Saturday, 22 February 2014

SSO Concert: GALA: SUMI JO / Review

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Thursday (20 February 2014)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 22 February 2014 with the title "Sumi Jo's vocals defy gravity". 

This listener has just about lost count the number of times Korean soprano Sumi Jo has performed in Singapore. The reason for her repeated returns is obvious: she never offers less than the sum total of her gifts, and audiences just love her. Although this latest gala concert with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra had the lightest fare of all, there was still a lot of hard work to do.

With four stunning changes of costumes, she sang eight showpieces in the main programme, and threw in another four encores for good measure. The secrets of her success appeared to be physical endurance, an irrepressible personality, and the simple refusal to act her age. The moment she strode on stage, like a valkyrie into battle, the audience just erupted.

And what a voice she still possesses; the sheer agility to sail through the coloratura twists and turns of Johann Strauss’s Voices of Spring was the first hurdle. While the orchestra was over-exuberant at times, it hushed up for the Vilja Lied from Lehar’s The Merry Widow. Through fine string textures, one marvelled at her unwavering breath control in those pianissimo, high and long-held notes. There was nary a hint of strain, and her intonation was spot-on.

The Viennese-themed first half, as effervescent as the city’s New Year’s Day Concerts, also included Adele’s flirtatious aria Spiel Ich die Unschuld vom lande (Die Fledermaus), and Lippen Schweigen (The Merry Widow). One wondered when Count Danilo would appear in the latter, which is the operetta’s most famous duet, Jo instead sang an adaptation in English and then engaged conductor Jason Lai in a somewhat ungainly waltz.

It was all in good fun, as were the orchestral pieces inserted before each pair of songs, including Strauss’s Die Fledermaus Overture and New Pizzicato Polka, Lehar’s Gold and Silver Waltzes and Offenbach’s Orpheus in The Underworld Overture. Before one could break out into a cancan, Jo was back for more with the renewed energy of an ardent teenager.

Juliette’s vertiginous waltz-song Je veux vivre (Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet) was a Jo staple, dispatched with a disarming ebullience. This was contrasted with Rachmaninov’s wordless Vocalise, where the seamless melismata soared into the stratosphere. A further Lehar aria Meine Lippen (from Giuditta) set the stage for her favourite party piece, Olympia’s Doll Aria from Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann.

Armed with a fan and thespian skills, her portrayal of the mechanical automaton was pure comedy, from the dizzying vocal pyrotechnics to a hilarious winding-down, with conductor Lai as her willing accessory. In this her eighth song, the high and long notes seemed to get higher and longer, the gravity-defying feats becoming more incredulous with each breath.

The encores formed almost another half-concert, beginning with Puccini (O Mio Babbino Caro), Strauss (Annen Polka), a Korean song (Blue Mountain) dedicated to her compatriots, and closing with Victor Herbert’s Italian Street Song. Sumi Jo’s return could not come any sooner.  

1 comment:

Robert Valence said...

Beautiful, beautiful review & most entertaining in it own right.
I hope Sumi Jo is back again soon ..