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Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Sumi Jo

Posted on: May 15, 2023

Sumi Jo is a world-renowned operatic soprano. She was born in 1962 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, so she invested in her daughter’s early musical talents, enrolling her in piano lessons at the age of four and voice lessons at the age of six. As a child, Jo would often spend up to eight hours a day studying music. 

Jo graduated from Sun Hwa Arts School in 1980, receiving dual diplomas in voice and piano. In 1983, she made her professional operatic debut as Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro with Seoul Opera and she won the first prize at the International Mozart Competition in Salzburg, Austria. Since then, she has performed at major opera houses and concert halls around the world, including La Scala in Milan, the Royal Opera House in London, and the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. 

She performed four starring roles at LA Opera, where she made her debut in 1993 as the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute, a role she reprised in Los Angeles in 2002. She also appeared with the company as Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier in 1994, the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor in 1999 and as Olympia in The Tales of Hoffmann in 2002. 

Jo is known for her exceptional vocal range, with a coloratura soprano voice that can reach high notes with ease. She has recorded over 50 albums, including several that have won major awards, such as the Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording. 

In addition to her successful singing career, Jo is also involved in various charitable organizations and has served as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador since 2003. She has been recognized for her contributions to the arts and culture with numerous awards, including the Order of Cultural Merit from the South Korean government and the Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art. She has also served as a judge on several international music competitions, including the International Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition and the Cardiff Singer of the World competition. She has also performed at several major cultural events, such as the opening ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

Overall, Sumi Jo's contributions to the world of music and her dedication to promoting cultural exchange and understanding have made her a beloved figure in the international arts community.