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PALM LATITUDES

CLOSE-UP : Seoul Man

October 23, 1994|Ross Anderson

Like a zillion others, Seung Won Choi moved to Los Angeles in search of stardom. Unlike most of them, he wants to make it not in movies or TV or even theater, but in opera.

He got off to a fast start: Last year, Choi, a tenor, took first place in the western regionals of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, winning the right to compete in the national finals in New York. There, he was named one of 10 national winners, earning $10,000 and the opportunity to perform on the Met stage, where he sang Cilea's "Lamento di Federico" and "Che gelida manina" from Puccini's "La Boheme." Gail Robinson, executive director of the auditions, says Choi's voice has a "creamy, Italiante quality, with a natural ability to communicate the meaning of the music."

He also performed at Ronald Reagan's birthday party at the Kennedy Center in Washington last February, earning a thunderous ovation. Henry Kissinger told him he'd be the next Placido Domingo. Margaret Thatcher said she was "deeply moved" by his performance.

Choi says he came to Los Angeles because (reason tk when writer gets hold of Choi). "Performing on the stage is still regarded as frivolous and not terribly masculine in Korea," he says. "Also, they are not helpful there when it comes to the physically handicapped. You have to pass a physical exam just to enter the university!" Stricken with polio at the age of 4, Choi walks with a pronounced limp. With the aid of a cane, he's had little difficulty performing in recitals and competitions around town.

And he's learning the ropes. "He's come a long way, not just vocally," says Rena Cohen, president of the Opera Buffs, a local support group for young singers. "Now he's much more matter-of-fact about dates and schedules, and he knows to ask how much he's going to be paid before he agrees to do anything."

Though he still calls Los Angeles home, Choi is now spending most of his time in New York--he's studying at the Manhattan School of Music and while he's there he's picked up a few gigs, including a performance in Handel's "Messiah" at Lincoln Center in December.

"What I need is to develop stamina and establish a repertoire of roles," says Choi. "I'll do whatever it takes to become an opera singer," he says. "I'm not afraid of anything."

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