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 2015-16 season include her long-awaited debut as Cio-Cio-San in Puccini's Madama Butterfly at the Metropolitan Opera, in addition to performances at the Met as Mimi in La bohème. Recent seasons have seen her in Metropolitan Opera performances of La bohème and Carmen, as well as a solo recital at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC and multiple concert tours in her native home of Korea.
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.
Opera is full of food, and while no specific opera comes to mind celebrating Thanksgiving (comment below if I am wrong), it doesn't mean we can't bring some opera into our own Thanksgiving celebrations.
First up is the Sparkling Apple Harvest Cocktail, featured in the Opera Lover's Cookbook by Francine Segan.
- 1/2 ounce fresh apple cider
- Splash of orange liquor such as Cointreau
- American sparkling white wine
- Apple slice or candied orange peel for garnish
Pour the apple cider and orange liquor into a fluted champagne glass and top with wine. Serve with an apple slice or candied orange peel.
This cocktail would be perfect to have with a slice of opera cake. While not American in origin, it is now for sale in many pastry shops across Manhattan. Or, if you are feeling adventurous, why not try making one yourself while the turkey is cooking in the oven (see recipe below).
Louis XIV is responsible for many things; ballet, Versailles, autocracy, and the oppulent life style. He may not be directly responsible for inventing Le Gâteau Opéra, but he had a hand in it by hiring the pastry chef whose ancestors would later (purportedly) come up with the cake.
In 1682, the Sun King attended a banquet where he tasted little breads made by the Prince de Condé's pastry chef Charles Dalloyau. He liked them so much he hired Charles and gave him the title "Officier de Bouche,"a distinction the next four generations of Dalloyaus would hold.
When the French Revolution started in 1789, Jean-Baptiste Dalloyau immediately sensed the changing times. Whether Marie-Antoinette ever uttered the words "Let them eat cake" or not, Dalloyau took them to heart. He opened up a pastry shop in the Rue de Faubourg Saint-Honoré (where the shop is housed to this day, in addition to about 30 other locations throughout the world), and decided to make his famous pastries available to all. One of the items he was famous for were his macaroons, which are still made today using a three hundred year old recipe.
Whether the house of Dalloyau also invented the opera cake is still not sure, and probably never will be. Whatever the case, they are known to have the best Opera Cake in the world. It is said that Cyriaque Gavillon, who worked at Dalloyau, came up with the cake in 1955. He wanted to create a cake where each bite would give you the flavor of all its ingredients. However, this was nothing new. Layer cakes have been around for a very long time; they were a staple in Eastern Europe years before Gavillon came up with the idea.
Larousse describes an Opera Cake as
"a cake composed of biscuit Joconde (almond sponge) soaked in strong coffee syrup and layered with coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache. An Opera, whether an individual or larger cake, is always rectangular and 3cm thick. The top is covered with icing decorated with gold leaf on which the word opera is written."
Some say such a cake was actually invented by Louis Clichy in 1890 and called the Clichy Cake. Then there are those who say the cake was made for the French Opera, with lots of coffee in it so the audience would stay awake during long operas. Others say it was just made as an ode to the Palais Garnier Opera House, hence the very grand and operatic gold leaf on top.
And for the name, well, I always knew this cake as a Javanais growing up in Belgium. However, it is said it was Gavillon's partner Andrée who christened the cake 'opera' in honor of a prima ballerina at the French opera.
(recipe courtesy of The Splendid Table and adapted from Paris Sweets: Great Desserts from the City's Best Pastry Shops by Dorie Greenspan)
- 6 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons (30 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 cups (225 grams) ground blanched almonds
- 2 1/4 cups (225 grams) confectioners sugar, sifted
- 6 large eggs
- 1/2 cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons (45 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled briefly
The coffee syrup:
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons (7 grams) instant espresso or coffee
The coffee buttercream:
- 2 tablespoons (10 grams) instant espresso or coffee
- 2 tablespoons (15 grams) boiling water
- 1 cup (100 grams) sugar
- 1/4 cup (30 grams) water
- Pulp of 1/4 vanilla bean
- 1 large whole egg
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 3/4 sticks (7 ounces; 200 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
The chocolate ganache:
- 8 ounces (240 grams) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup (125 grams) whole milk
- 1/4 cup (30 grams) heavy cream
- 4 tablespoons (2 ounces; 60 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
The chocolate glaze:
- 5 ounces (150 grams) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1 stick (115 grams) unsalted butter
1. To make the cake: Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Line two 12 1/2-x15 1/2-inch (31-x-39-cm) jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter. (This is in addition to the quantity in the ingredient list.)
2. Working in a clean dry mixer bowl fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add the granulated sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy. If you do not have another mixer bowl, gently scrape the whites into another bowl.
3. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the almonds, confectioners sugar and whole eggs on medium speed until light and voluminous, about 3 minutes. Add the flour and beat on low speed only until it disappears. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture, then fold in the melted butter. Divide the batter between the pans and spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of each pan.
4. Bake the cakes for 5 to 7 minutes, or until they are lightly browned and just springy to the touch. Put the pans on a heatproof counter, cover each with a sheet of parchment or wax paper, turn the cakes over and unmold. Carefully peel away the parchment, turn the parchment over and use it to cover the exposed sides of the cakes. Let the cakes come to room temperature between the parchment or wax paper sheets. (The cakes can be made up to 1 day ahead, wrapped and kept at room temperature.)
5. To make the syrup: Stir everything together in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Cool. (The syrup can be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 week.)
6. To make the buttercream: Make a coffee extract by dissolving the instant espresso in the boiling water; set aside.
7. Bring the sugar, water and vanilla bean pulp to a boil in a small saucepan; stir just until the sugar dissolves. Continue to cook without stirring until the syrup reaches 255 degrees F (124 degrees C), as measured on a candy or instant-read thermometer. Pull the pan from the heat.
8. While the sugar is heating, put the egg and the yolk in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat until the eggs are pale and foamy. When the sugar is at temperature, reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly pour in the syrup. Inevitably, some syrup will spin onto the sides of the bowl - don't try to stir the spatters into the eggs. Raise the speed to medium-high and continue to beat until the eggs are thick, satiny and room temperature, about 5 minutes.
9. Working with a rubber spatula, beat the butter until it is soft and creamy but not oily. With the mixer on medium speed, steadily add the butter in 2-tablespoon (30-gram) chunks. When all the butter has been added, raise the speed to high and beat until the buttercream is thickened and satiny. Beat in the coffee extract. Chill the buttercream, stirring frequently, until it is firm enough to be spread and stay where it is spread when topped with a layer of cake, about 20 minutes. (The buttercream can be packed airtight and refrigerated for 4 days or frozen for 1 month; before using, bring it to room temperature, then beat to smooth it.)
10. To make the ganache: Put the chocolate in a medium bowl and keep it close at hand. Bring the milk and cream to a full boil, pour it over the chocolate, wait 1 minute, then stir gently until the ganache is smooth and glossy.
11. Beat the butter until it is smooth and creamy, then stir it into the ganache in 2 to 3 additions. Refrigerate the ganache, stirring every 5 minutes, until it thickens and is spreadable, about 20 minutes. (The ganache can be packed airtight and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for 1 month; bring to room temperature before using.)
12. To assemble the cake: Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Working with one sheet of cake at a time, trim the cake so that you have two pieces: one 10-x-10-inches (25-x-25-cm) square and one 10-x-5-inches (25-x-12.5-cm) rectangle. Place one square of cake on the parchment and moisten the layer with coffee syrup. Spread about three-quarters of the coffee buttercream evenly over the cake. (If the buttercream is soft, put the cake in the freezer for about 10 minutes before proceeding.) Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square; moisten with syrup. Spread the ganache over the surface, top with the last cake layer, moisten, then chill the cake in the freezer for about 10 minutes. Cover the top of the cake with a thin layer of coffee buttercream. (This is to smooth the top and ready it for the glaze - so go easy.) Refrigerate the cake for at least 1 hour or for up to 6 hours; it should be cold when you pour over the glaze. If you're in a hurry, pop the cake into the freezer for about 20 minutes, then continue.
13. To glaze the cake: Bring the butter to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove the pan from the heat and clarify the butter by spooning off the top foam and pouring the clear yellow butter into a small bowl; discard the milky residue. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over—not touching—simmering water, then stir in the clarified butter. Lift the chilled cake off the parchment-lined pan and place it on a rack. Put the rack over the parchment-lined pan and pour over the glaze, using a long offset spatula to help smooth it evenly across the top. Slide the cake into the refrigerator to set the glaze and chill the cake, which should be served slightly chilled. At serving time, use a long thin knife, dipped in hot water and wiped dry, to carefully trim the sides of the cake so that the drips of glaze are removed and the layers revealed.
Storage: Each element of the cake can be made ahead, as can the assembled cake. The cake can be kept in the refrigerator, away from foods with strong odors, for 1 day, or you can freeze the cake, wrap it airtight once it is frozen, and keep it frozen for 1 month; defrost, still wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator.
1 st Place Winners and Moving on to the Semi-Finals
Bass - 29
Baritone - 29
Baritone - 22
2nd Place Winner
Soprano - 26
Rohatyn Great Promise Award
Bass - 25
Soprano - 24
Soprano - 23
The Purpose of the National Council Auditions Program is
To discover exceptional young talent and provide a venue for young opera singers across North America at all levels of development, to be heard by representatives of the Metropolitan Opera and to assist those with the greatest potential for operatic careers.
The National Council Auditions are held annually in fourteen Regions of the United States and Canada. There are forty-two Districts within these Regions, each providing an opportunity for talented singers to enter the Auditions Program at the local level. The auditions are administered by National Council members and volunteers in each region. The New York District forms one whole with the New York Region.
Winners of the District auditions advance to their Region Finals where they compete to win a trip to New York to participate in the National Semi-Finals, a competition held on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera. Approximately ten of the Semi-Finalists are selected as National Finalists and compete the following Sunday in a public concert, the Grand Finals Concert, accompanied by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. The jury awards approximately five Grand Winner awards of $15,000 each. The concert is broadcast nationwide on the Metropolitan Opera Radio Network. The remaining National Finalists receive $5,000 each, and those singers who were National Semi-Finalists but did not advance to the National Finals will be given $1,500 to further their studies.
Many of the world’s foremost singers, among them Renée Fleming, Susan Graham, Thomas Hampson, Ben Heppner, Jessye Norman, Samuel Ramey, Frederica von Stade, Deborah Voigt and Dolora Zajick have received awards from the National Council. Annually, approximately 100 former auditioners appear in Metropolitan Opera productions.
The Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, also known as MONC, is a competition for aspiring opera singers between 20 and 30 years of age, who are vying for the ultimate prize: the opportunity to sing on the MetOpera stage with the MetOrchestra. Winners also receive cash awards to further their careers, as well as national recognition. MONC is divided into Districts that feed into larger Regions, and although under the Metropolitan Opera umbrella of organizations, each district and region is responsible for its own fundraising to finance its auditions, and does not receive direct support from the Metropolitan Opera.
In short, the District and Regional Committees host the auditions by screening applicants, sourcing venues, selecting judges, awarding cash prizes and raising the funds to support its activities. All members of the MONC committees are uncompensated volunteers. The job of the committees is to find convenient, affordable, but acoustically appropriate spaces to house the auditions, identify and invite judges, hire an accompanist, process and schedule the singers, coordinate with the Metropolitan Opera for consistency, and to raise funds to support all of its activities.
The district auditions are the first round of the competition, where all applicants perform one or two arias for a panel of three judges. The judges are professionals; conductors, opera singers or opera house professionals. The Eastern District auditions average 90 singers in a competition that spans 2 days. The winners from the District level (on average 12) advance to the Region Finals, where singers once again perform one or two arias in front of a panel of three judges (one of them coming from the Met). If the judges recognize a special talent in a singer who still needs a little nurturing before moving on, at both levels of the competition, they can also hand out Encouragement Awards.
Summary of the MONC Auditions
1. District Auditions (1st Round):
Run by your District or Regional Committee
No financial support from the Metropolitan Opera
Separate fundraising conducted through ticket sales or benefits
Selected singers advance to the Region Finals
Cash prizes to all singers who advance and additional Encouragement awards
2. Region Finals (2nd Round):
Run by your District or Regional Committee held in respective region (NY is the only place where there is 1 District which then becomes 1 Region, in other areas the Region Finals are comprised of several Districts coming together.)
No financial support from the Metropolitan Opera
Separate fundraising conducted through ticket sales or benefits
Cash prizes for First and Second place winners and Encouragement Awards
First Place Winner(s) advance to the Metropolitan Opera Semi-Finals
3. Semi-Finals, held at the Metropolitan Opera (3rd Round):
Singers from all the various districts and regions meet to compete
Singers perform on the Met Stage accompanied by a pianist
Closed to the public
Singers spend 4 days at the Met rehearsing and preparing
Selected winners advance to the Grand Finals Concert
4. Grand Finals Concert, held at the Metropolitan Opera (4th and Final Round):
Singers spend a week of training with in-house voice, theatrical and professional coaches
Cash prizes to singers
Singers perform with the MetOrchestra in front of a sold-out house