Monday, December 5, 2022


Widely acclaimed as one of the best lyric tenors of our time, Yonghoon Lee has been praised worldwide by audiences and critics. From the Royal Opera House Covent Garden to Bayerishe Staatsoper to Opera Australia, he has captured the hearts of many with his portrayals of Calaf in Turandot, Luigi in Il tabarro (The Cloak) and Rodolfo in La bohème. In this interview he shares how he started singing, career doubts, and what inspired him to continue performing.

Seattle Opera: How did you get started singing?


Yonghoon Lee: When I was 22 years old, I was selected as the leader of praise worship in my church. So, I wanted to sing better. I asked a friend who is a vocalist to teach me. As soon as my friend heard my voice, he convinced me to train as a professional singer. For five months, I prepared for college auditions. I was accepted as voice student at Seoul National University (SNU) as a top scholarship student.


Seattle Opera: Was that when you knew would become an opera singer?


Yonghoon Lee: I never thought that I would become an opera singer, at least not at first. However, after being selected to sing Rodolfo for the 50th anniversary opera La bohème at SNU did I began to have a longing for opera. After that experience I became deeply excited by the music.


Seattle Opera: Tell us about your childhood.


Yonghoon Lee: I was born in Seoul, Korea. My father was the president of a trading company. Occasionally, but not often, my whole family went to the opera. The first opera I saw in my life was Turandot when I was 8 years old. Among my relatives there is a famous conductor (Myunghoon Chung) as well as a cellist and a violinist. I am the only singer.


Seattle Opera: What has been the hardest challenge of your career so far?


Yonghoon Lee: For the first five years of my career, new roles, new theaters, and new relationships with artists, conductors and directors made me very nervous. It was hard for me adapt to new environments and new cities. It was hard facing the unknown. Overcoming these things was a challenge. But the moments I stand are my most enjoyable and happiest.


Seattle Opera: What are some of your proudest moments on stage?


Yonghoon Lee: That’s a tough question. But the first time I sang the role of Don Jose in Carmen is a proud moment for me. It was also my debut at the Dutch National Opera and a new production by Robert Carsen. Another proud performance was as Arrigo in Verdi’s The Battle of Legnano. That production was directed by David Alden, which I sang in Hamburg.


Seattle Opera: Who or what inspires you to sing?


Yonghoon Lee: I once gave up singing for personal reasons. At that time, I was praying earnestly for a new path. God touched my heart, asking me to sing for him: ‘Will you sing for me from now on?’ With that simple question, I realized that I only sang for myself. After that, I decided to sing for God and not for myself. Now, I sing for all the people God loves. That gave me courage to re-start my life as a professional singer.


Seattle Opera: What do you do when you’re not singing?


Yonghoon Lee: My first calling is as a missionary. This is my first calling. When I’m not performing, I go on mission trips to South America or Southeast Asia.


Seattle Opera: Are you excited about performing as Samson?


Yonghoon Lee: For a long time, I’ve wanted to sing this role. It’s a masterpiece! As a Christian, I’m happy and thrilled to debut this dream role. I’m thankful to Seattle Opera for giving me the opportunity.


Seattle Opera: Is there an opera that you aspire to sing?

Yonghoon Lee:
Yes, The Queen of Spades by Tchaikovsky.

Samson and Delilah in Concert runs January 20 & 22, 2023 at McCaw Hall.

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