In June 2021, South Korean baritone Kim Gi-hoon, who hails from the remote town of Gokseong, South Jeolla Province, made his name known to the world when he won the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition held in the UK.
Such prestigious competition was not something new to him. In 2019, he received not one, but two second prizes from the International Tchaikovsky Competition and Placido Domingo's Operalia. Great opportunities ensued following the wins, but then came the pandemic that canceled what could have been career-defining performances.
“I was one of many musicians who lost jobs during the pandemic and when the opportunity came to compete in the BBC Cardiff, I wanted to grab it,” Kim told reporters during an interview on Tuesday in Seoul.
On Tuesday, the 31-year-old had just arrived from Dallas, Texas, where he made his debut as Scarpia in "Tosca" at the Dallas Opera. Scarpia, an antagonist known for his ruthless and manipulative nature, is the role which Kim, who has an easy smile on his face, wanted to perform most.
“Someone asked me how I would handle the character with a smiling face and I answered, 'Isn't it scarier if someone like that plays the role of a psychopath?'” he said. “I want to widen my acting spectrum and want to do everything well. I don’t want to be recognized for some particular roles.”
“Whatever role I take, I want to show my own interpretation,” he added.
In the 2023-24 season, Kim will appear as Marcello in "La Boheme" at Covent Garden in London and as Rodrigo in "Don Carlo" in Copenhagen, Denmark. In the 2024-25 season, he will debut as Schaunard in "La Boheme" at the New York Metropolitan Opera.
Kim decided to become a singer when he was in his second year in high school. He went to find a teacher outside his county, and when he finally started receiving vocal lessons, he realized he already knew how to sing like a classical vocalist.
“I enjoyed mimicking other people like singers on TV through which, I later realized, I learned indirectly how to sing," he said.
From there, he went on to study at Yonsei University and, after graduation, joined the Junges Ensemble at the Hanover State Theater in Germany for three years, beginning in 2016.
With the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World win, Kim has performed on many prominent stages, including a debut with Washington National Opera as Marcello in "La Boheme," a role which also saw him make his debut at the Glyndebourne Festival Opera and Korea National Opera.
His recital debut outside South Korea will take place Nov. 26 at Wigmore Hall in London, where he will present a performance titled “Hommage to Dmitri Hvorostovsky.” Hvorostovsky is a Russian baritone, whom Kim said he respects greatly and had wanted to meet in person.
“Unfortunately, he passed away at the age of 55. I wanted to make a connection nonetheless by borrowing his program,” Kim said.
The two-part program will offer Brahms' Vier Ernste Gesange, Op. 121, also known as the Four Serious Songs for voice and piano, and nine Rachmaninoff art songs with Russian pianist Ilya Rashkovskiy.
He will also sing three Korean art songs: Lee Won-ju’s “Longing” and “The Smell of Ink” and Cho Hye-young’s “Unable to Forget.”
“When I sang a Korean art song for the preliminary round at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, many people asked me about Korean art songs. I added these songs to introduce Korean art songs to overseas audiences,” he said.
Before taking the stage at Wigmore Hall, Kim will perform the same program in front of a Korean audience on Nov. 4 at the Seoul Arts Center.