Pansori Live Online: Lim Hyeun-bin Performs in New York City

I don’t post many performance announcements, but this opportunity to see live pansori without actually being on location is just to good to be missed.

Pansori Singer Lim Hyeun-bin (임현빈), via Asia Society

Pansori Singer Lim Hyeun-bin (임현빈), via Asia Society

The Asia Society organises a series of Korean music events in New York City this April: The 2014 New York Korean Music Festival features two concerts (sanjo and pansori) and a symposium with experts flown in from Korea. The concerts will be streamed online, providing for two nice matinees here in Korea—Friday (April 11) and Saturday (April 12) night, 8 pm local (Eastern) time would be Saturday and Sunday at 10 in the morning. The stream can be watched here. Of course, anyone currently in New York City can attend the performances in person. The symposium is free of charge.

Although I am restricting my dissertation on pansori in Korea, I’ve been interested in the ways Korean music is presented abroad for quite a while (might make a nice post-doc project, travelling the world…). Apart from two very short performances in Germany years ago that sparked my interest in pansori in the first place, I haven’t had the chance to see anything outside of Korea, at least not live. Although thousands of miles away and on a small screen, this time it will at least be in real-time.

Performance theorists might argue that virtually shared time is not a sufficient condition for co-presence, still I’m looking forward to hear Lim Hyeun-bin (임현빈) performing “an epic tale of sacrifice and love”! This sounds like Chunhyang-ga or possibly Simcheong-ga. It could also be Sugung-ga, which Lim performed at the Jeonju Int. Sori Featival last year and the year before (unfortunately I couldn’t see neither one of the performances).

This video from the 38th Chunhyang Korea Classsical Music Competition (제38회 춘향국악대전) in 2011 shows that he is also well-versed in Simcheong-ga. Back then, Lim won the President’s Prize (대통령상), the highest award possible for a pansori singer. His performance sounds promising to say the least:

Thanks to Hilary Finchum-Sung (who will also speak give a lecture in the symposium and introduce the sanjo performance) for sharing this event on Facebook.

– 12 April 2014 (土)

Posted in Upcoming Performance | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Recent Experiments in Ch’anggŭk: The National Repertory Season 2012-13

In a few days, on Saturday, March 15, I will present some thoughts on recent ch’anggŭk productions at the Royal Asiatic Society Colloquium in Korean Studies. It is the fourth meeting of the colloquium and since last winter this monthly event has become a forum for all kinds of discussions, ranging from Korean history and politics to questions of translation or the future of North Korea. My presentation will focus on five recent productions of the National Changgeuk Company of Korea (국립창극단), a resident company at the National Theater of Korea (NTOK, 국립극장).

Here, I will provide some additional material (mostly through links) that relate to the topic, for everyone who wants to dig deeper into the interesting past, present, and future of ch’anggŭk. I decided to simply make a list of various sources that I used in preparing the paper. But first my abstract:

Jan Creutzenberg (Free University Berlin)

Recent Experiments in Ch’anggŭk: The National Repertory Season 2012-13

The history of ch’anggŭk, a staged version of the traditional Korean art of storytelling p’ansori, is a series of experiments. Born in the early 20th century out of the colonial encounter between traditionally trained p’ansori singers and modern influences from Japan, China and the West, this “hybrid” genre has been in search of its identity ever since.

Since its foundation in 1962, the National Changgeuk Company of Korea (NCCK, Kungnip Ch’anggŭk-tan), a resident ensemble at the National Theater, has been at the forefront of this project – the “establishment” (chŏngnip) of ch’anggŭk as a “Korean traditional opera”. While numerous approaches have been tried before, the “National Repertory Season 2012-13” marks a new peak in experimental approaches towards ch’anggŭk, with guest directors, adaptations of non-canonical material, and forays into other genres.

This paper discusses the five main productions of the season in order to establish current directions in conceptualizing, staging, and promoting ch’anggŭk. Navigating between traditional music and Western theatre, popular genres and high art, notions of “Korean-ness” and universality, ch’anggŭk draws on a variety of means (stories, music, stage design, costumes etc.) to attract new audiences – with varying effects. A closer look at this “traditionesque” genre casts a spotlight on the cultural landscape of Korea and the global aspirations of a post-colonial society in transformation.

A brief introduction to ch’anggŭk

First some self-promotion: This is a blogpost I wrote back in 2010, after seeing the ch’anggŭk production Cheong (청) at the National Theater. I just noticed that most of the linked images have been removed from their original sites, but a Google-search for “국립창극단 청” should bring up many images that give a better impression of the performance.

Information on the productions to be discussed

These are the basics, a click on the title brings up more detailed information on the NTOK homepage.

  • 수궁가 (Mr. Rabbit and the Dragon King), directed by Achim Freyer, Sept. 2012 [the piece premiered one year earlier, in fall 2011, and was also shown in Wuppertal, Germany, around Christmas 2011]
  • 장화홍련 (Janghwa and Hongreyon), directed by Han T’ae-suk, Nov. 2012
  • 배비장전 (Baebijang and Aerang), directed by Yi Pyŏng-hun, Dec. 2012
  • 서편제 (Seopyeonje), directed by Yun Ho-jin, March 2013
  • 메디아 (Medea), Sŏ Chae-hyŏng, May 2013

You can find some basic information on two productions that I will not discuss although they feature ch’anggŭk (because I couldn’t see them myself, unfortunately): A “total theatre” on folk painter Kim Hong Do that includes members of the various resident ensembles at the National Theater, and a children’s production on transgender issues (!) based on the Korean movie Like a Virgin (천하장사 마돈나, 2006).

NTOK magazine “미르”

The official monthly magazine of the NTOK (국립극장 월간 <미르>) provides much information on current performances, interviews with the production team and also guest reviews (I wrote one myself on Medea, see below). The magazine is also available as a free pdf-download. Don’t worry if downloading takes a while – some issues do not take more than 10MB, but some are over 100MB (don’t ask me why).

This is a compilation of articles related to the productions discussed (format: [author,] title, issue, page):


  • 독일 언론 격찬 끌어낸‘말하는 듯한 가창법’| 이용숙, 미르 08–2012, 16
  • 아주 독창적인‘판소리 오페라’| 박성환, 미르 09–2012, 8
  • 충돌 그리고 새로운 시작 | 남인우, 미르 10–2012, 36


  • 심재찬, 극단적 선택에 몰린 인간 본성을 응시하다, 미르 10–2012, 14
  • 김주연, 이 비극 앞에서 누구도 결백할 수 없다 한태숙 연출 ·정복근 작가 대담, 미르 11–2012, 6
  • 황혜진, ‘근친애’해석의 새 지평 연 <장화, 홍련>. 고전을 가슴 속에 품기, 미르 11–2012, 44
  • 심연의 괴물을 들여다보라. 다시는 침몰하지 않기 위해 고연옥 국립창극단 <장화홍련>, 미르 01–2013, 42


  • 오은희, 잃어버린 판소리 일곱 바탕 프로젝트의 시작, 미르 11–2012, 18
  • 송미경, 개콘보다 재미있는 캐릭터 열전, 미르 12–2012, 10
  • 김향, 세련된 아니리와 화려한 발림으로 부활하다, 미르 01–2013, 52


  • 김일송, 인문학으로 보는 국립레퍼토리시즌: 서편제, 요약본도 번역본도 아닌 또 하나의 원본, 미르 02–2013, 34
  • 조화연, 윤호진 연출 인터뷰; 김명화 작가 인터뷰; 안숙선 인터뷰, 미르 03–2013, 6
  • 이서정, 국립극장 SNS ‘N통이’가 전하는 <서편제> 제작일지, 미르 03–2013, 12
  • 장르별로 보는 서편제, 미르 03–2013, 14
  • 김은정, 명장면으로 다시 보는 <서편제> 이주미 창극나무에 소리새 찾아왔네, 미르 05–2013, 44


  • 김헌, 인문학으로 보는 국립레퍼토리시즌 인간본성의 극한 실험, 에우리피데스의 메데이아
    미르 03–2013, 37
  • 이경미, 에우리피데스의 고대 비극 <메디아> 왜다시고전인가? 고전, 현대를 보는 타자의 시선, 미르 05–2013, 6
  • 김주연, 비극의 파토스와 한(恨)의 정서가 만나는 지점: 한아름 작가, 서재형 연출 인터뷰, 미르 05–2013, 8
  • 황호준, 나는어떻게<메디아>의음악을만들었나, 작곡 노트, 미르 05–2013, 14
  • 다양한 버전의 <메디아>: 원전에 충실한 오페라·영화, 원전을 패러디한 소설·연극, 미르 05–2013, 16
  • 임수연, 복수는 나의 것, 미르 07–2013, 46
  • 이안 코이츤베악, 외국인의 시선으로 본 창극 <메디아> , 미르 07–2013, 46

Press Material

The NTOK homepage also offers press material for download. These are Hangul-files (reader for Windows or Mac) that include all important data on the productions, including bios of the major roles, producers etc. Much of this information also appears in the pamphlets that are for sale before performances and the magazine 미르.

Recent literature on ch’anggŭk

The most up-to-date major work on ch’anggŭk is actually published in English! Andrew Killick’s In Search of Korean Traditional Opera (2010) is a great read and a good start. (If you go to the publisher’s homepage, you can get a preview of the introduction under “Table of Contents”.) The second major work (that Killick also draws on a lot) is Han’guk Ch’anggŭk-sa Yŏn’gu by Paek Hyŏn-mi (“History of Korean Ch’anggŭk”, 1997; 백현미, 한국 창극사 연구), which is, as the title indicates, a trip through the history of ch’anggŭk, that is the 20th century, from pre-colonial times to globalization.

  • Andrew Killick, In Search of Korean Traditional Opera: Discourses of Ch’anggŭk, University of Hawai’i Press, 2010.
  • 백현미, 한국 창극사 연구 (The History of Korean Ch’anggŭk), 태학사, 1997.

There are also many other research papers in Korean on ch’anggŭk. Apart from Killick and Paek, prolific authors include Yu Yŏng-dae (유영대, former artistic director of the NCCK) and Kim Hyang (김향). This list is by no means exhaustive and I couldn’t access everything I listed. If you search for something specific, a quick RISS-search with more specific keywords often helps to locate papers and dissertations. In any case, articles from the journal P’ansori Yŏn’gu (판소리 연구, published by the 판소리학회) is available for free as pdf-download on the association’s homepage – a great resource for anyone interested in p’ansori, too, obviously.

Official sites of the NTOK

Besides its official homepage (also a slimmed-down English version), the NTOK also has a blog, a Facebook site, a Twitter account, and a Youtube channel. On Youtube, you won’t find longer excerpts from their productions, but some interesting promotion videos and short interviews. The NTOK also offers an online archive on their productions, which unfortunately doesn’t feature more recent works and should be updated. Still a well-meant effort and hopefully still in action…

That’s it for now (more to come, if I find something new). If you know any other interesting resources for research on ch’anggŭk (or on other kinds of Korean theatre, music, dance etc.), please leave comment.

– 15 March 2014 (土)

Posted in Academia, Changgeuk | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Unexpected Pansori Joy with Asiana

Kumho Asiana Tower (Jeongno)I didn’t expect very much when I arrived at the Kumho Asiana Main Tower on Jeongno. The airline obviously used the first “Day of Culture” (문화가 있는 날, from now on every last Wednesday of the month), an initiative by the Presidential Committe for Cultural Enrichment (문화융성위원회) and the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (문화체육관광부) to polish their image as a sponsort of art and culture.

Most attendants were employees of Asiana or other companies in the area. As one of the few foreigners, I was ushered to the front, despite my protest. Actually, I was more interested in the reactions of the corporate audience than the performance, which would be easier to see from the back. The event was targeted mostly at “salarymen” (and women, of course) on their way home (the pamphlet suggests: “바쁜 퇴근길, 음악공연과 함께 점시 여유를 즐겨보세요.”), an interesting setting for pansori, I had thought. Now I was really close to the stage, but the virtually hundreds of other spectators behind me were out sight.

The “Hammering Man” (by Jonathan Borofsky) as a backdrop was nice, but the first song—a ballad-style version of the pansori-classic “Ssukdaemeori” (쑥대머리), with a mellow ballad-style piano recording as back-up—made me wish I hadn’t come.

From then on, things could only get better. And they did! After the abominable start, pansori singer 정세연 regained my respect with a great performance of a part from Heungbo-ga. Here “Don-taryeong” (돈타령, “Money Song”) was a blast

Then another young singer, 서어진, who I knew from Taroo’s “Tradition Project”, came onto the stage and blew us away with his strong, loud, rough and raw voice. He sung the finale of Simcheong-ga and kind of subverted the situation by immediately sitting down, reducing his audience to a few people out of some hundred. People around me started to chat until he rose again and, maybe slightly overacting, lead the piece to its end.

Seo Eo-jin, Simcheong-ga

There is much to say about this one-hour show and I will do so in my dissertation… just to name a few highlights:

  • the classic “Sarang-ga” (“Love Song”) sung by the two—the final “kiss behind the fan” seems to have become a standard for this particularly popular scene;
  • the organisor of the event being asked on stage to sing “Sarang-ga” along with the performers and—being obviously well-prepared, maybe an amateur singer?—surprising everyone with a great performance;

organisor singing sarang-ga

  • the CEO of Asiana asking for a (second) encore by calling “재소리!” (roughly translated, “continue to sing!”) and was joined by many spectators;

CEO asking for encore

  • the final “Jindo Arirang”, likewise a classic encore, with verses from all three performers, that is, also from the drummer (!)—this piece is a real classic encore in pansori (even though it is not pansori) and although I have seen it many times (and tried to sing it myself on some occasions) it was quite moving, especially seeing the Asiana staff in the right block (obviously here “on duty”), singing and moving along.

the drummer singing a verse of jindo arirang

There is more to come (every last Wednesday, 6.15) and for anyone working in that area it might be a nice (and free) treat once in a while. It’s not always gugak, next time there will be a classical ensemble.

– 26 Feb. 2014 (水)

  • 금호아시아나 문화가 있는 날 로비음악회, 소리꾼: 소리꾼: 정세연, 서어진, 고수: 김평석, 금호아시아나 본관 1층, 2014년 2월 26일 (수), 오시 6.15 ~ 7.15, 무료입장.
  • Kumho Asiana Day of Culture Lobby Concert, pansori singers: Jeong Se-yeon and Seo Eo-jin, drummer: Kim Pyeong-seok, Kumho Asiana Tower, 1st floor, 2014-02-26 (Wed.), 6.15-7.15pm, free entrance.
Posted in Pansori, Performance Report | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Drama, Theatre, and the Korean Shakespeare

Last Christmas, Charles Montgomery of the blog “Korean Literature in Translation” wrote a short but thought-provoking post on the role of drama (i.e. dramatic literature) in Korea. Referencing a paper by Chan E. Park and the Wikipedia-entry on “Korean Theatre”, he threw up some quite provocative questions that I gave some thoughts over the holidays:

What is the public recognition/importance of drama in Korea?

So why is drama, apparently, not that important in literature?

So, is it safe to say that dramatic theater is essentially an import, that hasn’t really impacted the larger culture?

My answer, originally intended to be a short comment, grew longer and longer. Here is what I came up with:

First of all, I think the distinction between theatre (=performance) and drama (=literature) that Chan E. Park makes is essential.

I begin with drama: I agree that drama is not that important in (Korean) literature. But isn’t that the same anywhere? Except for a handful of classics like Shakespeare or Goethe (authors whose works we read mostly at school or college), drama doesn’t really play such a big role once we leave the theatre, does it? How many dramatists in the fullest sense are there, that are not hired by theatres, either by direct commission or through contests, resideny programs and the like? At least that’s how I see it in Germany, and I think the situation in Korea is similar. (Anyway, there are many quite prolific Korean dramatists, you can find a list of some recent anthologies of translated Korean drama on my blog. Of the listed works, I liked “O Chang-gun’s Toenail” by Pak Choyeol very much.)

The close relation between dramatic writing and theatre practice is not surprising and hardly a modern phenomenon: Shakespeare wrote for the actors, not for the book shelf, Brecht had his own ensemble (and uncredited co-writing team), and the Greeks were directors of their own plays. In Korea, too, many (if not most) of the famous playwrights are also practitioners, such as Lee Yun-taek (이윤택) and “his” Street Theater Troupe (연희단거리패), Oh Tae-sok (오태석) and the Mokhwa Company (극단목화). Or Yu Chijin (유치진, 1905–74), maybe the most famous modern Korean dramatist who wrote plays since the colonial period and became the first director of the National Theater after World War 2.

In sum, I’d say that drama as a literary genre is not less important in Korea than in other countries. In fact I was quite surprised how many editions of contemporary drama are available here. Even at the rather small (though well equipped) Hongik Mungo they had multi-volume editions of the works of Lee, Oh and others. I’m not sure about other countries, but in Germany you would be rather lucky to find any current drama in a store of similar size (that is, of a living author – of course there’d be Brecht & Co).

Now theatre: Is it unimportant in Korea, as the short Wikipedia-entry might suggest? No, not at all! Whoever has seen the bustling crowds in Daehangno would agree – maybe the audiences just use other online sites (there are many, many blogs of happy theatre-goers, including the obligatory ticket shot). Of course, there is much less non-Korean research on Korean theatre than, say, on Korean music, literature, or cinema.

But isn’t dramatic theatre “essentially an import, that hasn’t really impacted the larger culture”? In my opinion: Yes and no. Of course, many of the pieces performed by high profile ensembles are Western plays or, more precisely, Western classics. But it’s been a while since the first Western plays were performed in Korea in the early 20th century – surprisingly, also quite a lot of works contemporary at that time, such as Expressionist dramas from Germany. I don’t see a reason to consider dramatic theatre a Western thing per se. (Interestingly, in Korean there is a distinction between “translated plays” 번역극 and “created plays” 창작극, the latter being plays written by Korean authors, thus without need for translation. See my older post on translated theatre.)

With that in mind, I think the question should be not that much about East & West, but more about old & new. In Germany, more than half (I’d guess about 60–70%) of all new theatre productions are classics (even if they are from the 20th century). In Korea, it’s probably more or less similar, though once again, I’d guess that in Korea you’d still find more new pieces by living authors than in Germany—that is, if you go beyond the National Theater or Seoul Arts Center.

Finally, I often read that there was no “theatre” in pre-modern Korea. Even if that refers to dramatic theatre (i.e. performances based on a written text), I think that’s not the whole story. True, pansori might be considered musical storytelling (although I think it makes more sense to think of it as monodrama), but there is also mask dance play and puppetry, both performing arts that feature spoken text. Being folk arts, the scripts wouldn’t necessarily have been written down and published until much later, but now you can get printed editions of these “Korean” dramas, too.

That being said, of course folk drama is different from upper class-literati theatre, same thing in the west (e.g. Christian passion plays, commedia dell’arte etc.). When talking about traditional theatre, Korean historians tend to focus on the folk arts, but there were also more “privileged” forms of theatre. Jungman Park, for example, wrote about “Gwolhui, a Theatre of the Confucian Students in the Chosun Dynasty” (in Asian Theatre Journal, vol. 28, no. 2, Fall 2011, available for subscribers at Project Muse).

To sum it up:

Theatre in Korea today? yes, and very important (I think). Drama in Korea today? yes. Important? Not so much. Theatre in Korea, earlier? yes, quite a lot, but much of it orally transmitted. Thus: Drama in Korea, earlier? yes, a bit…

Oh, and about the “Korean Shakespeare”: There is Shin Chaehyo, not a playwright, but an compiler-editor (and sponsor) of pansori in the mid–19th century. I wouldn’t call him “Korean Shakespeare”, but others do, maybe refering to the fact that Shakespeare, too, was creative “editor” of existing stories.

PS: Who is Orton?

– 29 Dec. 2013 (日)

Posted in Korean Drama, Spoken Theatre | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wagner and Korea (part2)

Ulk, Berlin 1876

Ulk, Berlin 1876

In the first part of my blogpost on the German composer who would have turned 200 years in 2013, I wrote about Wagner in Korea. Now, it’s time to turn to the relation of Wagner and Korea, that is how Korean scholars have connected Wagner’s ideas to traditional Korean music.

Remember: I discovered two recent papers that deal with “Wagner and Korea” in one way or another. The first one focused on content, namely the motive of incest in Wagner’s Ring-cycle and Park Chan-wook’s movie Oldboy.

The second one is about “intermediality in sound communication” in Wagner’s musical dramas and—this caught my attention—Korean pansori.[1] I didn’t exactly understand what the term “intermediality” (상호매체성) is supposed to mean, but it seems to refer to the peculiar way the different “media” (매체) of a given art “interfere and combine with each other” (서로 간섭하고 결합되면서…”, from the abstract). In the case of pansori, the author includes the literary work, the sounds produced by the singer, the beats by the drummer, and the chuimsae by drummer and audience. For Wagner’s operas, the media would be the written drama, the sound of the singers and the great orchestra, the acoustic characteristics of the performance space, the stage art, and the sound of the audience’s applause.[2]

As the result of his comparison, the author notes the “interculturality” (상호문화성), both in the sources of Wagner and pansori, that is based on the “‘archetypes’ [원형] unconsciously-collectively shared by humanity”. The globalisation of pansori (of course!) depends on getting into the dormant mindset of world-wide audiences. Through the voice and drum sounds of the Koreans, the author suggests, the universal human archetypes might be awakened. (For my rough translation/paraphrase, I used the respective paragraphs both from the Korean[3] and the German[4] abstract.)

But 김성재 was not the first to connect Wagner’s “Gesamtkunstwerk”[5] and pansori. Digging deeper, I found an MA thesis from 1994 that deals with Wagner and “traditional Korean dramatic music” (한국 전통 극음악), i.e. pansori.[6] Here, the author is concerned with the similarities and differences between these two forms of dramatic music, aiming for “the basic spirit and form of Western and Korean Music”.

Solely based on the English abstract, this very short thesis (merely 40 pages) looks like the work of a Wagner afficionado in search of a dissertation topic to me. Yet, it throws up an interesting question that remains open to debate: In which ways are the works of Wagner on the one hand, pansori on the other, representative of “Western” and “Korean” music, respectively? I don’t think they are—the musical traditions of both countries are too complex as that they could be reduced to the work of one single composer or one single genre, respectively. But both kinds of music/theatre have been used as symbols for respective national interests in various ways. How and if this worked and works is, at least with regard to pansori, an ongoing research topic for me.

In any case, the author seems to opt for changgeuk (창극, oversimplified: staged pansori) as a more “modern” way to show “the face of Korean Dramatic Music”. The kind of bizarre characterization of changgeuk as “the creative and civilized form of Pansori” aside, this opinion is shared by many scholars and practitioners of both genres. Others prefer different ways of “up-dating” pansori for contemporary (and, as above, international) audiences. I’m undecided on this matter.

In sum, both papers might be helpful footnotes in an analysis (one that has yet to be written, as far as I know) of the way changes in traditional Korean arts have been promoted and legitimized with reference to “Western” classics. Wagner is only one of them. Next year it might be someone else.[7]

On this note: A Happy New Year to Everyone! 새해복 많이 받으세요!

– 22 May 2013 (水)


1. 김성재, 「소리 커뮤니케이션에서의 상호매체성 : 바그너 오페라와 한국 판소리의 비교연구」 (“Intermedialiät in der Sound-Kommunikation: Eine vergleichende Studie von Musikdramen Wagners mit koreanischer Oper Pansori”), 문화예술교육연구, Vol.6 No.1 (2011). (RISS)

2. The Korean term for “sound of applause” (갈채소리) is quite peculiar, at least I have never read it before. The Naver dictionary renders 갈채 (喝采) as
“applause, (formal) ovation (함성); cheer (열렬한 환호); (formal) acclamation (칭찬, 호평); (formal) plaudits”. Naver’s hanja dictionary provides a more detailed interpretation: “The two Chinese characters that make up 갈채 mean 1. 喝 = 꾸짖을 갈 [to scold, rebuke]; 2. 采 = 풍채 채 [appearance, presence], alternatively 캘 채 [to dig up, lift].”
The term is explained further: Yelling with a loud voice to compliment or praise a person who has achieved some great thing or that act [of achievement] (1), also used in a metaphorical sense (2). This is the original: “①어떤 일을 훌륭하게 해낸 사람이나 그 행위(行爲)에 대(對)해, 칭찬(稱讚)ㆍ찬양(讚揚)의 뜻으로 큰소리를 지르는 것 ②때로, 대상(對象)을 칭찬(稱讚)하거나 찬양(讚揚)하는 것을 비유적(比喩的)으로 이르기도 함”
Reading these interpretations, 갈채 seems to be closer to 칭찬 (稱讚, compliment, lit. “designate and celebrate”) than 박수 (拍手, applause, lit. “striking hands”). Is the author implying a deeper structural connection between the
chuimsae in pansori and the notoriously epic applause in Bayreuth? As he tries to show an “intercultural” connection (based on unconsciously shared archetypes… See below in the main post) between Wagner’s music drama and pansori, it seems he wants to stress the meaning of the applause over its sheer materiality. This also strikes a chord with his focus on “sound-communication” (소리 커뮤니케이션). I’m more interested in the bodily effects of “cheering”, those that go beyond the expression of sympathy, though… Well, enough now for this 삼천포!

3. 판소리와 바그너 오페라와의 비교에서 확인된 상호문화성은 인류가 공유하고 있는 집단무의식으로서 ‘원형’이 음악을 위한 드라마의 소재로 사용된다는 사실이다. 판소리의 세계화는 판소리 특유의 상호매체성을 부각시키고, 한국인의 목소리와 북소리로 인류 보편적인 원형을 일깨우기 위해 세계 청중의 깊은 잠재 의식 구조 속으로 침투하는 데 그 성패가 달려 있다.

4. Bei der Vergleichung der Pansori mit Musikdramen Wagners läßt sich eine Interkulturalität feststellen, indem “Archetypen” im kollektiven Unterbewußtsein der Meschheit als Stoffe für die beiden Musikmeisterwerke verwendet werden. Neben der Betonung dieser Interkulturalität hängt die Globalisierung der Pansori davon ab, wie der koreanische Gesangs- und Trommelston in die tiefe Bewußtweinsstruktur der Weltzuhörer hineindringen kann, um das Unterbewußtsein der Menschheit zu erwecken.

5. Wikipedia gives sources for several possible translation of this loanword, e.g. “total work of art”, “ideal work of art”, “universal artwork”. In Korean, the terms 총체 예술 or 종합 예술 [작품] are common. Interestingly, the latter term is occasionally used to characterize pansori as a hybrid artform that incorporates poetry, narration, music, acting etc. For example, pansori-scholar Kim Dae-haeng, in his book on “Pansori Culture of Our Times” (김대행,『우리 시대의 판소리문화』, 역락출판사 2001, RISS), writes about the “synthetic structure” (종합예술적 구조) of pansori, referring to its literary and musical aspects. I remember that, at a concert, the MC called pansori a “total art” (종합예술) because it combines poetry, storytelling, and humor.

6. 정수연, 「R. Wagner 總體 藝術과 韓國 傳統 劇音樂 照明」 (R. Wagner 총체 예술과 한국 전통 극음악 조명 / A Study on R. Wagner General Arts and Korean Tradition Dramatic Music), 학위논문(석사), 경성대학교 대학원: 음악학과 1994, 44 p. (RISS)

7. This year, we had a guest appearance of pansori star Lee Jaram in a production of Danton’s Death (당통의 죽음), a play by Georg Büchner who was also born in 1813. How about a reform-changgeuk-version of Orfeo ed Euridice (오르페오와 에우리디체) by Christoph Willibald Gluck (300th birthday)? Here is the libretto! Or if you prefer the Marquis de Sade (1740–1814)…

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Wagner in Korea (part1)

Die Zukunftsmusik, Vanity Fair, London 1877 via Wikimedia Commons

Vanity Fair (1877)

This year at work, one name would come up from time to time when I last expected it. I’m talking about Wagner. Yes, Richard Wagner, Anti-Semite Bayreuth-bound Composer of Deep and Epic Operas, would have had his 200th birthday this year.[1] That is, if he hadn’t died in 1883, the year of the first diplomatic contact between Korea and Germany aka 한-독수교 130 주년, another current jubilee!

I have to admit: I’m not his biggest fan. Since weeks of close-listening to Die Meistersinger in high school, I couldn’t care less about Wagner’s output. Until now, I have only seen one of his operas, The Flying Dutchman (Der fliegende Holländer), just before leaving for Seoul in early 2010.

© Theater Taptoe, photo: Neuköllner Oper via OpernBlog

© Theater Taptoe, photo: Neuköllner Oper via OpernBlog

The wonderfully minimalist production by the Belgian ensemble Theater Taptoe (that disbanded shortly afterwards) and the musicians of I Solisti del Vento was shown by Neuköllner Oper, Berlin’s fourth—and maybe most interesting—opera house. It featured a reduced ensemble, a four-man-choir, puppets, shadow play, and more stunning ideas to make this overly romantic tale digestible today.[2]

Incidentally (or not?), the Dutchman (방황하는 네덜란드인) was also the first of Wagner’s operas to be shown in Korea. I learned more about “Wagner’s premiere in Korea” when I translated an eponimous essay for the homepage of Goethe-Institut Korea. Written by Jeong Eun-suk (정은숙), former head of the Korea National Opera (국립오페라단) and leading lady in The Flying Dutchman, the text combines an introduction to the history of (Western) opera in Korea with memories of the Dutchman production from 1974. You find the Korean original and my German translation on the homepage of Goethe Institut Korea.[3]

On the occasion of Wagner’s bicentennial, several events took place in Korea. This video clip from Arirang News presents some of them.

Parsifal © Korea National Opera

Parsifal © Korea National Opera

The highlight was a production of Parsifal (파르지팔) by the Korea National Opera (국립오페라단) last fall.[4]

But why should I care about this hype?

Wagner’s operas are known as “musikdrama”[5]. Whatever you call it, opera is music theatre is theatre. While doing the translation, I got interested in how Wagner was received in Korea. Using the keywords “바그너” and “한국”, I made a brief check-up of academic literature at RISS—and was surprised when exactly 333 search results came up.[6]

Unsurprisingly, almost all texts deal with Wagner in general, in other words: without specific relation to Korea. There are two anthologies of short essays by the Korean Wagner Society, though, that might be of interest. They were published on the occasion of the society’s 10th[7] and 20th anniversary[8], respectively.

I couldn’t find find a single paper that explicitly analyzes productions of Wagner in Korea. This mirrors trends in studies on Brecht and other authors that were well-received in Korea.

However, I also stumbled upon two recent studies that draw very peculiar comparisons. Both are written by scholars with a background in German studies, as the translations of title and abstract indicate. The first paper compares the incest motive in Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen (니벨룽의 반지) and Park Chan-wook’s movie Oldboy (올드보이, 감독: 박찬욱). Interestingly, this article was published in the journal of the Korean Brecht Society (한국브레히트학회).[9]

But it was the second paper that caught my attention… Find out why in the upcoming second part of this post. It’s already written, just needs some more tweaking. So this is, finally, not an empty promise.

– 22 May 2013 ( 水)


  1. See an article by Ofer Aderet on the controversial legacy of Wagner (published in Haaretz, 23 May 2013).  ↩
  2. Find more information on the production here. See a German review at OpernBlog.  ↩
  3. My colleagues also produced a hilarious videoclip (here the Korean version) for the blog “My Personal Wagner”. In an interview (here the Korean original), Su-Cheol Cho (조수철), the current president of the Korean Wagner Society (한국바그너협회, also on Facebook) talks about his personal encounter with the “master” and his meaning in contemporary Korea.  ↩
  4. Find more information at Interpark and a review at the I Hear Voices-blog  ↩
  5. Wagner himself, though he admitted to having “reason to suppose that this term was invented for sake of honouring my later dramatic works with a distinctive classification”, had doubts about the merits of this term, which he elaborates on in an essay from 1872. See the English translation by William Ashton Ellis of “Über die Benennung ‘Musikdrama’” (“On the name ‘Musikdrama’”).  ↩
  6. To be exact, on Dec. 26th it was 18 dissertations, 99 papers, and 216 books. As usual, the majority was completely unrelated to what interested me, but…  ↩
  7. 『바그너와 나 : 창립 10주년 기념문집』, 서울 : 삶과 꿈, 2003, 310 p. (ISBN: 8975946169 03810, RISS)  ↩
  8. 『바그너와 우리 : 한국바그너협회 창립 20주년 및 바그너 탄생 200주년 기념 문집』 (“Wagner und wir”), 서울 : 삶과꿈, 2013, 288 p. (ISBN: 9788975947827 03810, RISS)  ↩
  9. 권혁준 (Hyuck Zoon Kwon), 「현대예술 및 문화 : 사회적 금기의 예술적 형상화 -바그너의 음악극『니벨룽의 반지』와 영화 『올드보이』에서의 “근친상간” 모티프 연구」 (Untersuchung zur Darstellung des Inzestmotivs in Wagners Ring des Nibelungen und im Film Old Boy), 브레히트와 현대연극, Vol. 23 (2010). (RISS)  ↩
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Congratulations: Taroo’s Gugak Musical Among Top Seven Performances of 2013

월간 한국연극-2013-12호-©-한국연극협회 via Facebook

한국연극 12호 © 한국연극협회

I bought my monthly issue of The Korean Theatre Review (한국연극) early this December. I was surprised to see one of my favorite pansori ensembles, the Gugak Musical Collective Taroo (국악뮤지컬집단 타루) on the cover. As I skimmed through the magazine, I found out why: Taroo’s production “하얀 눈썹 호랑이” (“White Eyebrowed Tiger”, see a video clip) is listed among the “2013 Best Seven Performances” (2013 공연베스트7) as the best children theatre (via Facebook)!

Congratulations to Taroo! I’ve been a big fan of the ensemble since I saw one of their performances for the first time in early 2012: “Pansori, Wearing Rainboots” (판소리, 레인부츠를 신다) is a potpourri of short pieces where one of the ensemble members performs pansori in combination with another art or medium, such as modern dance, acting, or video.

하얀 눈썹 호랑이 © 국악뮤지컬집단 타루

하얀 눈썹 호랑이 © 국악뮤지컬집단 타루

I have written about their very different performances on various occasions. See, for example, my reviews of their revival events “Taroo Tradition Project” (타루 전통Project!), classical pansori pieces performed in a hanok backyard in Bukchon (blogpost and review in English and Korean), the wonderful gugak musical Unhyeon Palace Romance (운현궁 로맨스) about the forbidden love between a prince and a pansori singer (Korean review), and the work-in-progress Hamlet-project (Korean review) that is suppposed to premiere next spring.

운현궁 로맨스 © 국악뮤지컬집단 타루

운현궁 로맨스 © 국악뮤지컬집단 타루

Is Taroo’s nomination by a major theatre magazine an indication of a new trend—gugak getting more acknowledged in the world of theatre? I checked the December issues of 2012 and 2011 and couldn’t find another gugak-related production.

Browsing through older “Best 7”-lists reaching back to 2006 (tables of contents of earlier issues can be found, for example at the 대전전자도서관, even without registering), I found the choices generally rather “conservative”. Well-established ensembles such as Lee Yun-taek’s Street Theatre Troupe (연희단거리패) or Son Jin-chaek’s Michoo Theater Company (극단미추) are regulars. Therefore, the nomination of a young gugak ensemble seems quite revolutionary!

Taroo’s Tiger premiered in December 2011 in the local cultural center of Eunpyeong-gu (은평문화예술회관). I saw a short excerpt at a double-bill performance of “tradition-meets-newcomers” at Folk Theatre Pungnyu (민속극장 풍류) on July 13th, 2012, where Taroo shared the stage with master singer Kim Su-yeon (김수연). Although Taroo performed the Tiger on various occasions during the last two years, I didn’t have a chance to see the full production yet. Fortunately, there are upcoming performances in January 2014 (see below for details).

황금용 © HANPAC

황금용 © HANPAC

This year’s “Best 7” also includes The Golden Dragon (황금용, 연출: 윤광진). The piece by German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig has been staged last spring in Daehangno, with translation support by the Goethe-Institut (that’s how I got my free ticket). I have written about the piece in an earlier blogpost.

Besides the Theatre Review’s “Best 7”, the other best-of list is the “This Year’s Theatre Best Three” (올해의 연극 베스트3) published in the quarterly The Korean Theatre Journal (연극평론, not available online, see a note in Hankyoreh). Once again, The Golden Dragon is listed.

나는 나의 아내다 © 두산아트센터

나는 나의 아내다 © 두산아트센터

Another production I personally liked a lot is among the Top 3: I Am My Own Wife (나는 나의 아내다), shown at Doosan Art Center last summer. I had coached actor Nam Myeong-nyeol (남명렬) for pronounciation, as the protagonist of this monodrama is German and occasionally throws in a line or two (see my short post on the rehearsals, there’s also a short clip of the piece performed by Nam’s double-cast Ji Hyeon-jun / 남현준 on Youtube).

A big “Congratulations!” to the actors, director Kang Yang won (강량원), dramaturg Kim Ki-ran (김기란), and the whole team. There will be a revival of I Am My Own Wife in December 2014, a great opportunity to once again see this hilarious and virtuous piece that tells the story of an extraordinary character on the background of recent German history.

– 3 Dec. 2013 (火)

  • 국악뮤지컬집단 타루의 <하얀 눈썹 호랑이>, 공연기간: 2014년 1월 6일 ~ 8일, 매일 오후 1시, 4시 (제10회 서울 아시테지 겨울축제), 공연장소: 대학로예술극장 소극장, 예술의전당 자유소극장, 관람료: 20,000원 (예매: Interpark)
  • Gugak Musical Collective Taroo, White Eyebrowed Tiger, on show from January 6th to 8th at 1 and 4 p.m. as part of the 10th ASSITEJ Korea Winter Festival, venue: Daehangno Arts Theatre (small stage), tickets at 20,000 Won (booking via Interpark)
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