Before the Chunhyang Festival in Namwon (남원 춘향제전)

Once again in Namwon (남원), just a few days before this year’s Chunhyang Festival (춘향제) begins.

Gwanghan-ru (광한루)

Gwanghan-ru Park in Namwon (남원, 광한루원)

Six years ago, I had slept for hours in the small pavilion in Gwanghan-ru Park (광한루원) after a track on Jinri-san, today a performance with several acts at different places in the park was going on (the “Sunday Gwanghan-ru Park Gugak Stroll” / 일요광한루원국악산책). We moved along, towards the final songs, with an unexpected encore, then strolled around the grounds.

They were erecting the stage for the 87th Chunhyang Festival (제87회 춘향제), to take off in three days (May 3 – 7). The newly-built exhibition space featured some old records, translations of the Story of Chunhyang (kor. Chunhyang-jeon, 춘향전) from around the world (e.g. from Germany Der Oriol: Zwei Liebesgeschichten aus dem alten Korea, translated by Elisabeth Ackner, Leipzig 1951: Ruppert Verlag), and some interesting historical facts.

Translations of Chunhyang-jeon

Translations of Chunhyang-jeon

The Chunhyang Festival was held for the first time in 1931. The shrine dedicated to the heroine of this “national novel” had just been built and a ceremony (춘향제사) was held, until today the spiritual center of the festival. In 1974, the festival began a pansori contest and Jo Sang-hyeon (조상현) was the first winner (장원). Today, there is a contest for traditional music, a “Miss Chunhyang” beauty pageant (Seopyeonje-star Oh Jeong-hae [오정해] received the title in 1992, to my surprise), and many fringe acts all around the park and the riverside in front.

We didn’t see the famous portrait of Chunhyang by Kim Eun-ho (김은호, 1892–1979), modernist painter, whose portrait of the Chinese actor Mei Lanfang (梅蘭芳, 매란방 in Korean, 1894–1961) I had seen a few days ago at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul (국립현대미술관 서울관).

But while taking a walk through the mountains north of the river, I saw not only the Hampawoo Korean Music Experience Center (함파우소리체험관), where this year’s “Miss Chunhyang”s were rehearsing, but also the local Gugak Center and the Chunhyang Culture & Art Center (춘향문화예술회관). The photo exhibition I saw at the train station also included some pictures from last year’s festival. The way “national” pansori culture and local history, legend, and material culture (food!) merge in the event makes it an interesting object of study, as one example of contemporary pansori practice.

In any case, one sunny day in Namwon, with the hope of returning next year for the festival, finally.

– 30 April 2017 (日)

Hampawoo Korean Music Experience Center (함파우소리체험관)

Hampawoo Korean Music Experience Center (함파우소리체험관)

  • 김기형, 춘향제 80년사, 서울 2015: 민속원. (publisher, table of contents
  • Kim Gi-hyeong, The Eighty Year History of the Chunhyang Festival, Seoul 2015: Minsok-won.

About Jan Creutzenberg

Jan Creutzenberg, friend of theatre, music, and cinema, comments on his performative experiences in Seoul and elsewhere.
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