NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Opera fans can hear a world-class voice in the streets of Koreatown.
The “Lion of K-Town” is the focus of this week’s Snapshot New York with Steve Overmyer.
At the height of his fame, Alejandro Olmeda was one of the greatest tenors in the world. He’s performed in 65 countries, to millions worldwide, and in front of royalty. Now, he arrives at his next performance.
In a cozy restaurant in Koreatown, a man with a massive voice.
“When I see him, it’s like a lion roaring… That’s why I tell him, ‘you have the voice of a lion,'” Tora Yi, Shanghai Mong owner, told Overmyer.
In a jungle of concrete, this lion roars.
Overmyer: “This doesn’t seem like a logical place for an opera singer to be singing.”
Olmeda: “For me, it’s a different stage. It’s K-Town, they love me, I know everybody… I love to sing and I sing anywhere.”
Born in Mexico, Olmeda fell in love with singing at the age of five.
“In the beginning, I sang pop music,” he said. “Every breath you take.”
Overmyer: “What’s it feel like in your heart when you sing?”
Olmeda: “Great, I feel incredible. I give with all my heart to the audience… I sing with passion, with everything.”
Just like pop stars, in opera, the spotlight burns bright but not indefinitely. Looking for work, Olmeda asked his friend at Shanghai Mong for a job.
Olmeda: “Hey, what do you want to do? I say, ‘I want to dish wash.'”
Overmyer: “He asked you for a job as a dishwasher, and you made him what?”
More like a host who greets guests and entertains.
Overmyer: “You were at the height of the world and you were still humble enough to say, ‘I’ll be a dishwasher.’”
Olmeda: “Yes, because I don’t know what to do.”
Their friendship inspired a new tradition – Wednesday nights are opera open mic. But there’s real no need for a mic.
Overmyer was even treated to an animated performance from acclaimed soprano Ok-Ja Lim.
Overmyer: “How did you think of creating this?”
Yi: “Personally, I like opera. I’m always working, so I want to bring the artists in instead.”
Overmyer: “We have a Mexican man singing Italian opera in a Korean restaurant…”
Yi: “Korean-Chinese fusion restaurant.”
“It’s not matching, but to me, it’s New York,” Yi added. “It’s a multicultural city and it represents everything. So I like it.”
It’s an odd combination that comes together in perfect harmony.
“He’s good with not only just my customers, also neighborhood — all the people work and they respect him now, they get to know each other very well,” said Yi. “I don’t want to lose him, but someday he’s got to go to big stage. He’s a singer, after all.”
It takes years of training to sing opera. A tenor’s voice is clear and powerful. It helps if you have an expressive face. But mainly, an unstoppable torrent of sound.
Along with seafood Udon, you get a table-side tenor and world-class voice – he recently trained to soar to a note that few men in the world can hit. It’s call a high-C and can be heard in the streets of Manhattan, delivered by the Lion of K-Town.