Thursday, October 11, 2012

ARTISTS CORNER: Bass Young Bok Kim

Bass Young Bok Kim has been a mainstay and favorite of Sarasota Opera audiences since his debut as Sarastro in The Magic Flute in 2004.  He has brought to life some of the most famous bass roles in the operatic repertoire.  This past fall, he returned to Sarasota to sing the role of Sparafucile, the assassin, in Sarasota Opera's production of Verdi's tragic masterpiece Rigoletto.   This winter, he returns again to sing the role of Timur, the deposed King and father of Prince Calaf, in Puccini's masterpiece Turandot.    

Mr. Kim offers us a little insight into how he came to singing, how he prepares for a performance, and how he balances having a family while working as a full time opera singer.     

Bass Young Bok Kim
Q.  What drew you to become a singer?  Was there a specific “Aha!” moment of clarity?

A.  When I first came to New York, my goal was to become a music professor in Korea after my doctorate degree.  However, I met the famous voice teacher Beverly Johnson while attending the Aspen Music Festival in 1999 who strongly encouraged me to sing.  Although I had begun my postgraduate program at Stony Brook Univesity, I left after I was accepted in to Juilliard Opera Center. Thus began my journey to become a singer.

It may not be called an 'aha' moment but I can say that when I am on the stage to sing and perform, I feel utmost happiness and excitement. This is the case at every performance, which makes me think I made right decision to become a singer. 

Q.  Is there something unique about your process for preparing a role for performance?

A.  Whenever I get a new role, I study the character thoroughly.  Also, I try to get ideas of how I will express my character from daily life such as facial expressions and walking habits from people.  I also obtain ideas from old paintings.

As The Bonze in Puccini's Madama Butterfly

Q.  What do you want the audience to know about your character?  What do you find most challenging about this role?

A.  Playing the role of hired assassin?  What should I show about him?  He is sly and even gentle when he is approaching his client in the first act.  However, in Gilda's death scene in the third act, he is definitely rough and violent.  I'd like to show two different sides of him.  Also, the audience will get an idea of his ironic and twisted personality that takes pride in his profession.  For example, he says, "I murder the hunchback? You're out of your senses!  You think I am a robber?  A cheap little bandit?  My client has paid me, I'd never betray him!  He paid for the body... a body he'll have."

Q.  Thus far, what is the most bizarre experience you have had during a rehearsal?  During a performance?
A.  I remember two bizarre things that happened during performances. One was during the performance of La bohème with New York City Opera.  It was the final performance of 13 performances.  In the final scene (Mimi's death), the performers had to open the hinged door to go out.  But, the door knob fell off and we could not get out.  It could've become a comedy if the backstage crew hadn't noticed in time and opened the door from the outside.

The second one happened during a performance of  Faust with Opera New Jersey.  I was singing the role of Méphistofèlés, the Devil.  Right before my aria, "Le veau d'or'", there was a sudden fire alarm and everyone had to evacuate from the theater.  It was found to be a false alarm and people jokingly said, it was a devilry. 

Mr. Kim in the title role of Verdi's Attila at Sarasota Opera

Q.  Do you have any pre-performance rituals?  Performance superstitions?  

A.  It is my ritual/routine to jog before performances.  I also say the Lord's Prayer on my knees several times right before the performance.

Q.  How do you relax in between performances?  What hobbies do you enjoy at home and “on the road”?

A.  I personally love to go hiking whether with my family or by myself.  The most impressive mountain I remember climbing is Mt. Sandia in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Q.  How do you stay connected to family and friends when you are “on the road”?  Do you keep a blog?  Website? Facebook?  

A.  We rely on Skype.  Modern technology always amazes me eventhough I use it all the time and I'm used to it.  I also have a website ( which lists all of my recent and upcoming performances as well as displays photos from previous productions. 

Q.  Are there towns or cities that you have a strong connection with whether from growing up or attending school?

A.  Except for my family (my wife and two kids), everybody else, that is, my parents, siblings, relatives, and friends, live in Seoul, Korea.

Don't miss Mr. Kim's performance as Timur in Puccini's masterpiece Turandot opening February 9 and running through March 23rd.  Tickets can be purchased online at or by calling (941) 328-1300. 

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