Next month at the National Theater of Korea, two tragic tales of a country’s leader will be staged by two different public companies – the National Changgeuk Company and the National Opera of Korea.
One is Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’ and the other is ‘Prince Hodong’, a traditional Korean tale surrounding Prince Hodong of Goguryeo (from 37 BC to 668 AD).
It is no surprise that the National Changgeuk Company of Korea, which has a large repertoire of great Korean classics, has evolved into the traditional Korean opera known as changgeukstages “Prince Hodong”, while the National Opera of Korea, which has staged great operatic works such as “La Traviata” by Verdi, “La Bohème” by Puccini and “Samson et Dalia” by Saint-Saëns , depicts Shakespeare’s famous tragedy.
But it’s actually the other way around.
To celebrate its 60th anniversary, the National Opera of Korea is bringing back “Prince Hodong,” which the company created in 1962 to commemorate the establishment of the state-run opera troupe. It is sung in Korean because the story is based on the story of Prince Hodong and Princess of Nakrang in “Samguksagi” or “The Three States Chronicles”.
This story takes place during the reign of Daemunsin of Goguryeo, the father of Prince Hodong. Princess Nakrang falls in love with the handsome prince and the two get married. The prince tells his wife to destroy a sacred drum from his Nakrang kingdom called Jamyunggo and then he will truly regard her as his wife. For Nakrang, Jamyunggo was a mythical drum that protected his kingdom. Goguryeo had already been defeated by Nakrang after the drum alerted Nakrang’s army to the invasion. In the end, with the drum destroyed, Nakrang is attacked by Goguryeo and Choi Ri, the King of Nakrang kills his own daughter for betraying his own kingdom.
When the work premiered 60 years ago, it was well received by critics and audience members alike for its “solid structure and great music”. The Korea National Opera is trying to recreate this 2,000-year-old tale on stage, but this time the director plans to go back and forth between the true story and folk tales and add a modern twist.
“I wondered a lot whether it was better to restore this great classic work or to reinterpret the work to suggest something for the future. I thought a lot about how audiences at that time could hear the story and approach it,” said Han Seung-won, the director. “I came to the conclusion that if the work needs to be reinterpreted, there needs to be a clear reason. I tried very hard to express the emotions of today while drawing inspiration from the times of 2,000 years ago. I think the key is to make sure the audience feels and sympathizes with the emotions felt by the actors on stage who are expressing the emotions of the characters from 2,000 years ago.
Tenors Lee Seung-mook and Kim Dong-won will alternate the role of Prince Hodong while sopranos Park Hyun-joo and Kim Soon-young will alternate the role of Princess Nakrang. There will also be a narrator to tell the story on stage, which will be performed by Korean traditional singers Kim Mi-jin and Seo Eui-cheol. The show will take place on March 11 and 12 at the National Theater of Korea’s Haeoreum Theater in central Seoul, and will also be streamed online. It starts at 7:30 p.m. both nights.
As for the National Changgeuk Company, the famous tale of “King Lear” has been recreated as a traditional Korean changgeuk opera. It’s a new play written by playwright Bae Sam-sik, who wrote “Trojan Women,” which became one of the company’s hit repertoires after it premiered in 2016.
According to the company, the tragic life of a human being portrayed in Shakespeare’s original story is woven with the teachings of Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher, particularly his comparisons to life and water.
“Lao Tzu must have thought that life is unclear and cannot be judged easily. Naturally, water, which is the most important image in his philosophy, became the foundation of this work,” Bae said at a Feb. 23 press conference at the National Theater of Korea. “Shakespeare’s King Lear is also about the end of life we all want to avoid, but ultimately have to face. If you can sympathize and feel pity for such beings who have no choice but to eventually disappear from this world, this story will make enough sense.
Using Bae’s scenario, Pansori (traditional Korean narrative song) composer Han Seung-seok composed the lyrics for the singers while the music is written by Jung Jae-il. Han said he focused on creating sounds containing hate, madness, and ruins and used some parts of Gyeonggi. Minyo, or folk songs from the Gyeonggi area, to create them. Jung said he combined the sounds of traditional Korean and Western instruments using virtual musical instrument software to create a new type of sound for the upcoming work.
Famous pansori singer Kim Jun-su will play the role of Lear. He’s only 31, but director Jung Young-doo said, “After seeing Kim perform Lear during rehearsals, my doubts about his age are all gone and I’m sure audience members will feel the same. .”
The changgeuk version of “King Lear” will be presented at the Daloreum Theater of the National Theater of Korea from March 17 to 27.
BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [[email protected]]