Soprano in Rare Opera Performance Saturday

Saturday night will see concertgoers treated to something rarely, if ever, seen in Phnom Penh: a Cambodian soprano performing opera.

Tip Savory is a 19-year-old who attends the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA). She is also one of a handful of Cambodian students to ever study opera in the country. 

“I feel a bit nervous about the performance,” Ms. Savory said of the concert, a fundraising event to provide scholarships for RUFA students. “But I hope to show that Cambodia has the ability to perform opera at the international level.”

The addition of South Korean opera singer Ki Yong Ryu, a tenor, and his wife, mezzo soprano Seo Ji Young, to the university’s music program three years ago has allowed students the opportunity to study a form of singing that is worlds apart in technique from Cambodian performing arts.

When the pair started teaching the full-time opera course, many international colleagues were skeptical, Mr. Ryu said. “But I believe in my students: They have great talent,” he said.

Only two career opera singers have come out of Cambodia since the end of the Khmer Rouge re­gime: tenor Khoun Sethisak who trained in Russia, and tenor Hy Kim Chanthavouth, who is currently studying in Canada.

“I wanted a challenge, doing something difficult, which is why I started studying opera,” Ms. Sovary said of her decision to pursue opera, which requires her to sing in Italian, a language she admits she does not yet fully understand.

“Singing Cambodian traditional and classical songs is not as hard: With opera, you need high energy and a high-pitch voice that can only be developed with more and more practice.”

Ms. Savory, who has been studying opera at RUFA for two years, plans to make opera her career. “My dream after RUFA is to get a Master’s degree scholarship to study opera in South Korea,” she said. “If I am not able to get it, I hope to help train the next generation of opera students at RUFA because it’s important to raise our singers’ skills so they can sing internationally.”

The concert at the Imperial Garden Hotel and Villa also feature Mr. Ryu, flutist Chan Vitharo, pianists So Sronos and Kwon Young Mi, and 13-year-old Cambodian-American singer Autumn Allen.

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