Ace of Bass

A Musical Journey Around the World

By Caperton Gillett

magf12 cho studentJust back from China, Won Cho (left) guides a UAB music student through a performance. Won Cho, D.M.A., brings a warm, sonorous bass and a world of performing experience to the UAB Department of Music, which he recently joined as an assistant professor of voice. Here, the Korean-Canadian vocalist offers a peek into his globetrotting career.

You’ve performed in operas and concerts around the world. Do you enjoy traveling?

I love going to different countries, and I’ve found that language and music are the best way to understand their cultures. I’m now traveling more outside of the major countries where most opera singers perform, like Italy and Germany. This summer will take me to Korea, China, and Spain for performances and teaching, and I recently went to China for a Christmas/New Year opera gala concert. My new initiative is to learn and perform each country’s folk music, either as part of the concert repertoire or as an encore to show the audience my appreciation.

What sort of roles do you perform?

I don’t see myself as a comical person in general, but I have been chosen to perform a lot of comic-based roles, particularly in operas by Rossini and Mozart. For instance, there’s a particular comic-based role in The Barber of Seville that I’ve performed five years in a row. [That would be Don Basilio, for the record.] I would love to venture into heavier roles, and as I get older, as a bass, time is on my side—my voice will grow even deeper and darker, which will enable me to handle those more serious roles.

Won Cho as Don Basilio in The Barber of Seville. Story continues after video.

Do you feel at home at UAB?

Because UAB is a research university, professors are encouraged and expected to be scholars. For music faculty, that usually involves creative research activity, which usually includes performance. So I have the support to perform as much as I can while ensuring that my students receive a proper education. This is such a wonderful environment—comparing the other schools where I’ve taught to UAB is like comparing a huge corporation to a healthy, booming family business.

What has been the most memorable performance of your career?

A few years ago in Italy, we were performing to piano accompaniment rather than a full orchestra. The accompanist was from the Metropolitan Opera, and he never turned pages while he played. We knew he’d memorized the whole opera piano part and our parts. Then, in the middle of the performance, there was a rainstorm. The whole town lost power. But he kept playing, so we kept on singing. About five minutes later, the lights came up, we were still performing, and the Italian audience was so excited, applauding and yelling. A few minutes later, the lights went out again, but we kept singing. The lights came back just before we finished the grand finale. That was one of the most interesting experiences I’ve ever had as a performer—the show really must go on.