INTERVIEW by MEGGIE O’DELL |PHOTOGRAPHY by KRISTINA JACINTH
Poet W.H. Auden once said, “No good opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible,” and most of us would be inclined to agree. After all, opera is full of ludicrous cases of mistaken identity, death by everything from boiling oil to tuberculosis to plain old grief, and 50-year-old women playing 14-year-old boys. Playing these improbable scenes and impossible characters, however, are hard-working, singing actors — people of every age, nationality, and background. Joseph Lim is one such young singer, with a career that’s quickly spiraling to dizzying heights.
First off, congratulations on winning the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions! Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like to perform in the competition?
It was obviously an honor to sing on the main stage of the Met with Maestro Summers and the Met Orchestra. As an opera singer, everyone dreams of singing at major opera houses, and of course, so did I. The Metropolitan Opera absolutely satisfied my desire. My heart overflowed with joy when I was singing in front of almost 4,000 people. It will distinctly be one of the best memories in my life.
How did you become interested in opera? Is opera popular in Korea?
I started to sing when I was very young. I grew up surrounded by a very musical family — my mother is a professional singer, my father an ardent fan of classical music, and my sister is also an opera singer who studied in Europe. These circumstances drove me to get into the musical field. Recently, opera is getting more popular in Korea, but unfortunately, there are not enough opera theaters when compared to the Western countries. I hope that my experiences could become the foundation for something better for my country in the future.
What have been some challenges you’ve faced in moving from Korea to the United States?
Like most international students living in the States, I think that learning English and foreign culture is the most difficult thing. When I came to the States for the first time in 2008 to attend USC, I often felt so lonely and depressed, because I missed my family and friends in Korea a lot and felt like there was nobody around me. But in time, I made many good friends here and it has been getting easier to communicate with them.
Do you have a favorite role you have played? What are some “dream roles” for you?
I have mostly played the roles in Mozart’s works. I find that I have a good musical chemistry with Mozart. Especially, I am really fond of and feel very comfortable with Don Giovanni, which I have already played three times as the title role. I would love to play any roles of Verdi’s in the future. I would not say that any one is my “dream role” because I am always challenged and fascinated by learning anything new. Having the opportunity to research and explore new roles brings me lots of joy.
Many of our readers may have never even seen an opera. Which shows are absolute musts?
I would recommend Mozart’s works to people who don’t have any experience with opera. It might be a good introduction for them. Of course there are so many brilliant works, but the greatest advantage of Mozart’s works is that the story is not too serious or humorous, and the music is very clear. I believe that these things could be more approachable. Once people become comfortable, I would highly recommend the works of Verdi and Puccini, as well.
Some people think of opera as a dying art form. Do you agree? How can we get more young people interested in opera?
I think opera is perceived by many to be more difficult to enjoy than its modern, popular counterparts, like movies and TV shows. But once people get to know more about what opera is, I am positive that they will change their minds. So we need more channels through which people of all generations, not just the young ones, can get exposed to operas. Of course that is going to take a lot of resources, but I am sure that it is going to be worth it.
Opera is a demanding art form. What do you find to be the most difficult skill to learn? Singing technique? Acting? Marketing?
All of them are indispensable for an opera singer. But if I need to pick just one, I would say that the singing is the most difficult skill to learn and perhaps the most important skill to learn, because ultimately opera singers are going to be judged on how well they sing on stage. Nothing can make up for a poor performance. Acting is quite important, too, but in my experience perfecting your singing skill is more demanding.
You are a new Young Artist at the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera Chicago — another huge honor. What will you be doing in the program? What are you most excited about?
I started in May, and this is obviously one of the best chances for young singers to develop their careers. I receive advanced instruction in numerous aspects of operatic performance, including voice lessons and coachings, language and acting training, and masterclasses with some world-renowned artists. I am especially excited to have a chance to work with the world’s greatest opera singers, conductors, directors and orchestra.
What’s up next for you? Do you plan to enter more competitions?
Well, this is kind of a tricky question. I feel I am a little old to participate in some competitions, but competing with good singers in any competition always gives me huge motivation to work on my singing. I would like to compete abroad in Europe since they have some high-standard competitions. But I think it is time to concentrate more on preparing my first season at Lyric Opera of Chicago rather than competitions.
How can Daily BR!NK readers help you in your career?
I would say the most important thing is having an interest in opera. Opera is accessible to everyone. So please go to the opera house and enjoy great music. That would make me feel so supported! I will try harder to develop my career and to make music beautifully.