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Sumi Jo joins the Glyndebourne Opera Cup jury

Among the new faces on the Glyndebourne Opera Cup jury for 2020 is GRAMMY Award-winning South Korean soprano Sumi Jo.

Among the new faces on the Glyndebourne Opera Cup jury for 2020 is GRAMMY Award-winning South Korean soprano Sumi Jo.

With over 50 recordings to her name, Sumi Jo is the highest selling classical singer in the world. She spoke to Kate Harvey about her career and what she hopes to see from the Opera Cup competitors…

The Glyndebourne Opera Cup returns in 2020, showcasing the world’s most exciting young singers. The competition will travel to seven international cities including New York, Melbourne, Cape Town and Vienna, in order to draw in talent from all corners of the globe. Sky Arts will once again broadcast the live final and is offering travel bursaries for singers who reach the later stages of the competition.

Having Sumi Jo on the jury panel for the Glyndebourne Opera Cup (GOC) is a bit of a coup for Glyndebourne and a great fit, as she already nurtures young operatic talent: ‘I am a passionate advocate for young singers through my master class and jury work and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to nurture the talent being showcased through Glyndebourne’ she says. ‘It is especially interesting for me given my association with the recently formed Hong Kong International Operatic Singing Competition, and to hear young singers from all corners of the world at such a high level. The standard was extremely high at the inaugural GOC and I am looking forward to hearing what this year has in store.’

In judging a singing competition Sumi believes there has to be an equal playing field for all competitors and it is her job to ensure that all competitors are treated fairly, as she explains: ‘The most important role for the jury is to put in every effort to maintain a balanced view towards candidates in order to pick the best-prepared young artists for the future in a fair manner. Since there are not only vocalists like me but also jurors from other fields on the panel, sometimes there might be disputes about the qualifications of certain candidates depending on the weight of importance given to different qualities. In my case, I consider talent, voice, communication skills and the possibility to become a professional vocalist. I also believe that the role of the jury is not only to pick the best-prepared candidates but also to give valuable advice to the candidates who do not make it.’

She usually focuses on musicianship for the fair comparison of each participant ‘but truly’ she adds, ‘the value of the competition is to find a talent who not only possesses a high quality voice but is also a person who understands human nature and can deliver dramatic emotions to the audience.’

Sumi Jo won many competitions herself as a young singer, so I asked her how this experience helped her at the time, and why she thinks singing competitions are still important. ‘I don’t see a big difference between competitions in the mid-1980s and competitions now’ she explains. ‘When I was young, I definitely aimed to win first prize – I was quite high in spirit to achieve such a big goal! The benefit for me in taking part in a number of competitions is that it taught me what was necessary for a singer to give their best performance and to make it happen in that moment; I made my own rules for my best results. Many years on those same rules have enabled me to sing to the best of my ability wherever I sing.’

So for any singers just starting out or thinking of entering the GOC, what would her advice be? ‘For the competition participants, I would suggest picking appropriate arias. A well-chosen aria can definitely boost self confidence and draw the best performance on the day. It is natural that everyone faced with singing on stage in front of a jury will feel nervous, but that is what everyone should go through. You always have to remind yourself that it is the same for everyone and everything is up to you. Do not despair, even if you make a mistake. And if you don’t make it to the later stages, take the experience as a learning step towards becoming a professional opera singer. It is only one episode of your whole career.’

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