Duke Kim (foreground) with Kevin Burdette (background, left) and William Guanbo Su (background, right) at a staging rehearsal for “The Barber of Seville” on Thursday, April 18, 2024. Photo by Sunny Martini./Courtesy of Seattle Opera

In 2017, Seattle Opera presented The Barber of Seville, staged by director Lindy Hume. The show was so well-received that Seattle Opera is bringing it back throughout May this year.  

The opera dates to 1816 and was composed by Gioachino Rossini with libretto by Cesare Sterbini. It centers on the character of Figaro, as written by French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais, and Figaro’s madcap effort to unite young Rosina and her devoted paramour Count Almaviva, all against the wishes of Rosina’s self-interested guardian Doctor Bartolo. 

Playing the role of the lovesick Count Almaviva this year is tenor Duke Kim, and he looks forward to the challenge. “Count Almaviva is the first role that I am debuting that has a lot of coloratura,” Kim said, describing the rapid runs, trills, and arpeggios, sung with vocal dexterity, that the role requires. “So the majority of my work is getting my voice to move quickly. 

Kim first debuted with Seattle Opera last year playing the role of Alfredo in Verdi’s La Traviata. “After each performance, I was filled with great energy because the audience brought that energy with them to the hall,” Kim said. “Also, I sincerely enjoyed working with everyone at Seattle Opera so I wanted to come back as soon as I could.” 

Born in Seoul, Kim remembers starting to sing around age five. “Back then, my family and I were living in Germany, and I took a few voice lessons from a tenor in the chorus of Oper Frankfurt,” he said. “I liked the lessons, but I was not completely in love with singing yet.”  

But fast forward a decade to middle school and Kim wanted to become a Korean pop singer. “Looking back, I think this was because around that time, I moved to the U.S., and Korean songs helped me feel connected to my home country.”  

Before that, Kim had seen his first opera, Rigoletto, in Italy. “I remember it was in a piazza, and I was sitting in the front, looking up to the stage,” Kim said. “I started singing opera because my voice teacher and choir teachers told me that it would help with my Korean pop singing.”  

Kim sang both pop and opera for several years, culminating in an opportunity during college to sing an opera will a full orchestra. “The orchestra felt like ocean waves, and I felt like I was floating in the middle of that ocean,” he described. “It was an exhilarating experience, and ever since, I stayed with opera.”  

But pursuing a professional career as an opera tenor wasn’t easy. “First, I had trouble with keeping my voice fresh throughout a lesson, recital, or opera,” Kim admitted. “Then, I lost my high notes.”  

Every time Kim surmounted a challenge only seemed to lead to another. “After that, I had a shaky middle register,” he said. “Most of these issues were taken care of when I figured out how to release my throat, and started incorporating a better warm-up routine.” 

Ultimately, a combination of tenacity and skill allowed Kim’s career to flourish. “I personally think that for a tenor, creating a career in opera is simple if you know how to sing,” he said, “because there is a limited supply of good tenors.”  

So Kim keeps going. This season, he’ll also debut with the Irish National Opera and Berkshire Opera Festival as the title role in Faust. “Portraying Faust is an interesting journey because I have to have the soul of an old man filled with regrets,” Kim observed. “It made me think about my own life so far, and what I would be like when I am an old man.”  

But for now, Kim is still young and excited for what 2024 will bring. “It encourages me to live each day fully, so that I don’t turn into a Faust-like old man later in my life,” he said. “I am looking forward to returning to Seattle to sing for you all again.” 

The Barber of Seville runs from May 4 to 19 at Seattle Opera, McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer Street, Seattle. 

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