Sumi Jo through the eyes of her accompanying artist

Sumi Jo sporting her new haircut

Sumi Jo gave a special request to the organizers of her Manila concert “The Divine Diva.” She said she wanted pianist Najib Ismail to be her collaborating artist again at her coming Feb. 7 concert at 8 p.m. at the Meralco Theater in Pasig City.

On hearing this, Ismail, billed as the country’s premier assisting pianist and a teacher at the University of Santo Tomas Conservatory of Music, stated in all modesty, “I really don't know if the wonderful Ms. Sumi asked for me to play for her again. If so, then then that is just awesome and extremely flattering! To be able to get an artist’s musical trust is indeed more than heart-warming, I guess it also reflects one’s respect for another musician which is, to me, worth more than gold.”

Ismail first came to love Sumi Jo’s singing since he bought his very first album of hers called “La Promesa” in 2000. He continued, “When I was in Berlin in 2003, I made sure I saw her performance of Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffman” where our very own Andion Fernandez played the role of Nicklaus. Then in 2011, I saw her concert in Moscow when I was there to play for a recital with soprano Rachelle Gerodias”

He admitted that “I’ve been a very big fan of hers for a long time. So when in 2014, I was asked to play for her concert here in Manila, I was simply ecstatic! To play for one of your operatic idols is surely a dream come true.”

Pianist Ismail and The Divine Diva enjoy a selfie.

Asked to describe what it was like working with the Korean lyric coloratura who has a superstar status in the opera world, Ismail said, “As with all great artists, Ms. Sumi is musically very meticulous. Nothing escapes her. She wants every musical detail and intention to come across. What’s amazing is she rehearses almost always with full voice so you get to know what her amazing instrument is capable of. With this, you as pianist can adjust accordingly. Since there is no luxury of several rehearsals, in this concert we actually just have one, I have to be as prepared as I possibly can. Even with songs/ arias that I might know or have done before, they need to be rehearsed properly so that we both know ‘our’ insights and intentions with the music.”

He added, “There is no such thing as a breeze. Well, for me at least.”

Sumi Jo’s program on Feb. 7 includes: Benedict’s “Gypsy and the bird,” Purcell’s “Music for a while,” Rossini’s “La pastorella d'Alpi,” Bellini’s “Eccomi, O quante volte” from I Capuletti e Montecchi, Gounod’s “Serenade,” Ravel’s “Habanera” ( Vocalise en forme de Habanera), Delibes’s “Le Fille de Cadix,” Martini’s “Plasir d’amour,” Santiago’s "Nocturne," Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise’ and Verdi’s “E’strano, Sempre libera” from La Traviata.

When asked which of the above is the most challenging aria, he said, “I’ve always had the notion that there is no such thing as an ‘easy' piece.’ The number or speed of the notes may vary from one composer or work to the next, but to give meaning to even the most simple piece, which is often the hardest to convey, does take a lot of work.”

Najib Ismael and Sumi Jo backstage in 2014 during her first Manila performance.

Sumi Jo will be coming to Manila as part of her tribute to the 40th death anniversary of Maria Callas. Ismail considered Callas as the singer who “brought modern opera performances to what it is today. She gave scope to what opera as we know today. The concept of looking the part, or to go to the extreme of actually delivering the true meaning in an aria by having to go to the extreme vocally, what she aimed for was Truth in her performances. Passages she would sing in, shall we say, ‘not pretty’ to get to the true meaning and sentiment of an aria or song is something she would go for with no qualms. Thanks to her, a lot of the bel canto (beautiful singing by Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, Spontini ) repertoire was re-introduced to the public with much depth.”

“The Divine Diva” will have as guest artists flutist Tony Maigue and tenor Paul Dominique Galvez. The concert is made possible in partnership with Marco Polo Hotel Manila, 98.7 DZFE The Master's Touch, Steinway and Sons Piano and Leica.

For tickets, call Ticketworld at 891-9999 or the Cultural Arts Events Organizers at tel. nos. 7827164, 09183473027 or 09209540053.

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