Riccardo Muti has played an integral role in the career of South Korean soprano Vittoria Yeo. In 2015, she made her Salzburg Festival debut in a concert performance of Verdi’s Ernani, with Muti, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on the podium.
Yeo has gone on to work with Muti each year since — all in works by Verdi: a concert version of Macbeth in Stockholm in 2016, a production of Aida at the Salzburg Festival in 2017 and concert performances again of Macbeth earlier this year in Florence and Ravenna.
“It is a privilege to collaborate with Maestro Muti, the greatest musician of today,” said Yeo via e-mail. “Maestro Muti knows how to teach and explain — always based on the study in which he has spent his entire life. He opened me to a new vision of music, showed me how to love music and what respect for music is.”
Yeo’s collaboration with Muti will take another big step forward when she makes her CSO debut Nov. 8-10, joining the conductor, the Chicago Symphony Chorus, mezzo Daniela Barcellona, tenor Piotr Beczala and bass Dmitry Belosselskiy in Verdi’s Requiem Mass. The concerts also will mark her first time performing in the United States.
“I’m really happy to sing in Chicago with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra,” she said. “I cannot forget the orchestra’s two concerts that I heard at the Teatro alla Scala [in Milan] in 2017; they were two really exceptional concerts.”
Yeo, 37, dreamed of singing in the Requiem, which Verdi wrote in memory of poet and novelist Alessandro Manzoni, since she heard it for the first time. “It was impossible not to fall in love with this music [which is] so intense and expressive,” she said. “I think Verdi wrote this music for everyone, not just for those already dead. It’s music especially for those who are alive. The music asks, cries to the Creator, demands and asks for peace for all of us. Verdi’s Requiem is universal music.”
When she was about 8 years old, she became enthralled with singing after hearing a choir perform during a church service. “It seemed like the voices came from the sky together with the light, that the angels were singing for me,” she said. “I was a child, but I still remember the strong emotion it had at the time.”
Yeo went on to study voice at the Seokyeong University in Seoul. She then moved to Italy to continue her training at the Arrigo Boito Conservatory in Parma and two other schools in Siena and Modena. Beyond simply immersing herself in musical scholarship, she also wanted to learn Italian as well embed herself in the nation’s culture, because of its integral role in the birth of opera.
“My career and my studies in Italy have been very important for me,” she said. “I think that those want to learn something really well must also know its roots. So living and working in Italy made me even closer to the work in the right way. It will be important for my future.”