Mad for Love
Sumi Jo – Soprano and José Carbó– Baritone/ Guy Noble – Piano
July 19 2018
City Recital Hall Angel Place Sydney
Written by Victoria Watson
Soprano Sumi Jo had early success in her career after being included in the Salzburg Festival by Herbert von Karajan aged only 24. By the late 1980s Miss Jo was an international star noted for her bel canto technique, effortless coloratura and high ranging vocal tessitura. Her lively portrayals in opera won her many followers, and her career flourished through the 1990s when she was in great demand at the major opera houses of the world.
Miss Jo has reached a very broad and admiring audience through her recordings and recitals, often paired with popular male singers, notably including the great Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. She appeared last for Opera Australia as Lucia di Lammermoor in the early 2000s and has toured Australia since in recital. The audience for her recital in Sydney this week included long-standing fans and also a significant number of Korean followers of all ages. True to her diva status earned over decades, Sumi Jo delivered a varied programme of songs, arias and duets.
Renowned for her spectacular princess like gowns, she performed in four different glamorous costumes over a two-hour programme including interval. Beginning in a brilliant red and looking every inch the great soprano, Jo was at her most captivating in Auber’s C’est L’histoire Amoureuse from his Manon Lescaut (a popular operatic story set also by Massenet and Puccini). The character and musical genre suited her perfectly and the French language was both clear and idiomatic. The agile coquettish soubrette sparkled in this aria. Her second gown was rich netted black with floral violet accents and again she was perfectly at home as Norina from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale in the duet Pronto Io son with José Carbó as her brother Dr Malatesta, guiding her in feigning ways to succeed in the seductive arts .
It is no mean feat for a light soprano to be convincing as she matures, playing characters often decades younger – the young lover or ingénue. Rare are roles such as the Queen of the Night where maturity and coloratura go hand in hand, but Sumi Jo with her pretty, petite appearance and cheeky antics encourages the suspension of disbelief. Vocally, Miss Jo still scales the heights of the coloratura range and floats her pianissimi with a command of bel canto morbidezza. At her best, one was reminded of the astonishing beauty of tone and bravura flourishes she shared at the height of her career. At times in this recital, the tone was less even and steady or slightly under pitch on sustained tones, and the coloratura more effortful. Miss Jo apologised for suffering a cold which may have affected her performance on this occasion, though she still gave enormous energy to her performances.
After interval, the gowns were both pink- a pale fairy like confection followed by a slinkier 1920s inspired contrast with shimmering layers of gold fringe well exploited in flirtation. Her inclusion of two Korean art songs in an Italian style was of interest.
Sumi Jo saved one of her finest arias for the end of the programme. Qui la voce sua soave from Bellini’s I Puritani suited her very well. The limpid sweetness of the slow aria was followed by a bravura cabaletta. She entertained the audience with plenty of high jinks, even performing the Rossini Cat Duet ‘with catlike tread” kitty ears and entirely catlike vocals.
This duet was humorously supported from the keyboard by pianist Guy Noble who also acted as a genial master of ceremonies throughout the evening. It was a delight to hear him play the Steinway and accompany with style and sympathy over a range of repertoire.
José Carbó in three of his finest roles for Opera Australia- Rossini’s Figaro , Pierrot in Korngold’s “Die Tote Stadt” and Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor. Photos Branco Gaica.
Sumi Jo’s co-star for this recital was an inspired choice and a huge success with the audience. Argentinian- Australian baritone José Carbó is equally at home in the demanding Verdi baritone repertoire or lightly nuancing an art song or popular ballad. His diction in all languages is brilliant and engaging, with rich yet crystal clear tone that resonates easily throughout the auditorium at any dynamic. Added to this he has a charisma and elegance that lent both charm and gravitas to the recital.
The audience was treated to a wide variety of genres, all masterfully delivered, from zarzuela (Spanish operetta) to grand opera. Carbó began his professional operatic career as Rossini’s Figaro from The Barber of Seville – and still impersonates him with flair and panache.
Carbó was also a fine partner in the three duets, always artistically balancing his commanding voice with Sumi Jo’s lighter timbres. The encores were generous from Carbó, and were warmly received by an audience who may have been drawn to the recital as admirers of Sumi Jo, but who were doubly rewarded with hearing one of Australia’s finest baritones in top form.
Victoria Watson for SoundsLikeSydney©
A graduate of Melbourne university and VCA, Victoria appeared regularly as a soprano with the Victoria State Opera and has toured and served as artistic director of many chamber ensembles. She has performed with Sydney Symphony Orchestra and for ten years, was artistic director of a major opera education project with Opera Australia. Since 2015 she has moved into directing opera including Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte at the Independent theatre.
Victoria has lectured in voice at the major universities in Melbourne, and is currently a tutor at UNSW. Having taught at major Sydney secondary colleges, she now runs a busy private singing studio. She is a published author on opera and a popular freelance music and theatre lecturer and advocate for Australian artists around the world.