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SOULFUL HAK-NAM KIM CAPTIVATES S.L. AUDIENCE

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Cultures met and warmly embraced at the Assembly Hall when Hak-Nam Kim, a star of the Korea Opera Company, sang for an American audience. (Though truly, many in the hall were Koreans, come out to hear one of their own.)

And despite differences of language, manner, style and approach, it was soon clear that all were on the same wavelength of musicality and expressiveness. "She sings with soul," I whispered to my companion. "She sings with Seoul soul," he agreed.Kim has a big, creamy mezzo (a quality quite unusual in an Oriental), which extends with great power and focus into the notes above the staff, for thrilling climaxes in arias and the heavier art songs. The sound is lovely throughout, though inclined to a little introversion, even a croon, in the midregister, especially upon slow songs, and diction is often muted. Her warm presence is dignified yet relaxed, her gracious attention focused on her listeners.

But when Kim sang the "Carmen" arias - the "Habanera" and "Seguidilla" - she came into her own as an opera creature. The voice emerged with great point and authority; she was flirtatious with a hundred feminine wiles and an actress to be reckoned with.

Perhaps the most thrilling of all was "O ma lyre immortelle," a surging aria by Gounod from his "Sappho." In a tune both haunting and wistful, every tone was perfectly placed, each phrase impinging upon the next with a sensitive understanding of the song's total scope and direction.

With David Skousen as her cooperative and musically attuned pianist, Kim opened with the simple, graceful "Verdi prati" by Handel and followed with Scarlatti's "O cessate" and Lotti's playful "Pur dicesti." Repertory among early music and art song was pretty much elementary but handled with feeling and intensity. Three melodious songs by Richard Strauss showed affinity for the dramatic and passionate, though her German accent left something to be desired.

Nor is this a voice well-trained to coloratura. In Rossini's "Una voce poco fa," the spirit was willing but the voice technically unequal to the requisite even scales or clear, cleanly articulated passages and sequences.

But her interpretation of three songs by Korean composers captivated her audience. The tunes were beguiling, flowing and quiet, of folklike simplicity and charm. They were seemingly descriptive, reinforced by the romantic Western style of their accompaniments, and made a great hit with the Koreans among her audience, to whom they seemed to be familiar.

With Skousen at the organ, Kim concluded with an encore hard to top - "The Lord's Prayer" by Mallotte, sung with the deepest feeling, beautifully phrased and shaped to a thrilling climax, which brought her audience to its feet.

Indeed, Kim's recital seemed an ideal opener for vocal month in the Assembly Hall. It struck a multi-national chord, to be reinforced on Friday night by the Drakensberg Boys Choir of South Africa, and followed by singers from Canada (Katherine Johnson and Mark Pedrotti), with a Scotsman at the piano (Iain Burnside).

Salt Lake City continues to attract artists from far and wide to entertain the dozens of nationalities that show up here in the summer tourist season.