rock music when he was younger.
When he was 10 years old, he was inspired by a teacher at school. He was also inspired by opera singers in Italy, especially the late Franco Corelli and Mario del Monaco. Oh started taking voice lessons and studying music seriously. He went on to become a voice major in college, where he met a teacher, Professor Yohan Kim, who inspired Oh to overcome some vocal problems. Oh completed his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree.
At the age of 24, Oh decided to further his voice study in Italy.
Speaking through his niece and translator, Lisa, Oh smiled, recalling, “In Italy, the teachers were strict and anxious about everything. Sometimes they screamed, sometimes they made students cry, sometimes they slapped students.” Oh, nevertheless, was not distressed by his professors. He had good relationships with them, and they liked him — as he was always smiling.
He picked Italy because “opera comes from Italy.”
Not only did Oh learn much at the conservatory, he acquired valuable onstage experience as well. He had the opportunity to sing in opera productions in Rome and other cities during his four-year stint there. He was once invited to perform at a city hall, and Koreans in the area went to support him. They were all very proud of Oh and saw him as a representative for Koreans. Oh also won awards in singing competitions in Italy.
Oh came to the United States in September 2008. He is currently dividing his time between the United States, Italy, and Korea. He performs, coaches, takes lessons from his current voice teacher Erich Parce, and takes care of his 3-year-old daughter. Whether he’s studying in Italy or leading a new life in the United States, Oh, like many immigrants arriving at their destinations, experienced culture shock and faced problems with the new language, people, and environments. But he strives to adapt to his new life here.
As for what his dream is, Oh said, “I’ve been here for over a year now. America has all kinds of music performances. I want to study a lot of things, especially music, and have a lot of experiences here.”
Besides being one of the winners at the Western Washington & Alaska District competition, Oh won the Audience Favorite Award. “I was lucky,” said Oh, modestly. “It was my first competition in America.”
Oh was not nervous about the upcoming regional auditions. He wants to serve as an inspiration to others. “I’ve met a lot of good teachers. I want to inspire other Asians to participate. In Italy, I knew of people being discriminated against because of their skin color. I hope those people can be inspired by me. Lots of Asians are good at singing.” (end)
The MONC Northwest Regional Auditions will be held at Meany Hall on the University of Washington campus on Feb. 7 at 1 p.m. For more information, visit www.nwauditions.com.
Vivian Miezianko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.