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Sound Bites spotlights up-and-coming singers and conductors in the world of opera.

Sound Bites: SeokJong Baek

A South Korean baritone moves up to tenor repertory.
By F. Paul Driscoll 

Sound Bites Seokjong Baek hdl 820
Photographed in San Francisco by Dario Acosta
Sound Bites Seokjong Baek sm 820
SeokJong Baek, setting his sights higher
© Dario Acosta

SEOKJONG BAEK, a native of Jeonju, South Korea, started studying voice seriously when he was still in his teens, at the suggestion of his parents, who thought their son showed promise. After attending university in South Korea, Baek decided to go abroad to study and enrolled in the vocal training program at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music. Baek then moved on to Manhattan School of Music, where he studied with Ashley Putnam and received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. “It was very challenging for me to study within a new culture in a new way. English was very new to me then. But I made good friends, and working with them was very much fun. I felt loved and supported by them, and by my teachers, especially Ashley.”

At MSM, Baek’s roles included Colonel Tschang in Lehár’s Land des Lächelns and Gautru in Le Roi L’a Dit, a rarity by Léo Delibes. Baek’s baritone was smooth and evenly colored, with Italianate warmth and exciting flashes of brightness at the top of his range. In 2018, Baek won MSM’s prestigious Alan M. and Joan Taub Ades Vocal Competition and spent the summer at San Francisco’s Merola Program, where he sang Zurga in Les Pêcheurs de Perles—“a role I loved so much in a company that challenged me to do my very best.” After a season as a Lyric Opera of Kansas City Resident Artist, Baek returned to San Francisco in 2019, as an Adler Fellow at San Francisco Opera. He made his SFO debut as Moralès in CarmenBaek’s other roles during his time as an Adler Fellow in 2019 included Gregorio in Roméo et Juliette and the Innkeeper in Manon Lescaut.

While in San Francisco, Baek decided to transition from baritone to tenor repertoire. “I had always had pretty good high notes, but my technique needed time to develop,” he says. “As I sing more of the tenor repertoire—where my voice has to sit higher for longer periods—I gain confidence in my ability to sing this. Being a tenor is more pressure, but as I study this music more, I feel freer.”

Now thirty-four, Baek is “very happy” with the switch and looks forward to exploring the next phase of his career. Asked to name a favorite composer, Baek answers, “Puccini and Verdi, for certain. I love them. I love to sing with emotion in the voice. To explore the emotion of a stage character and express it—that is wonderful.” spacer 

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