Sumi Jo

Jo in October, 2015
Born (1962-11-22) 22 November 1962 (age 58)
Changwon, South Korea
NationalitySouth Korean
OccupationLyric coloratura soprano
Years active1980s–present
Korean name
Revised RomanizationJo Sumi
McCune–ReischauerCho Sumi
IPA/tɕo su.mi/
Birth name
Revised RomanizationJo Sugyeong
McCune–ReischauerCho Sugyŏng

Sumi Jo, OSI[1] (조수미; Korean pronunciation: [tɕo su.mi]; born 22 November 1962) is a South Korean lyric coloratura soprano known for her Grammy award-winning interpretations of the bel canto repertoire.[2][3]

Life and career

Early life and education

Jo was born Jo Su-gyeong [tɕo sʰuɡjʌŋ] in Changwon, South Korea. Her mother was an amateur singer and pianist who had been unable to pursue her own professional music studies because of politics in Korea during the 1950s. Determined to provide her daughter with opportunities she never had, Jo's mother enrolled her in piano lessons at the age of 4 and later voice lessons at the age of 6. Although Jo's family lived in a rented property, her parents bought a piano for her to play.[4] Her mother raised and trained Jo strictly. Jo recalled even when her mother went out, she locked the door outside so that Jo couldn't play truant.[5] As a child, Jo would often spend up to eight hours a day studying music.[6]

In 1976, Jo entered the Sun Hwa Arts School from which she graduated in 1980, receiving dual diplomas in voice and piano.[7] She entered the department of vocal music at the Seoul National University with the best practical score since the department had opened.[8] There she continued her music studies from 1981 to 1983. While studying at SNU, Jo made her professional recital debut, appeared in several concerts with the Korean Broadcasting System, and made her professional operatic debut as Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro with Seoul Opera.[2]

In 1983, Jo left SNU in order to study at the Conservatorio Santa Cecilia in Rome. Among her teachers were Carlo Bergonzi and Giannella Borelli. While Jo studied in Italy, she was frequently heard in concert in Italian cities and on national radio broadcasts and telecasts. It was during this time when Jo began to use "Sumi" as her stage name in order to make her name more friendly to European language speakers who often found it difficult to pronounce Su-gyeong. She graduated in 1985 with concentrations in keyboard and voice.[citation needed]

Following graduation, Jo began to study with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf[6] and won several international competitions in Seoul, Naples, Enna, Barcelona, and Pretoria. In August 1986, she was unanimously awarded first prize in the Carlo Alberto Cappelli International Competition in Verona, one of the world's most important contests, open only to first-prize winners of other major competitions.[9]


In 1986, Jo made her European operatic debut as Gilda in Verdi's Rigoletto at the Teatro Comunale Giuseppe Verdi in Trieste. This performance drew the attention of Herbert von Karajan, who proceeded to cast her as Oscar in Un ballo in maschera opposite Plácido Domingo for the 1989 Salzburg Festival.[10] Karajan's death during festival rehearsals prevented Jo from actually singing on stage under his baton (Georg Solti conducted the performances) but she did sing under Karajan in the studio recording of Ballo, made in the early months of 1989 for Deutsche Grammophon.[11]

In 1988, Jo made her La Scala debut as Thetis in Jommelli's Fetonte.[12] That same year she made her debut with the Bavarian State Opera and sang Barbarina in The Marriage of Figaro at the Salzburg Festival.

In 1989, Jo made her debut with the Vienna State Opera and returned to the Salzburg Festival to sing Oscar in Verdi's Un ballo in maschera. That same year, she made her debut with the Metropolitan Opera, once again portraying Gilda in Rigoletto. Jo would later reprise this role numerous times with the Met over the next fifteen years.[13]

In 1990, Jo made her debut with the Chicago Lyric Opera as the Queen of the Night in Mozart's The Magic Flute.[14] The following year, she returned to the Metropolitan Opera for another performance as Oscar in Un ballo in maschera and made her Royal Opera, Covent Garden, debut as Olympia in The Tales of Hoffmann.[13] She returned to Covent Garden the next year to sing Adina in L'elisir d'amore and Elvira in I puritani.

In 1993, Jo appeared in the title role of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor with the Metropolitan Opera and sang the role of the Queen of the Night at the Salzburg Festival and Covent Garden.[13] The following year she made her debut with Los Angeles Opera as Sophie in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier.[10] In 1995 she sang the role of Countess Adèle in Le comte Ory at the Aix-en-Provence Festival.

Over the next decade Jo maintained a busy schedule, singing Lucia in Strasbourg, Barcelona, Berlin, and Paris; La sonnambula in Brussels and Santiago, Chile; I Capuleti e i Montecchi with Minnesota Opera; Olympia and Rosina in New York; the Queen of the Night in Los Angeles; Gilda in Bilbao, Oviedo, Bologna, Trieste, and Detroit among others; Il turco in Italia in Spain; L'enfant et les sortilèges in Boston and Pittsburgh; Le comte Ory in Rome; and Dinorah in New York. She also appeared in performances at the Théâtre du Châtelet, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Opéra National de Paris, Washington Opera, the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Opera Australia, and the Teatro Colón.

In addition, she appeared with numerous symphony orchestras in concert, including the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra,[15] the Cincinnati Pops, the Orchestra of St. Luke's, the Vienna Philharmonic, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra among others. Her work led her to sing under such conductors as Sir Georg Solti, Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel, James Levine, Kent Nagano, and Richard Bonynge. She also gave recitals throughout Europe, the United States, Canada, and Australia.[16]

In 2002, Jo sang the theme song for the Korean Broadcasting System's broadcast of the 2002 FIFA World Cup, "The Champions".[17]

In 2007, Jo performed her first Violetta in La traviata with the Toulon Opera and in the 2008/2009 season she was scheduled to perform the role of Zerline in Fra Diavolo at the Opera Comique and Opéra Royal de Wallonie.[2]

In 2008, Jo participated in the Beijing Olympics with Renée Fleming and Angela Gheorghiu.[18]

In 2011 Jo provided the singing voice of Veda Pierce in the HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce.

On 9 March 2018, Jo performed a specially-recorded duet with fellow vocalist Sohyang, the song "Here As One", during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Academy Award nomination and exclusion

"Simple Song Number 3", written by David Lang, performed by Jo, and featured in Paolo Sorrentino's 2015 film Youth, was nominated for an Academy Award in 2016 in the Best Song category. Fellow nominees were "Manta Ray", performed by Anohni; "Til It Happens to You", performed by Lady Gaga; "Earned It", performed by The Weeknd; and "Writing's on the Wall", performed by Sam Smith (who won the category's award). Although Jo was invited to the ceremony and attended, she was not invited to perform the song. Anohni, a transgender singer, was similarly excluded and subsequently boycotted the ceremony. The other nominees performed their songs during the ceremony.

On the red carpet prior to the ceremonies, Jo and Lang voiced their disappointment with the producers' decision to exclude the song, indirectly referencing the controversy related to that year's Academy Awards and its lack of racial diversity.[19]

Personal life

Jo is the cousin aunt of South Korean actor Yoo Gun, his father's cousin sister.[20]

Just before she performed Ave Maria at Chatelet, Paris, in 2006, Jo's father, Enho Jo, died. When she learned that her father had died, she wanted to cancel the performance and return to South Korea for the funeral. Her mother reminded Jo of her promise to her audiences, and said that it was better if she went on with the show in honor of her father. Her performance was dedicated to her father and released as a DVD titled Sumi Jo in Paris – For my Father.[21]

Jo is an advocate for animal rights and one of only five Asian celebrities to make People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Asia-Pacific's (PETA) first-ever Best-Dressed 2008 list.[22]


Sumi Jo performs Aegukga at the inauguration of President Park Geun-hye, February 2013
Sumi Jo performs Aegukga at the inauguration of President Park Geun-hye, February 2013

Aria of Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos, written by Richard Strauss in 1912, is a difficult piece with high notes over 20 minutes in length. Therefore, Strauss modified part of the sheet music because he thought it was impossible to sing. In 1994, however, Jo became the world's first artist to sing the unedited original record of the song.[23] She recorded the song with a Japanese-American conductor, Kent Nagano, in Lyon, France.[24] Jo said it was the hardest record to sing ever. In 1993, she became the first Asian soprano to win La Siola d'Oro. In addition, Jo won six international competitions for the first time as an Asian soprano, and was recorded as the first prima donna of the orient who starred in the world's opera theaters.[25]

"Her voice is the best gift God has given," said Herbert von Karajan, who is considered as one of the greatest conductors of the 20th century, and praised her as "a voice from above".[26] Karajan also admired, "I am surprised that you have learned in Korea, are there such excellent teachers in Korea? Korea is a great nation".[27] The New York Metropolitan Theater Opera News praised "her song has already crossed the criticism". Le Monde of France evaluated her as "Even fairies listen to her songs".[28]


Jo has over 50 recordings to her credit, including ten solo albums for Erato Records, the French division of Warner Classics. These recordings include complete operas, oratorio, operetta, orchestral works and Broadway standards. Notable recordings include the voice of the falcon in Sir Georg Solti's Grammy Award winning recording of Strauss's Die Frau ohne Schatten for the Decca label and the role of Oscar the page in Herbert von Karajan's recording of Verdi's Un ballo in maschera for Deutsche Grammophon.[15]



Erato – Warner Classics

Universal Korea – Deutsche Grammophon Korea

Korean local labels

Opera recordings

Guest performances and film music


Awards and honors


  1. ^ "Jo Su-mi receives Italian order, knighthood". Yonhap News Agency. 7 May 2019. Retrieved 7 May 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ a b c Wolf Artists: Sumi Jo
  3. ^ Raphaelle Occhietti & William Sanger, Sumi Jo chante le bel canto (Le Polyscope, 12 October 2008)
  4. ^ NO.1 뉴미디어 마이데일리
  5. ^ 국내연예 뉴스 : 조수미무릎팍 '너무나도 혹독했던 피아노 연습?'
  6. ^ a b Sumi Jo: Devoted to Music
  7. ^ Sun Hwa Arts School website[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ 조수미 홈페이지 - Sumi Jo - Biography Archived 2007-12-21 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Biography for Sumi Jo – Media Guide[dead link]
  10. ^ a b LA Phil Presents | About the Performer – Sumi Jo
  11. ^ Deutsche Grammophon:
  12. ^ Culture – Korean
  13. ^ a b c Metropolitan Opera Association Archived 2008-02-03 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Lyric Opera of Chicago: Archived 2008-09-28 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ a b "Sumi Jo with the VSO!" at LSM Newswire (4 January 2008)
  16. ^
  17. ^ The Champions – Sumi Jo on YouTube
  18. ^ "조수미 세계 3대 소프라노 자격, 베이징올림픽 특별무대 오른다". (in Korean). 2008-08-04.
  19. ^ "Oscar-Nominated Performers Call Academy Snub 'Very Sad'".
  20. ^ 유건, “소프라노 조수미가 내 5촌 고모”
  21. ^ 조수미, 아버지 장례식날 독창회 무대 올라 “어머니 서운했다” – 뉴스엔
  22. ^ PETA Asia-Pacific | Media Resources | Recent News Releases | Su-Mi Jo Makes PETA's Exclusive Best-Dressed List Archived 2011-07-15 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ 독일 가곡은 제 음악 인생의 소중한 젖줄이죠" 한국경제 2008년 12월
  24. ^ Adriane auf Naxos 아마존뮤직
  25. ^ 무릎팍' 소프라노 조수미, "잔인하다. 슬픔 이기고 노래한다는 건…" 마이데일리 2008년 12월
  26. ^ Korean soprano Sumi Jo designated UNESCO Artist for Peace – UNESCO Celebrity Advocates |
  27. ^ 신이 내린 목소리 ‘조수미’& ‘AAM’ 이 온다. ‘폭풍이 몰아치고’, 가슴이 뛴다 세계일보 2008년 12월
  28. ^ 소프라노 조수미,의정부예술의전당서 '봄의 왈츠'공연 뉴시스 2007년 4월
  29. ^ Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos, Etc. / Nagano, Price, Jo, Et Al | ArkivMusic
  30. ^ Yahoo! Groups
  31. ^ David Ng (2011). "The Operatic Highs and Lows of Mildred Pierce". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 19 October 2011. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  32. ^ Roddy, Michael. ""Candy-wrapper music" hits sweet spot in Cannes "Youth" movie". Reuters. Retrieved 27 October 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  33. ^ 조수미 “오 사랑하는 나의 아버지” 앙코르 ‘눈물의 사부곡’ :: 네이버 뉴스
  34. ^ Top Operatic Singers from the World Greet Olympic Guests-Olympics-China News-News-English-东北新闻网
  35. ^ Vancouver Symphony Orchestra – The Concerts – Artist Bios Archived 2007-12-19 at the Wayback Machine
  36. ^ World Cup 2002: Hiddink: Koreans closing the gap