Korean tenor Keon Woo Kim shared the first place award at Operalia’s 2016 competition. Founded by Placido Domingo in 1993 to launch the careers of outstanding young singer, the event is still under the guidance of Domingo. The other first place award went to French soprano Elsa Dreisig.

Born in 1985, Kim is a graduate of the Kyung Hee University in Seoul. He continued his studies at the Korean National Opera Academy. While still a student, he debuted at the Seoul Art Centre in Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera. In 2015 he debuted at the Korean National Opera in the leading role of Nadir in Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles. He is a prizewinner of numerous vocal competitions, including the Korea National Opera Competition, the International Opera Singing Competition of Marmande (France, 2014), Concorso Internazionale di Canto lirico G. B. Rubini and the Montreal International Music Competition (2015, Grand Prix).

This young artist has a lyric tenor that reminds of Javier Camarena. He’s not as polished as the spectacular Mexican tenor, but he’s 9 years younger and I suspect he will catch up quickly. At this early stage in his career perhaps only Camarena and Juan Diego Florez can be considered at or slightly above his level. Kim has a great upper extension. His high C is better produced than his high B-flat. I wonder if his passaggio extend all the way to B-flat. This note is more open than his C.

Here is the throat killing aria Amis, amis, secondez ma vengeance  from Act 4 of Rossini’s William Tell. There are multiple high Cs in the number, the final one that concludes the cabaletta is a prize winner. It’s from the just concluded Operalia. Next is A cette voix quel trouble…Je crois entendre encore from Bizet’s Pearl Fishers. His interpretation is very good, though it lack the lyrical eloquence that the great interpreters of the famous aria bring to it. I will be interested to hear how he does the piece 5 years hence. Donizetti’s Spirto gentil from La Favorita requires the same refined lyricism. Kim’s version is beautiful and again will almost certainly get better.

Principe piu non sei… Si, ritrovarla from Rossini’s La Cenerentola shows Kim’s precocious mastery of bel canto pyrotechnique and his sensational top. L’amour… ah, leve-toi, soleil from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette  requires a different style. Kim is appropriately lyrical; the concluding B-flat is, as I intimated above, a little more open than would be ideal. Finally, here is Kim in English – Comfort ye.. every valley from Handel’s Messiah.

My quibbles aside, this is a great voice that, barring the wrath of God, will soon command the great opera stages of the world. He has vocal beauty, fine technique, and high notes that are home runs. If he comes your way, don’t miss him.