Park Returns to Juilliard | Alumni Q&A

Monday, Oct 22, 2018
Juilliard Journal
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Hyesang Park
On November 1 at Tully Hall, soprano Hyesang Park will sing songs by Clara Schuman, Fauré, Reynaldo Hahn, Dunham Cho, Wonju Lee, Dvořák, Obradors, Reger, Debussy, Montsalvatge, and Turina.

Soprano Hyesang Park and Pianist Brian Zeger present the Alice Tully Vocal Arts Recital at Tully Hall on November 1.

Soprano Hyesang Park (MM ’15, voice, Artist Diploma ’17, opera studies), from Seoul, South Korea, wistfully recalls her “amazing” time at Juilliard as a turning point that led her to “open [her] heart,” be more herself, and begin a search to find her own voice. Those who have followed her journey (and you can, too, on Instagram where she catalogs her travels) can listen in on her progress when she performs in recital with pianist Brian Zeger at Alice Tully Hall on November 1. Joshua Simka spoke with Park, who Skyped from Macau on the eve of her debut with the Macau International Music Festival; the next night she would sing Giannetta in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore with the Zurich Opera.

Tell us about the program for your Tully recital.
Brian and I open the evening with a set by Clara Schumann. It was important for me—in this era—to include a woman’s voice. Had Clara been composing today, I think she would be a big success. Then come French songs by Fauré and Reynaldo Hahn. Also I love to sing Korean songs and Brian and I chose a set that includes a setting of the Korean folk song “Arirang,” which exists in many versions, having been passed down for more than 500 years. This version originates in South Korea’s South Gyeongsang province.

Another portion of the recital I adore is a group of lullabies on the second half—I love babies! At 20, when I was starting university, I volunteered weekly with an organization that helped single moms who struggled to take care of their babies. One of my responsibilities was to help put the babies to sleep and I sang many lullabies. In getting to know those moms, I really felt their pain and trials, and with this set of songs, I’m hoping to communicate their experience.

How did you start singing?
When I was 10 years old, I started singing with the World Vision Korea Children’s Choir, which traveled to Denmark, Germany, Japan, and the U.S. I particularly appreciated how people loved our singing and would give compliments— Bravo!’—and I saw how my singing could make someone happy. During 10 years with the choir, I never got bored of it, and I never had an opportunity to figure out what more I could do than sing.

What was your time at Juilliard like?
The opera world that I encountered in New York was different than anything I knew in Korea. In Korea, I would always make myself agreeable to my professors: “yes, sure, of course, absolutely, certo!” What else could I say? At first, it was shocking to me how students at Juilliard answered back to their teachers—they weren’t arguing, though. They were just exchanging ideas. That was a big point for me and led me to begin changing my thoughts about how I sing because I started to feel comfortable developing my own voice and acting more myself. I learned in school that I didn’t have to be afraid of how people might receive my singing.

At Juilliard, you sang Amina in Bellini’s La sonnambula and Fiorilla in Rossini’s Il turco in Italia—two challenging bel canto roles. Tomorrow night you’re singing Donizetti. Is this a repertoire you feel especially drawn to?
Bel canto and Mozart are my priority and the music grounds me vocally. Even in taking on the role of Giannetta, I have learned a lot technically. I like how Mozart develops so much humor in the music as a contrast to the more serious stories he sets. I feel like that’s maybe how I should live my life. When I’ve found myself in difficult or bizarre situations, I can think of Mozart’s music and say, yes—there’s the humor!

How do you like to spend a day off?
A day off means resting in order to sing better the next day. I do almost nothing! If I can swim or eat something very nice, I’ll do that, but I try to be quiet. It’s risky to use the day off too much. I also love to post on Instagram. I enjoy sharing my growth with my followers. I am not a perfect human—I’m still learning. There are always peaks and valleys. In the past, the peaks were very steep and the valleys were very low; now the range is more moderate, but I’ve still got a long way to go.

Joshua Simka (BM ’14, voice) is assistant editor of the Journal

Get tickets to hear Hyesang Park, soprano, and Brian Zeger, piano, in recital at Alice Tully Hall on November 1.