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A Rising Star of the Global Opera Scene Expresses Affection for His Alma Mater

2019-09-16 Academic

Kyung Hee welcomed a special visitor, alumnus Keonwoo Kim (Vocal Music, ’09), who has been signing on the global stage after winning the prestigious Operalia competition in 2016

Kim trained at the Royal Opera House Jette Parker Young Artists Program and became the first young artist to debut as a leading actor on the Royal Opera House stage, one of the world's three leading opera theaters. Kim played Tonio in Donizetti's comedy La Fille du Règiment. Any tenor singing Tonio has to knock off a string of nine high C’s in the challenging aria “Ah! Mes Amis.” He received a standing ovation and rave reviews from the audience after successfully navigating the high Cs.

Kim has never visited Korea without holding mentoring sessions for younger colleagues. This year was no exception. Kim spared some time to talk with us about what he has accomplished on the European stage and to offer words of encouragement to Kyung Hee’s vocal students.

First Korean Tonio and the first Young Artist to stand on the Royal Opera House stage in a leading role
Q. You are the first Korean Tonio in La Fille du R?giment. I also heard that you are the only alum from the Young Artists Program to star as a lead singer. How do you feel?
A. After I learned I had the role, I was nervous, happy, and excited for the first few days. As I began doing the preparation work, the excitement subsided, and I sang and came down from the stage each day as if I were doing something normal. As one chapter closes, another begins; I am about to step out into a bigger, tougher world. That's because I have to leave the Royal Opera House and begin again by myself and be responsible for all my doings.

Q. You have won many awards at major national and international competitions and performed on many stages. What have you done to come this far?
A. I began to receive awards after I began preparing for competitions as if I was singing on a real opera stage. Looking back now, it wasn’t much of a genius trick, but the key is knowing how to properly prepare mentally. Also, I never stop practicing and am never satisfied with the results. If I try and fail, I am still practicing the next day. That has become a habit, and practice has become a routine. I practice and practice and spend all day thinking about singing, I still sing all day and every day. Breaking this routine is difficult for me. And fortunately, I am not fond of deviation. The thought of taking a day off makes me anxious. What if my voice fails tomorrow? What if tomorrow I forget what I know today? My conclusion is that I should live “today” to the fullest. And then, again, live tomorrow to the fullest. Avoid injury but keep pushing forward as far as I can go.

My senior colleagues supported my climb from the very bottom to the top
A. My older colleagues. They cared for the younger students. That is why I still care for this school. Having a good relationship with each other, which is passed on as a legacy at Kyung Hee, made it more pleasant to be a part of the community. Here are some anecdotes. At the time of enrollment, I was rather confident in myself and my skills, but I lost that bravado right after my first singing test. Originally, no score or ranking was supposed to be disclosed, but some students snuck a look at the rankings in the professor’s office and told me. I was one of the last four. Later, the four of us ran into a senior student while going to a vending machine to get some drinks. He asked how we stood in the class and found out that we were all at the bottom. He said, “You guys, you should know there is a small difference between the top and the bottom. The little difference does not matter at all. Don't worry.” Thanks to those words, I was able to return to the practice room without finding another career.

Q. You volunteer as a mentor whenever you have a chance. Is there a special reason for that?
A. It might sound selfish, but I mentor so that I can live a less lonely life. When I was first in the spotlight on the world stage, I felt an emptiness inside. There was no one before me or after me. I have seen fellow singers from other Korean universities or different countries get through all the way together, exchanging information and helping each other. However, I have no one from Kyung Hee to have a heart-to-heart talk with. That is why I take to mentoring with a full heart.

I usually urge students to know a little bit more and prepare ahead of time. I don’t say the path I have walked is the best; instead, I want to show that there is a better way and encourage them to work harder to do better. Of course, I am willing to support them on this journey. Then they will be able to seize their opportunities more quickly than I did.

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