Juyeon Song’s Stunning Opera Recital

cover AF2005

WAGNER: Die Walküre: Ho-yo-to-ho! Siegfried: Ewig war ich. Götterdämmerung: Starke scheite. Tristan und Isolde: Mild und leise. STRAUSS: Salome: Ah du wolltest mich nicht / Juyeon Song, sop; Janáček Philharmonic Ostrava; Niels Muus, cond / Affetto AF2005

This CD, released in July of this year, was NOT included in Naxos of America’s new releases list for that month, but lo and behold, I found it on the Naxos Music Library. Having been highly impressed by Song’s singing in the new Navona release of Tristan und Isolde, I decided to review it.

Like so many huge voices, Song’s sometimes gets a little out of kilter with a bit of an uneven flutter at the beginning of pieces. In the case of “Ho-yo-to-ho!” from Walküre, which is very short, she doesn’t really have time to warm up, although she does attempt the trill which so few Brünnhildes even bother to sing but which is written in the score. In the extended scenes from Götterdämmerung and Salome, however, the voice has time to warm up, thus about five minutes into these performances the voice is “locked in” and nicely focused.

The unusual qualities that I noticed in her Tristan performance—the ultra-bright quality of the voice with almost no low undertones (though she does have low notes, and uses them to good effect) and the piercing tone—work especially well in the Salome excerpt where she sounds youthful, a big plus in this role. But throughout the recital, one thing becomes quite clear, and that is that she is always a very expressive and highly dramatic interpreter. Not a word or phrase goes by that she has not worked on to project the text in a dramatic fashion, thus creating a real feeling of theatricality in everything she sings.

In addition to her exciting singing, one must also praise the little-known conductor Niels Muus. His grasp of these scores is nothing short of miraculous; like conductor Robert Reimer in the Tristan, he grabs your attention and holds it from start to finish in each and every selection.

It’s difficult, on a recording, to accurately judge the size and power of a voice. As I said in my Tristan review, I don’t think that Song’s voice is as voluminous as those of Flagstad, Nilsson or Lindholm, but due to the brightness of her timbre it is the kind of voice that can cut through an orchestra like a knife. No amount of massed strings, winds and/or brass can cover her voice. It has a laser-like focus, not always tonally “beautiful” but clearly impressive in everything she does.

As I said near the end of my Tristan article, if you can adjust your ears to her sound you will find it immeasurably thrilling. She sings from the heart as well as from the mind, and nowadays this sort of quality is exceedingly rare.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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