Young Artist Profile: Jihoon Kim on Robert le diable and La bohème
The Korean bass on his experiences with The Royal Opera so far, and adapting to opera in the UK
Since moving to London 14 months ago, Korean bass Jihoon Kim has performed alongside the likes of Plácido Domingo and John Tomlinson, and is currently singing the role of the Priest in Laurent Pelly’s production of Meyerbeer’s epic Robert le diable.
‘When I was in high school, I was a member of an ensemble, but it was always a hobby. I never dreamt I’d sing at an opera house,’ he explains.
Jihoon is also in his second year of the Jette Parker Young Artist Programme (JPYA), The Royal Opera’s scheme for young singers and creative team members. After studying at the National University of Seoul, he completed a diploma at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Milan before joining the Royal Opera’s Programme in September 2011.
‘The Programme has been one of the best experiences of my life,’ he continues, ‘you learn everything you need to be an opera singer, and work with very famous conductors, directors and singers.’
The JPYA programme offers artists daily coaching in all opera disciplines, including musical style and interpretation, languages and stage technique, all of which are tailored to the individual. Jihoon has weekly sessions with Royal Ballet First Soloist Johannes Stepanek to help with the theatrical aspects of stagecraft.
‘In Korea, our culture is very closed and very polite – normally we don’t move a lot – so for me, movement is difficult. When I was in Italy, I found it particularly hard to move my body and act. Here, I have lessons with Johannes almost every week and work with the Alexander Technique. These stagecraft sessions are really important as now I have much more confidence.’
Throughout the two-year programme, the Jette Parker Young Artists are employed as salaried singers of The Royal Opera. In addition to daily coaching, they study every phase of rehearsal and production of major operas, give regular recitals, sing small roles and cover roles in Main Stage productions. Last season, Jihoon performed in five Royal Opera productions including Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Les Troyens, as well as the Domingo Celebration, a concert performance of Il Viaggio a Reims and Plácido Domingo’s Operalia Gala.
‘Singing the role of Hector’s ghost in Les Troyens was a real highlight,’ he explained, ‘my scene was really difficult as I had to crawl in from under the stage and couldn’t always see the beat of the conductor. Every performance I was really nervous, but that made it special.’
David McVicar’s epic production of the opera, which assembled one of the largest casts ever seen on the Covent Garden stage and featured sets for the ancient cities of Carthage and Troy as well as a monstrous, fire-breathing metal horse, was enormous in every sense of the word.
‘I didn’t think about being part of a huge production on a huge set as it would have distracted me,’ said Jihoon. ‘I had to focus on the role and the character – that of the ghost that had died extremely painfully!’
Alongside performances of Robert le diable, Jihoon is also rehearsing for John Copley’s much-loved production of La bohème, in which he will sing the role of Colline in the final two performances of the run. He already has some experience of the role, having sung Act II on the main stage last spring in the finale of the BBC’s ‘Maestro at the Opera’ series, in which the cast were conducted by winner Craig Revel Horwood.
‘Robert le diable is a fun, colourful, almost cartoon-like production,’ he says, ‘whereas La bohème is a love story which really touches the audience emotionally. It’s great to be singing it here.
‘A lot of people have said that I am a natural Verdi bass, but of course I am still too young for most of his bass roles, so Colline is just right for me now.’
Jihoon is currently performing in Robert le diable, which runs until 21 December and La bohème which runs from 17 December 2012 - 12 March 2013. Next year he will perform in Simon Boccanegra which opens on 27 June 2013. The JPYA Scheme is supported by the Oak Foundation.