The Korean lyric coloratura soprano, Sumi Jo (birth name: Jo Su-gyeong), was born in Seoul. Her mother was an amateur singer and pianist who had been unable to pursue her own professional music studies due to the political situation in Korea during the 1950’s. Determined to provide her daughter with opportunities she never had, Jo's mother enrolled her in piano lessons at the age of 4 and later voice lessons at the age of 6. As a child, Jo would often spend up to eight hours a day studying music. In 1976, Jo entered the Sun Hwa Arts School from which she graduated in 1980 with diplomas in voice and piano. She continued her music studies at Seoul National University (SNU) from 1981 to 1983. While studying at SNU, Jo made her professional recital debut, appeared in several concerts with the Korean Broadcasting System, and made her professional operatic debut as Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro with Seoul Opera. In 1983 Jo decided to leave SNU in order to study music in Italy at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome. Among her teachers there were Carlo Bergonzi, and Giannella Borelli. While Jo studied in Italy, she was frequently heard in concert in Italian cities and also on national radio broadcasts and telecasts. It was during this time when Jo decided to use 'Sumi' as her stage name in order to make her name more friendly to European language speakers who often found it difficult to pronounce Soo Kyung. She graduated in 1985 with a concentration in keyboard as well as voice. Following graduation, Jo began to study voice with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and won several international competitions in Seoul, Naples, Enna, Barcelona, and Pretoria. In August 1986, she was unanimously awarded first prize in the Carlo Alberto Cappelli International Competition in Verona, one of the world's most important contests, open only to first-prize winners of other major competitions.
In 1986, Sumi Jo made her European operatic debut as Gilda in Verdi's Rigoletto at the Teatro Comunale Giuseppe Verdi in Trieste. This debut performance attracted the attention of Herbert von Karajan, who proceeded to cast her as Oscar in Un ballo in maschera opposite Plácido Domingo at the Salzburg Festival in 1987. In 1988, Jo made her La Scala debut as Thetis in Jommelli's Fetonte. That same year she also made her debut with the Bavarian State Opera and sang Barbarina in The Marriage of Figaro at the Salzburg Festival. In 1989, Jo made her debut with the Wiener Staatsoper and returned to the Salzburg Festival to sing Oscar in Verdi's Un ballo in maschera. That same year, she made her debut with the Metropolitan Opera, once again portraying Gilda in Rigoletto. Jo would later reprise this role numerous times with the Met over the next 15 years.
In 1990, Sumi Jo made her debut with the Chicago Lyric Opera as the Queen of the Night in W.A. Mozart's The Magic Flute. The following year, she returned to the Metropolitan Opera for another performance as Oscar in Un ballo in maschera and made her Royal Opera at Covent Garden debut as Olympia in The Tales of Hoffmann. She returned to Covent Garden the next year to sing both Adina in L'elisir d'amore and Elvira in I puritani. In 1993, she appeared in the title role of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor with the Metropolitan Opera and sang the role of the Queen of the Night at both the Salzburg Festival and Covent Garden. The following year she made her debut with Los Angeles Opera as Sophie in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier. In 1995 she sang the role of Countess Adèle in Le comte Ory at the Aix-en-Provence Festival.
Over the next decade Sumi Jo maintained a busy schedule, singing Lucia in Strasbourg, Barcelona, Berlin, and Paris; La sonnambula in Brussels and Santiago, Chile; I Capuleti e i Montecchi with Minnesota Opera; Olympia in New York; Rosina in New York; the Queen of the Night in Los Angeles; Gilda in Bilbao, Oviedo, Bologna, Trieste, and Detroit among others; Il turco in Italia in Spain; L'enfant et les sortilèges in Boston and Pittsburgh; Le comte Ory in Rome; and Dinorah in New York. She also appeared in performances at the Théâtre du Châtelet, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Opéra National de Paris, Washington Opera, the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Opera Australia, and the Teatro Colón.
In addition, she appeared with numerous symphony orchestras in concert, including the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Wiener Philharmoniker, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, and Hollywood Bowl Orchestra among others. Her work led her to sing under such conductors as Sir Georg Solti, Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel, James Levine, Kent Nagano, and Richard Bonynge. She also gave recitals throughout Europe, the USA, Canada, and Australia.
In 2007, Sumi Jo performed her first Violetta in La traviata with the Toulon Opera and in the 2008-2009 season she was scheduled to perform the role of Zerline in Fra Diavolo at both the Opera Comique and Opéra Royal de Wallonie.
Sumi Jo currently has 50 recordings to her credit, including ten solo albums for Erato, French division of Warner Classic. These recordings include complete operas, oratorio, operetta, orchestral works and Broadway standards. Notable recordings include Grammy Award winning Die Frau ohne Schatten with Sir Georg Solti for the London/Decca label and Un ballo in maschera for Deutsche Grammophon under Herbert von Karajan. She provided a vocalise for the soundtrack of 1999 film The Ninth Gate, composed by Wojciech Kilar. The main theme of this film is based on a piece by Camille Saint-Saëns. Sumi Jo recorded a cover version of the title song of Andrew Lloyd Webber's 2010 musical Love Never Dies.
Her awards and honours include: in 2002 she sang at the World Cup in Seoul, Korea; in 2003 she she was elected as an "Artist for Peace" of UNESCO; in 2008 she she received the international Puccini Award; in 2008 she she sang at the International Olympic Games in Beijing.