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Music Review

Soprano Jo Returns With Recital Full of Agile Grace

November 13, 1996|JOHN HENKEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The lure of the prima donna clearly transcends cultural boundaries. A year ago, soprano Sumi Jo gave a wildly popular concert at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion promoted almost exclusively in the local Korean American community. Monday evening she returned for an "L.A. Encore Concert," presented by the Korea Central Daily, to another cheering, capacity crowd of compatriots.

This performance was the first stop on a three-concert tour sponsored by the newspaper in celebration of the 10th anniversary of Jo's public debut, with a Carnegie Hall finale to be recorded live. Not surprising then, the event proved a carefully crafted applause machine, well-calculated to bring together the hands of divaphiles of any nationality.

Although there was plenty of music in which altitude, not attitude, seemed the crux of the matter, there was little that was hackneyed about the vocally demanding program. Nimble, often stratospheric warbling was to be expected--Jo is, after all, best known here as Mozart's Queen of the Night, a role that she has recorded twice and sung with L.A. Opera--but only "Glitter and Be Gay" and the Doll Song from "The Tales of Hoffman" could be counted as standards from that field.

Those she dispatched with agile grace, though acting out the mechanical doll stretched conspicuous charm to its limits. For less familiar manifestations of the will to chirp, there were Henry Rowley Bishop's "Lo! Hear the gentle lark" and the bravura variations on "Ah! Vous dirai-je, maman" from Adolphe Adam's "Le Toreador," both adeptly partnered by flutist Heather Lockwood, stepping out from the orchestra.

Sparkle is not Jo's only stock-in-trade, however. She also deals handsomely in lovingly spun lines supported with remarkable breath control, which sustained her sweet-toned reflections in Mozart's "Vorrei spiegarvi, o Dio," K. 418, Bellini's "Qui la voce" from "I Puritani" and a haunting Villanelle by E. Dell'acqua.

Guido Maria Guida, a recent Bayreuth assistant and a veteran of many European radio orchestras, led generally accommodating accompaniments. The L.A. Theater Orchestra, a well-staffed pickup band, played with cautious professionalism in overtures by Rossini and Donizetti but hit rocky patches in the ballet music from "Die Fledermaus."

Jo's seven encores culminated in an unaccompanied Korean lullaby, tenderly sung with her arms around a small child who had brought out flowers from offstage.

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