Song Poet: Meet the Artists
Minnesota Opera presents our 50th world premiere and the first Hmong story adapted for the operatic stage, The Song Poet, based on St. Paul writer Kao Kalia Yang’s memoir of the same name. This new work tells the story of Yang’s family and her song poet father as war drives them from the mountains of Laos to St. Paul, highlighting the challenging world of life as a refugee. We are excited to have Museop Kim and Corissa Bussian join us as Bee Yang and Chue Moua (Bee’s wife) in this production. Recently, they took the time to talk about the power of sharing a Hmong immigrant story with audiences and the reflection that comes from playing characters that are based on a true story.
Describe your character in three words:
Museop: Passionate, selfless, our father.
Corissa: Practical, empathetic, resolute
What are some of the greatest joys and challenges of this role?
Museop: Being in a production at a major opera company in the US as a “non-minority” has been truly special. My hats off to the company for making this happen. Telling our story by us is to be recognized and praised here and it has been a great joy. But, at the same time, I had to ask myself that….it is truly my story? Do I get the license to tell the story just because of my look? As a non-Hmong, I will never get what they have gone through. Making it my own so I could have some sincerity and authenticity to tell this beautiful story was challenging during the process.
Corissa: A challenge I had in mind the moment I was cast was the pressure to portray such a prominent person in Kalia’s life, her mother. Chue has lived through so many levels of adversity, but I have loved being a part of Kalia’s parents love story. Through Jocelyn’s illustrative writing, their love was born in this romantic bubble that they can lose themselves in just for a second before their surroundings of war, loss and hardship burst into their very true reality.
What are the themes or messages of this piece that you think will resonate with our audiences?
Museop: Love for family. Sacrifice for family. Hardship as immigrants in this country. And most importantly, our old, normal, boring fathers also have passion.
Corissa: Family. The generational family dynamics and relationship theme is so prominent in Bee’s journey and this opera. We also see in all the characters a strong element of staying true to yourself no matter what life throws at you and that perhaps the sacrifices and compromises one makes ultimately are worth it, even if the journey takes a little more time or an alternate route to get there.
What makes The Song Poet as the first Hmong story adapted for the opera stage so significant?
Museop: It will educate people. I vaguely knew about the history of the Hmong. Preparing for the show, I got to go deep about what happened to the people, and why that happened…and more. Did you know that Laos was the most heavily bombed nation in the world? I didn’t. Now I do. And so will you.
Corissa: This dynamic story is such a powerful part of many Hmong families’ history in how they came to start and grow their life in this country. With the Twin Cities having one of the largest Hmong populations in America, many people are not aware of the effects of the war in Laos, devastation and hardships that were thrust upon the people. The Song Poet provides a vivid and clear voice that will hopefully continue to open future opportunities for Asian stories to be heard and brought to the stage. I have been extremely empowered being in this cast with these beautifully talented Asian and Asian-American artists!
What have you learned about yourself through your character?
Museop: On a lighter note, I did not know that I was this old. In the opera, there is a line of Chue, looking at me and singing “who is this young man?”. Somehow hearing the line repeatedly made me realize that I am no longer young and vibrant. Production pictures of me from the scene concur. Sad.
Corissa: In performing this role, I have come to understand some new levels of dramatic singing and expression. In Kalia’s book, through her father’s eyes, Chue endured so much with an almost silent fierceness and perseverance. I have taken that along with relating as a wife and mother of two myself and found warmth in reflecting on the good times as well as the difficult experiences in my life. I hope to integrate this into my continual growth as a singer and an artist.