“BREATHE AND BE BRAVE!” – HERA HYESANG PARK SHARES HER NEW ALBUM
The soprano’s latest recording reflects her determination to embrace life, let go of grief and approach each day with gratitude
Breathe presents operatic favourites by Delibes, Humperdinck, Massenet, Orff, Rossini and Verdi
The album also includes contemporary works by Luke Howard, Cecilia Livingston, Hyowon Woo and Bernat Vivancos
“The voice is a lovely lyric instrument. It’s agile and light, and blooms beautifully as it rises up the register”
Gramophone, reviewing I am Hera
“an empowering and positive journey from beginning to end”
OperaWire on Hera Hyesang Park’s Carnegie Hall debut recital in March 2023
19 JANUARY 2024 (TORONTO, ON) — Hera Hyesang Park unveils Breathe, her second album for Deutsche Grammophon/Universal Music Canada. As with her debut, I am Hera, she brings a very personal approach to her choice of music, which ranges from classics by Rossini, Verdi, Massenet and more to recent works by contemporary composers Luke Howard, Cecilia Livingston, Hyowon Woo and Bernat Vivancos. The soprano recorded the album in Genoa with the Orchestra and Coro del Teatro Carlo Felice and conductor Jochen Rieder, and is joined on some of its tracks by mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo. Breathe will be released on CD and digitally on February 9, 2024. A music video for Howard’s While You Live will also be released. Hera Hyesang Park will perform repertoire from Breathe at Seoul’s Lotte Hall on February 13, 2024.
Breathe grew out of the existential questions that beset so many of us during and after the pandemic. A series of life-enhancing experiences led Hera from fear and despair to light, energy and a desire to embrace the present. First, she came across the words of the so-called Seikilos Epitaph, including the phrase “While you live, shine”. Then, in the summer of 2022 she walked the Camino de Santiago, finding solace in the natural world around her along the route: “Each morning’s glorious sunrise felt like a cosmic embrace.” After completing the recording, she was inspired by a vivid dream to try free-diving. “As I held my breath underwater, I experienced the most beautiful breath, unlike anything I had ever known,” she says, “All thought ceased and I simply existed. There was a deep sense of peace.”
The album opens with Luke Howard’s Hymn, the Australian composer’s work having been especially adapted to incorporate the words of the Seikilos Epitaph and rechristened While You Live. Hera has made a video for this track, directed by Argentinian film-maker Mariano Nante. Shot at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, it takes the soprano on a dreamlike voyage from an abandoned opera house to the middle of an infinite ocean.
Hera’s choice of contemporary repertoire additionally includes Catalan composer Bernat Vivancos’s Vocal Ice, a vocalise inspired by Michelangelo’s Pietà; the central movement of Breath Alone, written for the soprano by Canadian composer Cecilia Livingston, and premiered by her at the Carnegie Hall in March 2023; and an excerpt from Requiem aeternam by her compatriot Hyowon Woo, in which she is accompanied by the ajaeng, a traditional Korean string instrument.
Breathe also offers Hera’s portraits of individuals facing the threat of death with “unwavering determination and resilience”. First among these is the real-life inspiration used by Górecki in his Symphony No. 3 – the prayer scratched on a prison wall by a young Polish girl arrested by the Nazis in 1944. From the world of opera, meanwhile, Hera has chosen Cecilia’s dying confession from Licinio Refice’s 1934 retelling of the saint’s martyrdom, as well as an extract from the ending of Rossini’s L’assedio di Corinto, in which Pamira, her servant Ismene (Emily D’Angelo) and their Greek companions choose death in the face of the Turks’ conquest of Corinth. And she presents portraits by both Rossini and Verdi of Desdemona, doomed to fall victim to Othello’s jealous rage.
Verdi’s “Ave Maria” for Shakespeare’s heroine is mirrored by a version of the same prayer set to the well-known “Méditation” from Massenet’s Thaïs (arr. Matthias Spindler), preceded by an excerpt from the French composer’s Le Cid. We also hear the ever popular “Evening Prayer” from Humperdinck’s Hansel und Gretel and “Flower Duet” from Delibes’s Lakmé, in both of which Hera is partnered by Emily D’Angelo, and a beautifully expressive rendition of “In trutina” from Orff’s Carmina burana.
“I hope that many people who listen to this album will find the courage to live their lives with peace and strength through this music,” says Hera Hyesang Park. “We all have something to say that somebody out there needs to hear, and only we can say it in precisely the right way. So don’t keep silent. Share what you have to say with the whole world. Just breathe and be brave!”