An Adler Close-up

— From San Francisco Classical Voice, 2008

The 2008 class of Adler Fellows (of the program named after Kurt Herbert Adler) will have its season-ending concert on Dec. 6, an event meaningfully dubbed “The Future Is Now.”

Each of the nine promising young singers in the program has a story about the road leading them to the stage of the War Memorial; featured here is one of them, the soprano Ji Young Yang.

During her Merola and Adler years, she appeared as the Shepherd in Tannhäuser, Pamina in the family matinees of The Magic Flute, Julia Agnes Lee in Appomattox, the Singer in La Rondine, and The Rose in The Little Prince. Currently, she sings Princess Xenia in Boris Godunov, Giannetta in The Elixir of Love — and the lead role of Adina in the Elixir’s family matinees.

Ji Young Yang as Sophie (Photo: Terrence McCarthy)

See and hear excerpts from her matinee performance, with Alek Shrader as Nemorino, former Merolini Eugene Brancoveanu as Belcore, and Dale Travis as Dulcamara.

With these and other performances, Yang has garnered praise on the extravagant order of “an impressive combination of confident musicality, a sense of the drama, clear diction, and — above all — a purity of voice” and also: “In addition to her unique, silvery sweet timbre, which brings to mind the voices of Toti dal Monte and several other interwar sopranos, Young’s inner radiance, outward beauty, and riveting presence proclaim stardom.”

As Giannetta, with Ramón Vargas as Nemorino, in the current SFO Elixir (Photo: Kristen Loken Anstey)

Yang’s musical journey began at age 3 in her native Seoul when a choir director noticed how her voice carried during services. Soon, she sang in the church choir, studied piano and solfège, and was accepted in the famous World Vision Choir, which is part of an international Christian ministry organization. Her first solo, at age 10: the “Alleluja” from Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate, and sung “without the proper melisma.” Her parents, even without musical background of their own, supported her fully.

As Adina, in the Elixir family matinee (Photo: Kristen Loken Anstey)

Yang attended Seoul’s middle and high schools for the arts, and at age 16, she traveled from Korea to Salzburg, attending the month-long 1996 Mozarteum master class with Thomas Quasthoff, the great baritone being “very lovely, nice and kind to me,” and inspiring the soprano “for the first time to fall in love with lieder, especially Schumann.”

Yang’s second trip from Korea and Seoul National University led her to New York and the Manhattan School of Music, where she experienced two connections representing “turning points in my life” — finding Patricia Misslin as her voice teacher (”sharing” Misslin with Renée Fleming and many other famed singers), and Warren Jones as coach. Yang considers Misslin “mother, girlfriend, and moral compass.” Meanwhile, to meet living expenses, she “worked very hard,” singing in church choirs and doing whatever students do in Manhattan to make ends meet.

As Xenia, in Boris Godunov with Jack Gorlin as Fyodor (Photo: Terrence McCarthy)

She took part in many concerts in and out of school, perhaps most memorably in a St. John the Divine concert production of La Clemenza di Tito, conducted by Julius Rudel.

Between earning her degrees from the Manhattan School of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music. She became a member of the Merola class of 2006, was named an Adler Fellow the next year, and is completing her second year in the program. Yang’s future is wide open; “I better find a manager,” she says. At the Dec. 6 Adler concert, she will sing excerpts from Handel’s Semele, and — along with Heidi Melton and Katharine Tier— the final Trio from Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier.

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