‘Songs From the Land of Morning Calm’ are unexpected delight

Reviewed by Lee Shepherd

So what if PBS has The Three Tenors. We’ve got The Tenor, The Baritone and The Fabulous Piano Accompanist.
In a stellar concert Saturday evening at the Anderson Center at Binghamton University, Tri-Cities Opera artists Mario Eun Hwan Bae (tenor) and Robert Heep-Young Oh (baritone) treated their audience to an evening of romantic Korean classical songs.
I was not expecting Korean music of the 20th and 21st century to sound like Italian opera – but it did, soaringly romantic and heart-wrenchingly beautiful. The masterful and soloistic piano accompaniment was offered by BU faculty member Chai-Kyou Mallinson.
Both young performers, also in the MM/Opera Program at BU, sang “Songs from the Land of Morning Calm,” a selection of exquisite songs set to touching, poignant and tender nature poems by Korean authors. Thankfully, translations were provided in the program, because half the enjoyment was understanding the lovely poetry. Only two poems were drawn from Western culture: the Biblical 23rd Psalm and Carl Sandburg’s “Fog.”
Here’s an example:
White magnolia, you are my love.
Oh, white magnolia, my love.
Your image shines so white and chaste.
You’re a beauty coming in spring.
Getting through cold winter, you first come.
My magnolia, you’re a spring guide.
You are a herald of new times
And the Spirit of our race.
Singing solos in alternating sets, Bae and Oh touched on the beauty of the countryside, the mountains, the sadness of an unmarked grave, rivers, fog, clear moonlight, blue mountains, and threw in some humor, via a poem about drunken men at a funeral and the “Dried Pollock,” who has the last laugh. (Although he winds up on a plate of hors d’oeuvres, he’s immortalized in a poem.)
Bae’s rendition of “The Lord is My Shepherd,” to music of Oohn Young Yoon, was the highlight of the evening for me, sung simply and with obvious reverence for the text.
Oh premiered three songs by Tai Jong Park, an award-winning Korean composer. They were contemporary in flavor, somewhat dissonant and provided a contrast to the sonorous songs that dominated the program.
The two singers have huge voices, and when they came together to sing an encore (obviously a song recognizable to the Korean people in the audience, but not to me!), you couldn’t help but think of the Three Tenors. These two singers and pianist would give them a run for their money.
If you attended the Tri-Cities Opera last season, you’ve already heard Bae and Oh, who sang significant roles in The Magic Flute, Madame Butterfly and Lucia di Lammermoor. This community is incredibly lucky to have such young, talented singers here for a few short years, folks obviously destined for world-class opera companies. So hats off to the TCO and the BU Music Department.

For a full list of concerts offered by the BU Music Department, visit music.binghamton.edu. Don’t forget the free Thursday Mid-Day Concerts offered at 1:20 p.m. during the school year in Casadesus Recital Hall in the Music Building.

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