Soprano Sujin Lee at a new stage
Written by DAVID DUPONT Sentinel Arts & Entertainment Editor
Friday, 28 September 2012 11:17
Soprano Sujin Lee has been busy the last seven years.
|Singer Sujin Lee in the living room of her residence in Bowling Green. (Photo: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
She's been raising two daughters Hannah, 7, and Sarah, 4, with her fellow opera singer and husband Shawn Mathey.
That included a period when the family would travel with Mathey for engagements in Europe.
The family moved a few times, and Lee performed in a few concerts.
It did not include what she had previously devoted her life to: singing in operas.
Next weekend Lee will return the stage performing in the starring role of Mimi in the Toledo Opera's production of "La Boheme," her first role with the company.
"It was so sweet," she said of being on stage again. "To me it was so refreshing ... I have this side of me."
She said her fellow cast members were surprised to learn about her seven-year hiatus.
In Mimi, the heroine of Puccini's tale of Bohemians living in Paris in the late 19th century, she has a character she can easily connect with. "She's a very lovely person, very considerate, always thinking of other people. Everyone can fall in love with her."
Though she's not been on stage, the past seven years still inform her performance. Her voice has matured, and she has experienced a greater range of emotions.
Her character's fatal illness "is more real to me."
Though she's not been ill, Lee has seen others suffer. When she started out "I was young ... and not experienced with life."
She forged a successful career in opera that included touring Europe and the United States with Teatro Lirico d'Europa.
A writer for the Boston Phoenix said of her performance as Cio-Cio-San in "Madama Butterfly" was a rare treat. "Her voice remained full and rich at the top, the aural equivalent of a room full of cherry blossoms."
That role has a special place for Lee. She met her husband when they played opposite each other in a production of the Puccini opera at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia.
She started singing while growing up in South Korean. At 7 she sang in her first competition. She did not win. That proved an anomaly. She continued in many televised competitions, and always won the gold cup, she said.
Then in junior high, young Sujin stopped performing. Her father was a doctor, and her parents thought "a singer is not such a wonderful lifestyle."
So singing in public was put on hold, but her love of music endured. Convinced of her dedication, her parents relented.
Lee went on to study voice in South Korea, earning bachelor's and master's degrees, and then she came to study at the Manhattan School of Music, before arriving at the Academy of Vocal Arts.
While her career flourished, her husband's exploded. Wishing to be together, she let her singing take a back seat especially when first Hannah and then Sarah was born. The family traveled together for a while, but though they were together, they never felt settled.
They eventually came back to Mathey's hometown of Bowling Green to live. Even then they decided that maybe Philadelphia might work better before finally setting down roots here.
She has taught for four years at Bowling Green State University. She enjoys teaching.
Lee said she passes down lessons she has learned from her students, and they absorb it in their own ways, broadening her knowledge of singing as well.
While students know musical theater and pop "so many have no idea about classical musical."
A grounding in the art song and operatic tradition is essential, she believes. "I always assign my students great singers to listen to."
Her father-in-law Richard Mathey is a much beloved and respected retired faculty member at BGSU.
One of Bowling Green's big advantages is the presence of Shawn Mathey's parents. "I couldn't do without them," Lee said of Richard and Ethel Mathey. Her father-in-law insists on driving her to Toledo for "La Boheme" rehearsals.
She appreciates the deep musical connection between her husband and his father. Shawn grew up singing with his father. "They always harmonize."
Lee and her husband will do some harmonizing of their own when they sing together at the Toledo Opera's Opera Gala April 12 and 14.
Info Box: Valentine TheaterOct 5 8 p.m. and Oct 7 2 p.m.
Tikets $30-$75 419-255-7464, http://www.toledoopera.org
Cast also includes Rolando Sanz, tenor (Rodolfo)
Jennifer Rowley, soprano (Musetta)
Lee Poulis, baritone (Marcello)
Michael Krzankowski, baritone (Schaunard)
Sean Cooper, bass-baritone (Colline)
Jason Budd, baritone (Benoit/Alcindoro)
James Meena, Conductor