Hera Hyesang Park: “I feel very grateful every day”
In an interview with the rising star Hera Hyesang Park we talked about the milestones of her career, discussed the time when she got a contract from Deutsche Grammophon, recalled her debut at the Metropolitan Opera and spoke about the way of dealing with stress.
Could you tell us about your childhood? Do you come from a musical family? Where did you hear opera for the first time and why did you decide to become an opera singer?
When my mum was pregnant, she listened to a lot of music, and she played the piano as an assistant teacher in a small piano school. So, she told me that whenever she was listening to music, I used to kick her belly, so she got the idea to raise me as a musician. It was quite natural for her to bring me to a musical dream.
When I was around 8 years ago, she brought me to the choir. I was with them for almost 10 years, and this choir allowed me to travel a lot internationally, not just in Korea. I visited America, Denmark, Belgium, Germany, and Japan. I always felt the privilege and was so excited to be able to travel to different places. I thought being a singer was such a cool thing as you get a chance to see different cultures and people speaking different languages. It was very fascinating for me.
So, it was quite natural to become a classical musician, but the reason why I really decided that this was truly my type of job was around my teenage time when my parents got divorced. You know, in Korea it is kind of difficult to be honest about this because of the society. It was seen as a kind of sin. You can definitely be divorced there but it is not seen as a nice gesture. My parents were so nervous that people were going to find out, so I had to hide that my parents were divorced.
I started to express my sadness and my anger through music. I was so glad that whenever I sang, it came out beautifully. I loved this process too, it did not only help me. Besides, I really wanted them to get together again. Every time I used to win a competition or to sing a performance, my parents would come to see me. In the beginning, they were sitting separately, but because of people’s judgment or their own perspective, they started sitting closer. So, the more I performed, the closer to each other they started sitting. When I went to university, they started to sit together as if they were just a couple. After 10 years, my parents got together again. Now they are a couple and living together.
At that time, I just wanted to sing in the competition to see my parents being together. Now the purpose of singing has changed. I am so grateful for where I am. It is my therapy. Life is not always easy but I have a great time through music.
Can you tell us about the most memorable performance you have had?
I remember one competition I had in high school. I sang “Das Veilchen” by Mozart. It was about a flower, and the text goes like this: there is a beautiful girl coming towards this flower, and this flower expects that this little girl will see it and will love it as this flower wants to be loved by this girl. But, actually, this girl steps on the flower, and this flower is dying. However, in the end, the flower says, “I am so happy to die under my beloved girl’s feet”.
When I sang this, I did not have a great condition, my voice was not healthy. I was very nervous, but as a Christian, I prayed and asked for help as it was my first competition ever. I kind of felt that this music was about Jesus. Through this song, Jesus says that “I love you no matter what. Because of you, I went to the cross, and I sacrificed for your life. I will take care of you”. I really felt this at that moment. I sang onstage and I felt like Jesus was standing in front of me to support me, and I got the first prize. I will never forget the moment. I did not feel that I was singing, I felt I was just a fish that was opening its mouth to eat some food, but the voice came out very miraculously. I will never forget this moment.
Could you share with us the milestones of your career? What events in your life do you consider the key ones?
Of course, I cannot skip the moment when Deutsche Grammophon offered me a contract. I was dreaming of a great career, but this one I definitely did not expect. When it happened to me, it was so weird. I felt grateful and also a lot of responsibility, because over more than 100 years of the history of Deutsche Grammophon, they had never hired an Asian soprano. So, I kind of constantly had to doubt why they had chosen me, what was the specialty of my voice, if I was really worth as much as they valued me. I was experiencing this constant pressure and was trying to find my own identity. It just gave me the whole question mark “Why me?” It not only helped my wish to become a better artist but also changed my perspective of how I can become a better person, and it is still in the process. I am trying to be better in and out, as a human being and as an artist.
How did they find you to offer a contract? How was it?
When I went to the opera competition in London, one of the agents of Deutsche Grammophon came to attend the Operalia competition. She liked my voice, and we said hello to each other, but it took more than 3 years to finally get a contract. They had been watching me for some time. Then we met after Salzburg and shared our life stories. After that, we saw each other at Glyndebourne Festival as their agent came to see my performance. At that time I sang Rosina, and at the end of the performance he came to me and offered a contract. It was in a very casual and friendly environment because Glyndebourne Festival takes place in the countryside. There is nothing to eat after the performance, and everything is closed at 10 pm. So, we were just walking in a small town under a beautiful bridge and went to the kebab place, and ordered a Coca-Cola, it was just so natural. I was overwhelmed, I was so happy.