Selected by The Independent on Sunday as the “Face to Watch” in Classical Music 2013, soprano Hye-Youn Lee was born in South Korea and now lives in London. She was a member of both Les Jeunes Voix du Rhin at the Opéra national du Rhin, Strasbourg, and of L’Atelier Lyrique at the Opéra national de Paris. She has also studied in Berlin with Renate Krahmer and Julia Varady and now works with Robert Dean. She made a triumphant and highly acclaimed London debut as Marie La Fille du Regiment for Korn / Ferry Opera Holland Park, returning for La bohème and La rondine.
Other companies for whom she has sung include Grange Park Opera, Opera North, Scottish Opera, Finnish National Opera and the Opéra national du Rhin, her repertoire including Lucia Lucia di Lammermoor, Elettra Idomeneo, Blanche de la Force Dialogues des Carmélites, Cio-Cio-San Madama Butterfly and Violetta La traviata.
Concert engagements have included performances with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. She was also featured soloist at the Leeds Castle Open Air Classical Concert in both 2013 and 2014. Her broadcasts include Coleridge Taylor The Song of Hiawatha with the Philharmonia Orchestra from the Three Choirs Festival for BBC Radio 3 and she returned to the Three Choirs Festival to sing Mahler Symphony No. 8 in 2016.
Conductors with whom she has worked include Rinaldo Alessandrini, Renato Balsadonna, Stephen Barlow, Giuliano Carella, Nicholas Chalmers, Marco Guidarini, Kimbo Ishii, Kirill Karabits, Nicholas Kraemer, Domenico Longo, Gianluca Marcianò, Adrian Partington, John Rigby, Pietro Rizzo and Stuart Stratford.
Recent highlights have included Donna Anna Don Giovanni for Bergen National Opera and Northern Ireland Opera, Mimì La bohème for Scottish Opera, the Teatro Sao Carlo, Lisbon, the Teatro Verdi San Trieste and Theater St Gallen, Cio-Cio-San Madama Butterfly for Opera Plovdiv, Theater Magdeburg and Lyric Opera, Dublin, and Desdemona in Rossini’s Otello at the Al Bustan Festival.
Please note that this biography is not to be used for programmes. Current information is available on request.
Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem / Bristol Cathedral
“…soprano soloist Hye-Youn Lee singing gracefully and with intimate tenderness.”
This is Somerset
Coleridge-Taylor: The Song of Hiawatha / Three Choirs Festival
“Hye-Youn Lee sang the soprano part with exceptional freshness and vitality. She's a singer we should be hearing a lot more of.”
“The stand-out soloist was the Korean soprano, Hye-Youn Lee. Her biography includes an impressive list of dramatic operatic roles and, my goodness, was that pedigree in evidence here. She showed a fine vocal presence and the sound of her voice was thrilling. Her top was most impressive but the voice was exciting and well produced throughout its compass. She was also the most expressive of the soloists. Not only did she excel when the music was dramatic but also she was capable of some genuinely touching singing.”
Seen and Heard International
“Sweet singing, though, from Hye-Youn Lee, the best of the soloists.”
Marie: La Fille du Regiment / Opera Holland Park
“As Marie, Korean soprano Hye-Youn Lee played the Annie Oakley hoyden with spirit and sang her regimental rataplans with gusto: transformed into a drawing-room toffette, she shaped ‘Par le rang’ quite beautifully.”
“In Hye-Youn Lee, the production is blessed with a singer whose voice is bright, clean and agile.”
“The young Korean soprano Hye-Youn Lee sings with such beauty, and acts with such engaging aplomb, as even to evoke memories of Natalie Dessay’s landmark performance as Marie at Covent Garden last year.”
“Hye-Youn Lee, making her OHP debut, was little short of a revelation. It was immediately clear that her voice is an instrument of quality” smooth and creamy up and down the range, clearly and crisply produced. Her coloratura was delivered with aplomb but she was also touching in her exquisitely sing Second Act aria.”
“The next big news was when Hye-Youn Lee came on stage as Marie. What a joy to hear a singer in full command of her voice! She was totally secure, with her quick vibrato ringing as true as a bell. She could also act, being a convincing tomboy with the garçons one minute, and genuinely fragile the next,”
“Hye-Youn Lee was a marvellous Marie. This Korean singer’s voice has a really attractive shine with steely, flexible focus, which she showed off in crisply articulated runs and coloratura. She was a touching, funny and pretty actress as well, commanding the stage with delightful tomboyish charm and delivering her rataplans with satisfying precision.”
Lucia di Lammermoor / Opéra national du Rhin
Hye-Youn Lee is Lucia, a very beautiful voice, an astonishing facility, with impressive high notes. She plays the role of a young fragile, loving girl very well and was extremely moving in the Mad Scene.”
Les Affiches Montenir
“Hye-Youn Lee, whose voice is one of the most brilliant to be heard today, brought great and expression to ‘Regnava nel silenzio’ with due regard to the sentiments expressed. Her cabaletta with its shining high notes and hair-raising coloratura was marvellously executed and received great applause.”
Mahler: Symphony No. 8 / Three Choirs Festival
“From the beginning, and throughout both parts of the work, soprano Hye-Youn Lee set herself apart, projecting her voice with the precision and intensity of a laser.“
“When the soloists became involved the two who immediately caught my ear – they were the most prominent in Part I, though not in an overdone way – were soprano Hye-Youn Lee and the ever-reliable Catherine Wyn-Rogers. I’d heard Miss Lee sing earlier this year here in Gloucester Cathedral in a performance of Elgar’s Apostles but, well though she sang on that occasion, tonight she revealed a dramatic power which took me by surprise. Her tone was unforced but the voice cut through like a laser."
Seen and Heard International
Donna Anna: Don Giovanni / Bergen National Opera
“Hye-Youn Lee’s incisive soprano is well suited to conveying Donna Anna’s latent hysteria.”
“Both the donne were in formidable control of their coloratura, Hye-Youn Lee bringing plenty of sheen and vibrancy to Donna Anna…”
Donna Anna: Don Giovanni / NI Opera
“Lee’s strong soprano is a good fit for the role.”
“It was Hye-Youn Lee who made the strongest case for Donna Anna's suffering. It's a technically demanding role, but Lee (has the capability and the lyricism required for expression of these deep emotions.”
Elettra: Idomeneo / Grange Park Opera
“…Hye-Youn Lee fires off exciting lines as Elettra.”
The Daily Telegraph
“…Hye-Youn Lee’s international quality Elettra.”
“Hye-Youn Lee is exciting as Elettra…”
“The standout performance in director-designer Charles Edwards’ staging of Idomeneo for Grange Park Opera is Hye-Youn Lee's Elettra.”
"The most striking impression was made by Hye-Youn Lee, whose clean-cut soprano proved equally adept at shaping elegant, classical phrases in 'Idol mio' and getting the coloratura sparks of fury to fly in Elettra's first- and third-act arias."
“Korean soprano Hye-Youn Lee made an exciting Elettra, bringing a malign brilliance to the troubled Greek princess's fiercer outbursts. “
“By contrast, Hye-Youn Lee was watchable for the intensely dramatic nature of her performance, you just longed for her to have more to sing. Here was a woman tortured to the point of madness, becoming almost demented with happiness at the end of act 2 and seemingly so self absorbed as to be completely unaware of the drama playing around her. In act 3 it was a long wait, but her final aria was simply stunning.
“Vocally, the show belongs - by a mile - to graceful South Korean soprano Hye-Youn Lee, beguiling as Elettra.”
Blanche: Dialogues des Carmélites / Grange Park Opera
“Hye-Youn Lee sang Blanche cleanly…”
The Daily Telegraph
“Hye-Youn Lee brings vocal depth to Blanche, moving around the music and the French dexterously enough to make the fiendish part seem easy.”
“Hye-Youn Lee made a convincing Blanche with a voice that was light but fully capable of the necessary expansion, full of the nuances of doubt, and in excellent sung French.”
“Hye-Youn Lee was a credible Blanche, forced to face the turmoil of a world she would rather leave beind.”
“Hye-Youn Lee made a very intense Blanche. This is one of those roles (the Cunning Little Vixen is another) which requires a flexible lyric voice but one possessed of a degree of power as well to rise over the rich orchestration. Lee had an element of steel in her voice which meant she could ride the orchestra, but also brought a flexibility and touching intensity to the party. She might have been intense, but she was not neurotic and there was also a profound dignity to her.”
Mimì: La bohème / Scottish Opera
“Hye-Youn Lee, her lovely rich timbre cutting across the orchestra, was a terrific Mimì, painfully fragile but with a noble inner strength. Act 3 at the Barrière d’Enfer can sometimes flag, but Lee’s performance as she and Marcello, and then Rodolfo, get to the home truths was as enthralling as it was heartbreaking.”
Hye-Youn Lee has already proven her Puccinian credentials as an excellent Madam Butterfly, and she showed every facet of Mimì very successfully, glorious in the third act farewell, and very moving in her death scene.
“Hye-Youn Lee’s singing, as Mimi, is memorable.”
“Hye-Youn Lee gives a dignified, touching performance as Mimì, noble and poised with a quality of tone that carries over Puccini’s orchestration, while still giving the sense of her character’s fragility.”
"The standout voice was that of Hye-Youn Lee, thanks to her even production, her ample tone, her Italian diction, her sense of style."
“From the moment that Hye-Youn-Lee sings Sì, mi chiamano Mimì, we are charmed, in Scottish Opera’s new production of La bohème. She plays the part delightfully, sweet, not saccharine, her voice slipping through the notes with ease, creating a genuine conversation with her new boyfriend.”
The Opera Critic
“Lee’s voice switches from frailty to gloriously coloured strength.”
Musetta: La bohème / Opera Holland Park
“…Hye-Youn Lee’s showstopper of a Musetta…”
“An absolute star turn and fire cracker performance came from the delectable Musetta of Hye-Youn Lee. Her outrageous performance in Café Momus as Marcello feigns ignorance at her presence was one of the highlights of the evening. Spiteful, capricious and thoroughly minxish, it was a masterclass in comic timing. Vocally she projected a bright vibrant sounding “Quando m' en vo”, that was rapturously received by the audience. The voice does have a quick vibrato which needs getting accustomed to, but it was a sensational performance far eclipsing some of the more famous interpreters of this role today.”
“The other top-class performance comes from Hye-Youn Lee. She sings superbly as the coquettish Musetta and brings life and depth to a role that is too often played in two dimensions.”
What’s On Stage
Cio-Cio-San: Madama Butterfly / Grange Park Opera ‘Rising Stars’
“This was a stunningly complete account of a very taxing role.”
Music & Vision
“Here in Hye-Youn Lee we have a Cio-Cio-San able to deliver the startlingly difficult vocal line while simultaneously producing a convincing dramatic performance as the cruelly abandoned child bride that cannot fail to move the audience to tears.”
Cio-Cio-San: Madama Butterfly / Lyric Opera, Dublin
“From her first appearance to the final act, Lee’s performance is stunning. Her understanding of the character of Butterfly is apparent through her sensitive vocal approach, which never sacrifices emotion for the sake of volume or technique.”
“Korean soprano Hye-Youn Lee performance in the title role was simply outstanding, both from a vocal and from an acting point of view, displaying great psychological finesse and a beautiful voice. She was an utterly credible Madama Butterfly and you could sense her previous experience in the role. She also smartly escaped the risk, almost intrinsic to the role, of appearing too histrionic.”
The Side Balcony
Cio-Cio-San: Madama Butterfly / Scottish Opera
“The evening’s focus was of course on Hye-Youn Leewho gave a great performance, thrillingly pulling out the stops for the big numbers, and completely devastating in the farewell to her son.”
“Asian Butterflys not only look more authentic than their western counterparts; they also tend to play the part more assertively, and this was palpably the case with Lee, who is Korean. Nothing – neither the Bonze’s fury, nor Pinkerton’s hush money – was ever going to compromise this Butterfly’s integrity, even if it involved the ultimate sacrifice. Lee is a confident performer, with a voice of ample power and stamina…”
“A strong cast is led by the magnetic Cio-Cio San. South Korean soprano Hye-Youn Lee inhabits the role with absolute conviction and ideal nuance: she is wide-eyed and girlish-voiced in act one, ardent and womanly in act two, heartbreakingly dignified in act three.”
“Making her debut with Scottish Opera, Lee’s strong performance throughout was so perfect that one member o the audience at the end said she left feeling “reeling, heartbroken and almost speechless.” It could be argued that Lee’s performance of Butterfly is the best performance Glasgow’s theatre scene has seen in years.”
“The Korean soprano is a confident performer, with a voice well matched – in power and stamina – to Puccini’s demands.”
“From her first appearance, led on by her female relatives in bustles, Hye-Youn Lee’s grace and elegance as Cio-Cio San charms the audience…her voice fills the space with love, with joy, with despair. Those well-known arias sound fresh and new.”
The Opera Critic
“Korean soprano Hye-Youn Lee’s Butterfly is a joy to watch and listen to, growing in character from a shy infatuated girl to mature woman. Her optimistic conviction shines through in Un bel di and her anguished farewell to the boy is heartbreaking. Her voice has silk, silver and steel as needed.”
The Public Reviews
“Butterfly’s desperate naivety is both charming and exasperating in the hands of South Korean soprano Hye-Youn Lee, whose performance is riven with tragic ecstasy.”
“It’s the cast that make this worth catching, and they are led by an excellent Butterfly in Hye-Youn Lee, making her Scottish Opera debut. She sings the part beautifully and with seeming ease in her traversal of the tessitura, cresting the high notes and exuding confidence in the music. She also acts the part very well indeed, all wide-eyed innocence and naivety in the first act, but maturing to become a tragic heroine by the second. Her dismissal of Sharpless in the second act seems to take on a real tragic grandeur, dignifying and elevating what can sometimes pass for a minor moment, and she showed absolutely no sign of tiring by the time of the suicide. Hers was a most moving portrayal of this extremely moving role, and isn’t one I’ll forget in a long time.”
Seen and Heard International
“South Korean Soprano Hye-Youn Lee as Cio-Cio San is outstanding in her role. Her voice just seems to float across the stage. There is nowhere for Butterfly to rest in this opera and the sheer amount of time that she is on stage must make this a very physically demanding role to play too. How someone so fragile looking has such stamina and vocal presence on stage is a mystery.”
“The plaudits go to Lee’s starkly convincing Cio-Cio San, a Butterfly whose child-like innocence and emotive singing in Act I give way to a more adult sorrow — and a lovely Un Bel Dì — as she sits, deserted, waiting for Pinkerton’s return on Yannis Thavoris’s fine Japanese house set, the paper walls an apt metaphor for the fragility of her American dream world.”
Cio-Cio-San: Madama Butterfly / Teatro nacional de São Carlos
“The production was lucky to have Hye-Youn Lee, a soprano of great vocal resource who had some brilliant moments, in the leading role.”
Violetta: La traviata / Opera North
"Is a delight - how refreshing to see a Violetta who's actually youthful. Her voice was in superb form: fearlessly confident in Verdi's crueler high writing and able to reduce her tone to a whisper when required. She looks diminished as her health deteriorates, a shrunken, dedicated presence in the final scene."
The Arts Desk
"Hye-Youn Lee is vitally compelling, notably when exercising her considerable coloratura skills. (Her) delivery of Violetta's mixed reactions at the end of Act 1, from 'Ah, fors'è lui che l'anima' through to 'Sempre libera' left me gasping, Lee excels as she moves through the gamut of emotions, at her pathetic best as she hands the portrait locket to Alfredo and as she stands, arms outstretched on the bed, for her illusory surge of revived power."
“As Violetta, Hye-Youn Lee is simply sensational, with a sweet tone and agile upper register.”
“Lee is outstanding, her tone sweet or steely as required, her approach to the part's technical demands fearless…”