Image from Seattle Opera’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata Courtesy

Seattle Opera’s 2023 production of La traviata, focused on the search for love in the bygone days of Paris, is double-cast, and for the performances on May 7, 13, 19, and 21, tenor Duke Kim will perform the role of Alfredo alongside baritone Joo Won Kang, who sings the role of Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont.

In La traviata, Alfredo and Giorgio struggle over Alfredo’s love of Violetta.  “The most interesting thing about Alfredo is how much he is in love with Violetta before even meeting her,” Kim said. “In the opera, he’s been in love with her for one year.”

And Alfredo’s feelings aren’t short-lived.  “Usually, people who fantasize about their love too much tend to fall out of love quickly, when they find out who they really are,” Kim observed. “However, this is not the case for Alfredo.”

Meanwhile, Giorgio’s sentiments are more complex.  “In many opera works, there is a clear villain, but Germont cannot be classified as a villain,” Kang asserted. “From his perspective, he believes that he is doing what he needs to do, values his reputation in society, and is a person with strong religious beliefs.”

Giorgio objects to Violetta’s status as a courtesan, fearing that Alfredo and Violetta are ruining the Germont family reputation. “He understands why Alfredo fell in love with Violetta, but still persuades Violetta to leave Alfredo forever for the sake of his beliefs and his family’s future,” Kang said. “Later, Germont regrets and mourns when he sees Violetta dying, and he goes to her and offers to accept her as his daughter.”

Kim and Kang describe their embodiment of these roles as a long-term project.  “I guess I have prepared for this role my entire life, because this is how I love someone as well,” Kim said. “Somehow I know that a certain person is going to be my love within a few moments of meeting them, and this love only grows as I get to know them deeper.”

Likewise, Kang’s personal life weighs heavily on his portrayal of Giorgio. “As a parent, I believe that I can do anything for my children, but sometimes my thoughts and beliefs may differ from those of my children, and therefore, singing Germont’s part makes me think a lot,” he said. “As I prepare for the role, the most important thing I consider is how to show the character’s transformation to the audience.”

The excitement, for Kim, is even greater because La traviata is his Seattle Opera debut.  “At 3,000 seats, McCaw Hall will be the biggest theater I have sung in so far in my career,” he said. “I have also been told that the acoustics in it are magnificent. Us singers love a house with good acoustics!”

Meanwhile, Kang’s Seattle Opera debut was in 2015 in The Pearl Fishers. “This is my third production here at Seattle Opera and The Pearl Fishers was one of the important works I did when I started my career as a professional,” he recounted. “Of course, the city itself is beautiful and it matters to me, but the mindset of Seattle Opera, which strives to deliver the best works and performances to the audience, also inspires me and gives me the mindset to give my best to the audience.”

In return, both Kim and Kang feel that Seattle gives its best to its visiting artists.  “I was in Seattle for a couple days for choir tour when I was in undergrad, and remember the beautiful forests in the outskirts of the city,” Kim said. “Hopefully I will get to do some hikes while I’m here!”

Beyond that, Seattle is one of Kang’s favorite cities.  “I love the atmosphere and natural beauty of the city,” he said, “and the unique freedom that is characteristic of the West coast more than any other city, which makes it a beautiful city that any artist can’t help but fall in love with.”

In bringing their best to Seattle audiences, the two performers face different vocal challenges, as Kim is a tenor and Kang is a baritone.  “As a tenor, the most terrifying for me is the moment I start waiting backstage for my entrance up to the moment I sing my first note,” Kim said. “The wait backstage may only be a couple minutes, but it feels like eternity, and I feel like I will lose my voice in that abyss.”

Baritones, throughout opera, are faced with a diverse range of character types.  “When performing comedy, you need to know how to time your jokes and when playing a romantic character, you need to adjust your voice and mood accordingly,” Kang said. “Similarly, when playing a villain, you need to change your voice and mood to suit the role.”

Both Kim and Kang rely on their professionalism to navigate these challenges.  “I tell myself, your voice isn’t going anywhere,” Kim said. “You still know how to sing.”

And they always seek out the joy. “Being a baritone is a very special thing,” Kang said. “Being able to play such diverse roles is both fun and a privilege as a baritone.”

Following La traviata, both singers have projects lined up, with Kim performing the role of Count Almaviva, in The Barber of Seville, next year at Seattle Opera, and Kang singing the role of Count di Luna in Verdi’s Il Trovatore, at the Korean National Opera in his home country of South Korea.

Kang enthused that the Count di Luna is a dream role for him. “Verdi is my favorite composer,” he said. “He understands the human inner conflict and contemplation more deeply than any other composers and gives characters a diversity of personalities.”

Kim, too, finds his ideal role to be written by an Italian composer. “My dream role is Rodolfo in Puccini’s La bohème,” he shared. “Since high school, I have been enamored by the recording of Luciano Pavarotti singing ‘Che gelida manina,’ and I started to dream about becoming a tenor who sings this role. I relate to Rodolfo so much, that singing this role will give me tremendous catharsis.” 

Until then, Kim and Kang will struggle through their thwarted love of Violetta.

La traviata runs from May 6 to 21 at Seattle Opera, McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer Street, Seattle. 

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