The beautiful Korean-American soprano Hei-Kyung Hong is at the height of a career that has taken her to many of the world’s operatic capitals in an enormous variety of roles ranging from baroque to contemporary works. Following a remarkably successful debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1984 as Servilia in "La clemenza di Tito," conducted by James Levine, she has gone on to sing nearly 350 performances at the Met in an artistic relationship spanning over 25 years, including the great Mozart roles Ilia (opposite Plácido Domingo), Pamina, Despina, Zerlina and both the Countess and Susanna; Cleopatra in "Giulio Cesare;" Puccini’s Mimì and Lauretta; Gilda in "Rigoletto" and Liù in "Turandot" (both opposite Luciano Pavarotti); Gounod’s Juliette; Micaëla in "Carmen;" Antonia in "Les contes d’Hoffmann;" Adina in "L’elisir d’amore;" Marzellina in "Fidelio;" Rosina in John Corigliano’s "The Ghosts of Versailles;" Eva in "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg;" and Freia in "Das Rheingold," again under James Levine. Several of these performances were either broadcast on the "Live from the Met" series on PBS or were recorded for DVD and are available on the Deutsche Grammophon label.
Hei-Kyung Hong’s engagements of the 2012-2013 season include Liù in "Turandot" at the Dallas Opera, as well as appearances at the Metropolitan Opera as the Countess in Jonathan Miller’s production of "Le nozze di Figaro," conducted by David Robertson, and Micaëla in Richard Eyre’s production of "Carmen" under the baton of Michele Mariotti. Metropolitan Opera highlights of the most recent years have featured performances of Mimì in "La bohème," the title role in "Roméo et Juliette" conducted by Plácido Domingo, and Violetta in "La traviata" under the baton of Fabio Luisi.
The beautiful Korean-American soprano Hei-Kyung Hong is at the height of a career that has taken her to many of the world’s operatic capitals in an enormous variety of roles ranging from baroque to contemporary works. Following a remarkably successful debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1984 as Servilia in La clemenza di Tito, conducted by James Levine, she has gone on to sing over 350 performances at the Met in an artistic relationship spanning 30 years and counting, including the great Mozart roles Ilia (opposite Plácido Domingo), Pamina, Despina, Zerlina and both the Countess and Susanna; Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare; Puccini’s Mimì and Lauretta; Gilda in Rigoletto and Liù in Turandot (both opposite Luciano Pavarotti); Gounod’s Juliette; Micaëla in Carmen; Antonia in Les contes d’Hoffmann; Adina in L’elisir d’amore; Marzellina in Fidelio; Rosina in John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles; Eva in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg; and Freia in Das Rheingold, again under James Levine. Several of these performances were either broadcast on the Live from the Met series on PBS or were recorded for DVD and are available on the Deutsche Grammophon label.
Hei-Kyung Hong’s engagements of the 2014-15 season include Metropolitan Opera performances of La Bohème and Carmen and last season she gave a solo recital at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC and bowed at the Met in La Bohème.
She has sung in all of the most renowned theaters in North America. She made her Lyric Opera of Chicago debut as Musetta, her San Francisco Opera debut as Gilda, and has appeared at the opera companies of Dallas, Los Angeles, and Washington among many others. Her operatic repertoire expanded in these settings to include triumphs as Massenet’s Manon, Tatiana in Eugene Onegin, and Leila in Les Pêcheurs de Perles. Her triumphant Canadian Opera Company debut as Mimì was televised throughout Canada. Most recently she added the iconic role of Violetta in La traviata for the Washington Opera, with rave reviews and overwhelming audience response. In the 2006-2007 season she brought her Violetta to the Metropolitan Opera as well as her acclaimed Liù and Mimì to the popular “Met in the Parks” performances. She also made her role debut as Eva in Die Meistersinger.
European theaters have also received Hei-Kyung Hong with rare enthusiasm. Her debut at La Scala as Musetta, followed by her radiant Liù in Turandot, resulted in an offer to open their 2004 season in the famed theater’s newly renovated house as Mimì. Her debuts at Covent Garden and in Rome were again as Liù. Paris has heard her as Micaëla, the Countess in Figaro, and as Liù; in Vienna, she has been heard as Mimì, in Munich she has sung both Mimì and the Countess, and in Amsterdam she starred in a new production of La bohème created for her by Pierre Audi.
Hei-Kyung Hong’s orchestral repertoire is as broad as her operatic experience. She has sung Bach with Trevor Pinnock and the Montreal Symphony, and the late conductor and composer Giuseppe Sinopoli wrote his Lou Salome Suite for her, which they premiered together with the New York Philharmonic. Together with Maestro Sinopoli, she appeared as Liù in acclaimed concerts of Turandot in Amsterdam; this role also brought her together with Gustavo Dudamel for their first collaboration in performances at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She has appeared with the Boston Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and many others under conductors such as Charles Dutoit, Mariss Jansons, Seiji Ozawa, André Previn, and Lorin Maazel, with whom she sang the Final Scene from Daphne for the Bayerische Rundfunk. Ms. Hong was the soprano soloist with the Vancouver Symphony at the opening of Expo 86 and sang with the Calgary Philharmonic under the sponsorship of the Fifteenth Winter Olympics Committee. She made her national television debut in a 1988 PBS Gala Concert, singing excerpts from La bohème.
In January 1998, Hei-Kyung Hong presented her sold-out New York recital debut at Alice Tully Hall. That same year, Ms. Hong gave a recital at the White House by special invitation for President Clinton and President Kim of Korea. She was seen again in Washington for a duo concert marking the North American debut of celebrated tenor Andrea Bocelli at the Kennedy Center’s Spring Gala. Ms. Hong appears frequently on television: in 2001, an international television audience of over one billion people saw her perform live in Korea on the occasion of the FIFA World Cup Drawing Ceremony, and in the summer of 1995, she traveled to Korea for a series of recitals and concerts celebrating the 50th anniversary of Korea’s independence, including a televised gala concert in the Seoul Olympic Stadium, and two concerts of arias and duets with Plácido Domingo, a recording of which was released on compact disc, laser disc, and video on the Nices label.
Hei-Kyung Hong’s first solo recording of operatic arias was released in 1998 on RCA Red Seal. The following year she recorded Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi and Bellezze Vocale, a recording of operatic duets with mezzo-soprano Jennifer Larmore, both for Teldec Classics. Her discography also includes Carmina Burana with the Atlanta Symphony for Telarc Records, Hear My Prayer—a recording of sacred songs with New York City’s Voices of Ascension Chorus for Delos Records, and a recording of Korean songs with orchestra for Virgin Classics. The soprano made her recording debut as Woglinde in Das Rheingold under the baton of James Levine, and appears on many other recordings and DVDs originating from her operatic performances.
A native of Seoul, Korea, Hei-Kyung Hong is a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music and its American Opera Center. While at Juilliard, she participated in master classes given by Tito Gobbi, Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Walter Legge, and Gerard Souzay. She was one of four young American singers invited to attend Herbert von Karajan’s opera classes at the 1983 Salzburg Festival. A winner of the 1982 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, her awards and honors include a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Licia Albanese Puccini Foundation, a career grant from the Richard Tucker Foundation, and Washington National Opera’s Artist of the Year for her acclaimed performances of Tatiana in Eugene Onegin. Her stature transcends the world of classical music: in 1991 she received the Governor’s Asian-American Heritage Month Award from then-Governor Mario Cuomo of New York, in recognition of her exemplary dedication to the highest personal, professional, and community values and standards of excellence; and in 2007 the Blanton-Peale Institute presented her with the Norman Vincent Peale Award for Positive Thinking, given to those who clearly and inspirationally exemplify the power of thinking positively, with faith, deep caring for people, and dedicated commitment to improving our world. Ms. Hong resides with her family in New York.
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"Ms. Hong, who made her debut at the Met in 1984, still sings beautifully, and performed 'Ah, fors’è lui' lying on the sofa, with expressive commitment. ... She bloomed in Acts II and III, offering a poignant and elegantly phrased 'Addio del passato.' Slender and agile, Ms. Hong was an unaffected actress, whether lasciviously flirting with her admirers or mourning her love for Alfredo by ripping away the homey fabrics that signified her fleeting domestic bliss. Her understated acting seemed particularly natural in light of the more overwrought dramatics by recent heroines at the Met. "Vivien Schweitzer, The New York Times
"Hong remains a marvel of vocal freshness and allure after nearly thirty seasons at the Met. The rapid passagework of 'Sempre libera' held no terrors for her, and the purity and control of her 'Addio del passato,' with its long-held final A-natural, was like a master class in technique."Mike Silverman, Associated Press
"Hei-Kyung Hong stole the show as Mimì, a role she has sung more than 50 times at the house since 1987: a reliable mainstay amid the starrier names that have come and gone. Almost a quarter-century after her first Met Mimì, Ms. Hong sounded fresh and radiant on Friday, her singing distinguished by beautiful phrasing and refined pianissimos. She was believably girlish as the sickly seamstress, offering an affecting interpretation that avoided consumptive clichés like excessive coughing and other stock gestures."Vivien Schweitzer, The New York Times
"To the rescue came Hei-Kyung Hong—hardly the teenager Shakespeare imagined, but a plausibly youthful Juliette as seen from the Met's vast auditorium. More important, her lyric soprano remains fresh and delicate, soaring to high C's and D's."James Jorden, The New York Post
"There are singers who hold an opera company together… the soprano Hei-Kyung Hong, one of the best and most indefatigable of these singers, has performed with the Metropolitan Opera no fewer than 348 times since her debut in 1984. Stalwart artists like Ms. Hong are the ones ready to step in when international stars call in sick. … Ms. Hong rose to the occasion with an elegant, touching performance. Her voice is cool and slender, but the understated detail of her singing makes it feel more imposing than it is: the way she poignantly colored her farewell to Roméo at the end of the balcony scene; her dreamy murmur of his name in the bedchamber duet. … She is a fine, subtle actress. It’s not easy for a 51-year-old singer to impersonate a teenager, but Ms. Hong was convincing and true, resisting every temptation to overplay. When she saw Roméo for the first time, her posture changed almost imperceptibly. She stood up taller; her gestures relaxed; she seemed to mature in front of your eyes. Her performance was full of such telling touches. She was well matched with the tenor Piotr Beczala, who brought to Roméo a similar restraint. Their silvery voices blended beautifully in Gounod’s sumptuous duets."Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times
"Soprano Hei-Kyung Hong (as Eva) drew on veteran reserves of savvy and style [in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.]"Matthew Guerrieri, The Boston Globe
"Soprano Hei-Kyung Hong brought a welcome warmth and lightness of phrasing [to Brahms’s German Requiem.]"Jeremy Eichler, The Boston Globe
"The finest portrayal came from Hei-Kyung Hong as the slave girl Liù, singing with exceptional grace and beauty, floating through the music like a spring breeze."Clive Barnes, The New York Post
"As for the more familiar principals, Hei-Kyung Hong sang Countess Almaviva with her customary beauty of line and sense of style; the range didn't faze her whenever Mozart's original distribution of ensemble voices was adopted, and her acting allowed for both pathos and humor."Leighton Kerner, Opera News
"Hong, an artist often taken for granted in New York, was perfection itself as Mimì, delectable and touching. Her Act III aria, ‘Donde lieta uscì,’ was especially exquisite, but throughout the evening she played with vocal colors and shaped every phrase with delicacy and lovely rubato."Judith Malafronte, Opera News
"Fortunately, that lady—also known as Mimì of course—was sung by Hei-Kyung Hong. Ms. Hong has been performing at the Met since 1984, and she is such a ubiquitous presence—her biography cites more than 300 performances of 22 roles—that it is easy to take her for granted as flashier stars jet in and out and snatch all the attention. But no such slighting was possible on Thursday evening. Her understated elegance and the sheer vocal beauty she brought to the role were unmistakable. Ms. Hong steered clear of the stock Mimì clichés, like excess coughing to convey her character's frailty, and instead telegraphed Mimi's vulnerability and charm with a wonderfully supple technique, and a light yet warm ambrosial tone that she doled out into the most graceful phrases. The legions of future Mimìs out there should take note."Jeremy Eichler, The New York Times
"Exquisite singing and acting came in the form of Hei-Kyung Hong, whose Liù was the musical highlight of the evening. Gloriously sweet in the high tessitura of her two arias, Hong's singing was an example to the whole cast of how to sing Puccini convincingly."Dominic McHugh, Music OMH
"There are no doubts about Hei-Kyung Hong's winning performance as Liù - sung with a soft-edged yet powerful soprano and poise to spare…"Erica Jeal, The Guardian
"Hei-Kyung Hong, whose voice has acquired a spinto coloration in recent seasons, lightened it to suggest Micaëla’s extreme youth but nonetheless managed to project the peasant girl’s considerable grit. She delivered the great Act III aria with strong, gleaming tone."Fred Cohn, Opera News
"Hong brings a certain physicality to her role which energizes Violetta away from the fainting-heroine mode and gives her a bit of sexual sparkle. This kind of rendition does much to justify suitor Alfredo’s rather rampant ardor for her despite her debilitating illness. Hong has a sweet, never strident soprano…Her command of the original score makes for a powerfully more engaged Violetta."Kate Wingfield, Metro Weekly
"Hei-Kyung Hong’s Zerlina used innate sweetness to overcome stereotype as the usual pert soubrette."John W. Freeman, Opera News
"Hei-Kyung Hong, replacing an indisposed Elena Evseeva as Mimì, sang glowingly and affectingly, once again proving herself unsurpassed in the role today."Leighton Kerner, Opera News
"Hei-Kyung Hong is a lyric soprano whose singing art practically defines the best of her vocal category. Her tone is lovely, both dark and bright at all times, and modulated to accommodate the text she is singing. She has spectacular control of messa di voce, and it is seemingly effortless in all ranges. Her singing is pitch-perfect, with a beautiful, spinning vibrato, which she reduces occasionally for special emotional effects."Drew Minter, Opera News
"There can be no doubt about the sheer vocal thrills delivered by the fine international cast, led by the incomparable Liu of Korean soprano Hei-Kyung Hong. In her two poignantly sung arias, ‘Signore ascolta’ and ‘Tu che di gel sei cinta,’ Ms. Hong offered an object lesson on legato singing and stylish phrasing that made the last of Puccini’s Little Girls seem almost heroic. No one today in my experience sings this role better."Truman C. Wang, Classical Voice
Hei-Kyung Hong: Korean Songs EMI Classics (2003)
Orff: Carmina Burana Telarc (2002)
Bellini: I Capuleti e i Montecchi Teldec (2000)
Hei-Kyung Hong & Jennifer Larmore: Bellezza Vocale Teldec (1999)
Hei-Kyung Hong: Arias RCA Red Seal (1998)
Plácido Domingo: Live in Seoul Samsung Classics (1997)
James Levine's 25th Anniversary Metropolitan Opera Gala Deutsche Grammophon (1996)