Karim Sulayman

The GRAMMY®-winning Lebanese-American tenor Karim Sulayman has garnered international attention as a sophisticated and versatile artist, consistently praised for his sensitive and intelligent musicianship, riveting stage presence, and beautiful voice. Sulayman regularly performs on the world’s stages in orchestral concerts and opera, as well as in recital and chamber music, while forging a standout path in the music of the Italian Baroque.

Highlights this season include his debut at Stockholm’s Drottningholms Slottsteater as Claudio Monteverdi in the world premiere of Syskonen i Mantua, his role debut as Nerone in Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea with Florentine Opera, and concerts of Frank London’s “Ghetto Songs” at Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie and at Teatro Goldoni in Venice. Last season, he made his Australian debut as Testo in Monteverdi’s Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, his debut with the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center in Messiah, his title role debut in Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo with Apollo’s Fire on a US national tour, and his Chicago Symphony Orchestra debut in Bernstein’s Mass.

In 2017, he created the role of Albert in the world premiere of Laura Kaminsky’s Some Light Emerges for Houston Grand Opera. He has also appeared with Boston Lyric Opera, Chicago Opera Theater and New York City Opera. Other highlights include appearances at Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, the International Bach Festival, and the Aldeburgh Festival, and collaborations with such conductors as Harry Bicket, Marin Alsop, Jane Glover, Helmuth Rilling, Yves Abel and Robert Spano. As a passionate advocate of new music, he has performed world premieres at Carnegie Hall, the Casals Festival and the Aspen Music Festival.

A dedicated chamber musician, Sulayman was a frequent participant at the Marlboro Music Festival under the direction of and in collaboration with pianists Mitsuko Uchida and Richard Goode. He has since been presented by many leading chamber music festivals and in 2017, he appeared in concerts of French chamber works at the Roman River Festival in the UK which were recorded and aired by BBC Radio 3.

His growing discography includes his debut solo album, Songs of Orpheus, which was released in April 2018 to international acclaim on the AVIE label. Named “Critic’s Choice” by Opera News, and praised for his “lucid, velvety tenor and pop-star charisma” by BBC Music Magazine, the album debuted at #5 on the Billboard Traditional Classical Chart and #3 on the iTunes Classical Chart, and was recently nominated for the GRAMMY® Award for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album. He has also recorded the title role in Handel’s Acis and Galateawith Mercury Baroque, two releases for NAXOS in works of Grétry and Philidor, Apollo’s Fire’s Sephardic Journey on AVIE, and an album of 21st-century chamber works, Piercing are the Darts, on the Furious Artisans label. He is also featured in the ARTE documentary Leonard Bernstein – A Genius Divided, which premiered throughout Europe in the summer of 2018 and will subsequently be released on DVD.

A native of Chicago, Karim’s musical education began with violin studies at age 3.  He spent years as a boy alto the Chicago Children’s Choir and was hand selected by Sir Georg Solti and Leonard Slatkin as a soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the St. Louis Symphony.  He graduated with highest honors from the Eastman School of Music where he worked in the Collegium Musicum under the tutelage of Paul O’Dette, and earned a Masters degree from Rice University.  He later moved to Paris, France where he studied with renowned tenor/haute-contre, Howard Crook.  He also studied improvisation at the Second City Training Center in Chicago.

Additionally, Karim created a social experiment/performance art piece called I Trust You, designed to build bridges in a divided political climate. A video version of this experiment went “viral” on the internet, and was honored as a prizewinner in the My Hero Film Festival. He has been invited to give talks and hold open forums with student and adult groups about inclusion, empathy, healing from racism, and activism through the arts.

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Current & Upcoming Performances

Ghetto Song
Frank London Ensemble
Hamburg, Germany
Ghetto Songs
Frank London Ensemble
Venice, Italy
Teatro Goldoni

Past Performances

L'incoronazione di Poppea
Florentine Opera
Milwaukee, WI
The Wilson Theater at Vogel Hall
Music by Handel, Schumann, Britten, Vaughan Williams, Clara Schumann and Brahms
Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective
Cambridge, UK
Kettle's Yard
La Belle Epoque
Navarra String Quartet
West Sussex, UK
Champs Hill

As Orfeo in Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo (US National Tour)
For a considerable portion of the opera’s two-and-a-half-hour length, Karim Sulayman (Orfeo) was singing, at first rapturous in his wedding with the love of his life, Euridice, then plunging to shocked despair when she suddenly dies and is taken off to the Underworld. The tenor was inexhaustible, singing with as much — if not more — beauty late in the opera as he did early on. Every nook and cranny of Orfeo’s radiance, terror, and depression was explored vocally, with Sulayman’s voice tenderly cradled by the flexible continuo. Intimate and confessional, even in the 500-seat venue of Kulas Hall on the campus of the Cleveland Institute of Music, the performance brought humanity to the venerable myth. – Mark S. Jordan, Seen and Heard International

The role of Orfeo is central to the opera – Euridice, who dies as the second act is just getting underway, has far less to do – and tenor Karim Sulayman was so good, he threatened to turn the production into a one-man show. His tone has refined itself over the years to a silken sheen, and his expressiveness, both vocal and dramatic, was impressively intense, whether consumed by ecstasy at his marriage with Euridice or wrapped in despair at her untimely death. – Mark Satola, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Karim Sulayman’s multifaceted Orfeo was breathtaking. His light and engaging tenor fully embodied the character as boyishly enchanted, stricken, determined to the depths of hell, and then riven with irretrievable loss — all over the course of two hours.” – David Kulma, ClevelandClassical.com “Cast as Orfeo, Karim Sulayman is uncannily well-suited to the role, with his clear, delicate, high-ranging voice and commanding stage presence. – Ann Arbor Observer

Karim Sulayman was a moving and physically expressive Orfeo, very much in love with the poised Euridice of Erica Schuller. – Lisa Hirsch, San Francisco Classical Voice

As Testo in Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (Sydney and Melbourne, Australia)
Sulayman all but stole the show in this scene. He was also a strong presence as the narrator for the other Monteverdi work, the dramatic and warlike Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. – Steve Moffatt, The Daily Telegraph

Doing the lion’s share of the singing was Sulayman as Testo. His intense stage presence and instinctive feel for the text made him the night’s most engaging performer. His finely judged balance of speech and floated singing was a highlight.” – Justine Nguyen, Limelight Magazine “Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda… with Sulayman proving a very gifted narrator, using his light and lucid voice to excellent dramatic effect. – Shamistha de Soysa, www.SoundsLikeSydney.com.au

For Il combattimento, most of the emphasis fell on Sulayman’s Narrator who surged through Tasso’s lines with requisite fire and dramatic emphasis – in line with the composer’s directions and his music’s illustrative character. But the single-voice experience didn’t pall, thanks to this singer’s vocal vim and textual assurance. – Clive O’Connell, www.oconnellthemusic.com

Though skilled they were, I was particularly drawn to tenor Karim Sulayman whose sustained phrases in Il combattimento were chilling. Yet his stage presence is what made him so exceptionally compelling. While others erred on the edge of over-dramatic, Sulayman was convincingly helpless and affected the narrator whose curse is to see all, but never intervene. In Coffee Cantata, he struck that careful balance between the farcical and caricature which is the stuff of good satire. – www.weekendnotes.com

As Tabarco on Almira (New York City)
The bright-voiced, animated tenor Karim Sulayman stole every scene he was in as the comic Tabarco, Fernando’s servant. – Anthony Tomassini, The New York Times

Happily, Karim Sulayman’s Tabarco was one of the evening’s highlights; no aging, nearly voiceless character-tenor, Sulayman combined a richly agile voice with a loose-limbed comic flair that never threatened to go over the top. – Christopher Corwin, Parterre Box

Karim Sulayman, who specializes in wisecracking servants had more fun than anybody; plot shenanigans never unsettle his enjoyable light tenor. – John Yohalem, Opera Today

Other Selected Reviews
The vocal star of the evening, however, was Sulayman, whose subtle and wide-ranging tenor voice was marvelous throughout, but took flight in the anguished “So sweet is the torment,” an almost folk-like setting of words by Carlo Milanuzzi. The acclaim that followed Sulayman’s finely shaded performance had an extra measure of appreciation, which made the singer almost blush. – Mark Satola, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

So began a run of fine singing throughout the cast that continued to the final note. Karim Sulayman and Joseph Gaines were standouts as Eumete and Iro. – George Grella, New York Classical Review

Karim Sulayman, in Gypsy drag and at one point waving a sex toy, demonstrated apt comedic gifts as a campy Delfa – Vivien Schweitzer, The New York Times

Karim Sulayman’s stylish Delfa was a vocal standout. – Christopher Corwin, Parterre Box

Karim Sulayman who, in drag, played the role of Delfa, Medea’s nurse, smoothly slipping from tenor to haute-contre territory and back. – Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, The New York Classical Review

Tenor Karim Sulayman sang Acis with clean, clear sound and earnest intensity. – Charles Ward, The Houston Chronicle

The Marlboro première of Vaughan Williams’s Merciless Beauty featured the lyrical, expressive tenor of Karim Sulayman with Nikki Chooi and Ross, violins, and Bronwyn Banerdt, cello. It was followed by an equally marvelous Poulenc Sextet… Saturday’s concert was a mixed experience. Selections from Haydn’s Aus des Ramlers Lyrischer Blumenlese – Goode accompanying soprano Sarah Shafer, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano, Sulayman and baritone John Moore – were all new to me except ‘Der Greis’, I am ashamed to admit. They were unfailingly well done. – Tully Potter, www.classicalsource.com

In the very first recitative, the expressive tenor Karim Sulayman (singing, as did all the soloists, from memory) embodied the contrast between the salvation that Messiah was to bring—”Comfort ye,” he sang, with heart-piercing compassion—and the world’s “iniquity” that is in such need of salvation. – Nicholas Jones, Cleveland Classical

Tenor Karim Sulayman was as communicative molding tender phrases (“Comfort ye”) as he was uttering vehement statements (“Thou Shalt Break Them”). – Donald Rosenberg, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Tenor Karim Sulayman entranced the audience with his lyrical, focused and tender voice in arias and songs by Sacchini and James Hewitt. – Alexandra Simon, Seen and Heard International

But it is Hong’s Poppea and superb Karim Sulayman’s Arnalta that steal this show. Their duets and solos are blithe and witty, with Hong making Poppea a sensuously ambitious woman and Sulayman turning Arnalta into a one-woman comic foil. It helps that Arnalta gets some of the opera’s best lines, whether it be warning Poppea about falling into bed with an emperor, or giddily celebrating her own rise in stature as Poppea becomes Nero’s empress. Tall and unafraid to use his expressive face, Sulayman quickly became a crowd favorite. – Bret McCabe, Baltimore City Paper.