UH grad Warren Mok comes home to star in Don Carlo, the first time Hawaii Opera Theatre has staged Verdi’s classic, and reveals the ice cube trick he learned from Pavarotti.  Opera or accounting? It wasn’t a hard decision for

Friday - February 01, 2008
By Alice Keesing
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Warren Mok sings the role of Romeo and soprano Nathalie Manfrino is Juliet
Warren Mok sings the role of Romeo and soprano Nathalie Manfrino is Juliet in Romeo and Juliet with Opera Hong Kong, which Mok co-founded

Opera or accounting? It wasn’t a hard decision for Warren Mok. He was 18 years old and taking accounting classes at the University of Hawaii when a friend took him to see the Hawaii Opera Theatre production of La Boheme.

He swiftly jettisoned the accounting and set off in pursuit of a career in music.

These days his famed tenor is in demand around the world, yet his travels often bring him back to the Islands where it all began. This weekend he opens HOT’s season with the lead role in Don Carlo.

“I love being here,” Mok says as he walked backstage before rehearsals last weekend. “This is like my second home.”

Mok was born in Hong Kong, but moved to Hawaii with his family when he was in his late teens. Mok’s grandmother hails from Maui. It was in the early ‘80s when the aforementioned friend took him to see La Boheme.

“It was my first time seeing opera and I was really fascinated by it, I was like, ‘My god, the human voice can sing that loud without a microphone,’” he remembers.

“I also really loved the music. I was taking accounting classes then - I hated it, so good time for me to escape,” he grins. He headed straight for the music department, auditioned with voice professor John Mount and ended up with a scholarship.

His previous musical experience had been singing in the choir, which he dismisses with a wave of his theatrical hands as no experience at all.

Yet, despite the late start, Mok’s career has been a smooth one, something the jovial tenor attributes to good teachers, hard work and being in the right place at the right time.

Warren Mok and HOT artistic director Henry Akina go over the Don Carlo score
Warren Mok and HOT artistic director Henry Akina go over the Don Carlo score

After earning his bachelor’s in music at UH and his master’s at the Manhattan School of Music in New York, Mok traveled to Germany, where he joined more than 1,000 hopefuls in auditioning for Deutsche Oper Berlin’s young artist program. He was one of three chosen and, after one year, the company offered him a contract.

“I started really from the bottom, singing one line: ‘Hello, dinner’s ready!’ for a couple of years, three years, and then they offered me leading roles ... they told me, ‘Next week, you’re going to sing the Duke from Rigoletto. Can you go on without any rehearsal?’ Sure, I can do it! I was fully prepared because I sang in some other, smaller houses.”

It was in Berlin that Mok met and became friends with HOT artistic director Henry Akina, who was working at another opera house. They would get together to eat Chinese food and talk about their Island home.

In Germany, Mok also shared the stage with many great talents, the greatest of them being Luciano Pavarotti. Seven years earlier, Mok, a student, had paid $100 for the cheapest seat in the last row of the balcony to hear Pavarotti in a recital at the Blaisdell.

“When he opened his mouth, I almost dropped dead, it was so perfect, almost like a CD,” he remembers. So there he was, just


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