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For Dad

Posted May. 16, 2006 03:00,   


“Right now, in Seoul, my father’s funeral is taking place. I’m not sure whether my singing in front of you is right or not. I believe that my father is listening to my song in the heaven.”

On April 4, when soprano Jo Su-mi (44) finished all her repertoire at the Théâtre du Chatelet, she said this to the audience in French. The audience was astir with the remarks. She sang Schubert`s Ave Maria for her late father as encore. The audience listened to the song solemnly and sent a standing ovation for 10 minutes, offering her consolation.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of her debut. In the evening of May 13, on her arrival at Incheon International Airport, she went to Home of Peace, a charnel house in Heukseok-dong Catholic Church in Seoul. She broke into tears holding her father’s urn.

“When I heard the sad news about my father’s death, I was to cancel the performance. But the tickets were sold long time ago and a 30-strong staff was on standby to record the live performance onto DVD. I remembered that my father and mother said I should become a public figure and a musician before a daughter. I talked with my family and decided to do the performance as planned.”

Maybe because she was engulfed into emotions beyond expression, she sang songs with so beautiful and powerful high tones that even she was surprised. She entitled the live performance DVD slated to be released in late August as “a concert devoted to my father.”

At the recital at 8:00 p.m. on May 16 at the Opera House of the Seongnam Arts Center, Gyeonggi Province, Jo will sing an aria: “O mio babbino caro” of Puccini’s opera “Gianni Schicchi” as encore.

Her father, Jo Eon-ho, who was a trader traveling around the world in the 1960s, brought brochures of world-class opera houses, like Covent Garden in London, the Opera House in Vienna, and Teatro alla Scala in Milan to help his only daughter dream about being a singer. When Jo Su-mi decided to study in Italy’s Academia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in 1984 after finishing two years at the college of music of Seoul National University, her father suffered with anxiety about money for an airline ticket to Rome and living expenses.

“He managed to come up with the money for my study. When he came where I lived in Italy, he held my hands for a long time saying how I could live in such a small room where a piano cannot fit.”

Before he went back to Korea, he bought a secondhand piano and rented a new place for her. She practiced with the piano and emerged on the international stage, winning a series of awards, including the Viotti International Concours in 1985.

After attending her father’s forty-ninth-day mass on May 19, Jo will leave Korea on May 22 for Canada for performances in Vancouver.

“My father rarely expressed his love for me, but he always supported me. I wanted to hold a concert for him when he was alive. I feel regret holding one after his death.”

Seung-Hoon Cheon raphy@donga.com