A chat with Yonghoon Lee, Calaf in Turandot by Opera Australia

Turandot Yonghoon Lee

New to opera, old to opera; it doesn’t matter. If there’s one voice you hear this season by Opera Australia, it’s Yonghoon Lee as Calaf in the company’s production of Turandot, on until 30 March.

If there was ever a tenor to belt out the aria made most famous by the late Luciano Pavarotti, Nessun Dorma, it’s Yonghoon, who makes hitting that hair-standingly invigorating high C seem all too easy.

Yonghoon is a Korean born opera singer, who’s established himself internationally as a leading tenor of his generation.  He has made debuts at most of the most prestigious theatres in the world, including the Metropolitan Opera, Teatro alla Scala, Chicago Lyric Opera and so many more, and has now joined OA to give some of their singers a taste.

We had a chat with him off the back of his more-than-rousing performance in Turandot at the Joan Sutherland Theatre in Sydney Opera House recently.

Turandot Yonghoon Lee

How exciting is it to perform for OA this year? 

I’m so happy to work with OA. It has become a favourite place among opera singers, where we all want to perform. This year is especially exciting for me – I get to perform my favourite piece and production with my favourite artists, so it made me so thrilled to be here. 

You can really blow the roof off with your rendition of Nessun dorma. How long have you been practising that aria? 

I made my Calaf debut in 2012, but of course I sang this beautiful and famous aria long before 2012. 

How emotionally invested do you need to be in the character? 

I have to be ready and suited vocally first, because it is one of the biggest tools that I use to express my character. And then with the same gravity, I research all the necessary background of my character, even from the historical background and from relevant novels as well. Then finally I create own my character which can not be the same as other tenor’s impressions of the character. 

What’s your favourite part of the role and why? 

It is the part of my very last line in Act 2. 

After Calaf conquers all three riddles, which means he is the winner and Turandot is his lady, she still doesn’t accept it. So, to really give it back to her, my character Calaf proposes only one assignment to her. He says,” You don’t know my name…. say my name, say my name before the dawn. If you make it, I will die at dawn.”

Which is not like her riddle, it is truly so romantic propose that Calaf wants love. In his mind, he wants her to think of him. Puccini wrote that part with so beautiful melody, it tells it is “love”.

Why should opera lovers see Turandot this season?  

For the opera to be a big success, we need three or so things: Great artists, great conductors, a great production music. It is really hardly to get all in one, except for this production.

Opera Australia’s production of the beloved Turandot is on at the Joan Sutherland Theatre at the Sydney Opera House until 30 March.

Turandot Yonghoon Lee