South Korean tenor Mario Bahg seemingly came out of nowhere to take home the 2018 CMIM Aria First Prize, besting an impressive field. However, Bahg came to the competition already having won the 2017 Queen Sonja International Music Competition and placed second in others. He showed much the same innate musicality in Montreal.
In the opening round, opinions were split. Those who sat in the parterre of Bourgie Hall were disappointed with his voice; too tiny, they thought about the “Flower Song” from Carmen and “Una furtiva lagrima” from L’Elisir d’amore. However, his voice projected well to the balcony, where the jury sat. He made it to the semifinals in Maison symphonique. which also suited his light but well-projected tenor.
Born in 1990 in Busan, Bahg attended the Korea National University of Arts (BA) and the Mannheim University of Music and Performing Arts (MA). His interest in music began as a young boy. “My father was also a tenor and an opera singer,” he said. “I learned my first song at the age of 17 and it took a lot of effort to get it to sound the way it does now.”
“I studied a lot of techniques and musicality in Korea, but I experienced much more know-how when I studied in Germany, especially from my professor Snezana Stamenkovic (Mannheim).”
The CMIM required three arias for each of the three rounds and Bahg’s program choice showed off a tenor’s musicality. Bahg found it challenging but approached it intelligently. “I made up programs that I can sing without [being]overwhelmed. I prepared lyrical songs and passionate songs in different styles (lyrical or light songs and vigorous or heavy songs) for every round. And the songs were newly prepared for CMIM.”
In the semifinals, I live-tweeted “È la solita storia del pastore” from L’arlesiana, which was made famous by José Carreras in original Three Tenors album. Bahg’s first half was light, but he #endedlikecarreras. And his finals program was loaded with popular arias from Don Giovanni, La Traviata and Faust, which he delivered with musicality. As with tenor Keonwoo Kim three years before, the performance carried the Korean to victory.
Winning came as a surprise, as you could see at the ceremony. “There were two Canadians in the finals and I appreciated their skills very much,” Bahg said. “I never expected to win over Canadians in Canada.” This fall, he begins his first year at the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Program.
Favourite singer: Luciano Pavarotti (“many people also say that my voice is similar to Pavarotti’s”). Ideal role: The Duke in Rigoletto.