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[Herald Review] 'Chopin, Blue Note': Lyrical journey through theater, live music

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : Dec. 22, 2023 - 16:46

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A scene from “Chopin, Blue Note” (Sanwoollim) A scene from “Chopin, Blue Note” (Sanwoollim)

“What color could encapsulate the essence of your enigmatic music?” asks Sand.

“I don’t know. It is just faint strokes and shadows,” answers Chopin.

Amidst a pivotal moment of emotional revelation between Chopin and Sand, the backdrop of their confession becomes a stage where a pianist, in the quietude of the night, weaves the melodic tapestry of Nocturnes, Op. 9 No. 2. The lyrical notes permeate the small theater, and a warm, cerulean glow blankets the surroundings.

The scene is from “Chopin, Blue Note,” which kicked off on Dec. 14 at Sanwoollim, a theater in Mapo-gu, western Seoul.

This performance marks the 10th installment in the illustrious Sanwoollim concert series, a play incorporated with live music, that delves into the lives and compositions of classical maestros. The series previously celebrated the likes of Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann, Schubert, Brahms, and more since 2013.

Actor Ryu Young-bin plays Chopin in “Chopin, Blue Note.” (Yonhap) Actor Ryu Young-bin plays Chopin in “Chopin, Blue Note.” (Yonhap)

The 10th installment sheds light on Frederic Chopin, a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist of the Romantic period, who wrote primarily for solo piano.

In the play, French novelist George Sand, who was also Chopin’s longtime lover, describes him as someone who creates “an infinite language through the piano.”

"I've always wanted to delve into Chopin for quite some time, given the immense love he commands among the Korean audience and their profound interest," said director Lim Soo-hyun to a group of reporters, after a rehearsal that was open to the press on Dec. 14.

“His love affair with Sand was very interesting. I thought it would be difficult to depict Chopin's life without Sand,” Lim added.

A scene from “Chopin, Blue Note” (Yonhap) A scene from “Chopin, Blue Note” (Yonhap)

The narrative unfolds chronologically, capturing pivotal moments in Chopin's life -- the Polish–Russian War from 1830–31, his encounters with his lover, Sand, and the ensuing separation.

Chopin, played by Ryu Young-bin, reveals his innermost thoughts by reading letters, and Sand, played by Lee Da-hae, also takes on the role of the narrator.

The title, "Blue Note" draws inspiration from Sand's words in "Impressions and Souvenirs." Recounting an evening with Chopin and French artist Eugene Delacroix, where the three likened the tones of colors in painting to the sounds in music, Sand described Chopin's compositions: “Suddenly the note of blue sings out, and the transparent night of azure surrounds us.”

Shunji Hirota performs in “Chopin, Blue Note.” (Yonhap) Shunji Hirota performs in “Chopin, Blue Note.” (Yonhap)
Piotr Kupka performs in “Chopin, Blue Note.” (Yonhap) Piotr Kupka performs in “Chopin, Blue Note.” (Yonhap)

Live piano performances of nine of Chopin's compositions lead scene changes, adding emotional depth in each moment.

In the scene where Chopin shouts to the sky in frustration after hearing the news of the Polish–Russian war, the Etude in C Minor, Op. 10 No. 12, or the so-called "Revolutionary," is played under red lighting as if to represent Chopin's passionate feelings. In the part where Sand takes care of Chopin, who collapsed after being soaked in the rain, his affection is highlighted through Prelude, Op. 28, No. 15, also known as “Raindrop.”

"I find myself acting thinking how the play and music performance can harmonize seamlessly," said Ryu, the actor portraying Chopin.

Lee added, "While practicing my lines with music, I become more entranced by the melodies. Even when I am on the backstage, I can feel my heart race with the music. Also as a narrator, my role is to recount Chopin's life, and in doing so, I feel like I am sharing his emotions.”

From left, actors Lee Da-hae, Ryu Young-bin, pianists Shunji Hirota and Piotr Kupka pose for a group photo at Sanwoollim, a theater in Mapo-gu, western Seoul. (Sanwoollim) From left, actors Lee Da-hae, Ryu Young-bin, pianists Shunji Hirota and Piotr Kupka pose for a group photo at Sanwoollim, a theater in Mapo-gu, western Seoul. (Sanwoollim)

Accompanying the actors are pianists Shunji Hirota and Piotr Kupka, who have been with the Sanwoollim concert since its early years.

“It is a new experience to share the stage with actors,” said Hirota, a professor of piano at the University of Suwon. He has been with the Sanwoollim concert series since its inaugural edition in 2013.

“From the audience’s view, there aren't many opportunities to see both actors and musicians so closely and intimately, with such detailed proximity,” said Kupka, a professor at Ewha Womans University.

Polish pianist Kupka spoke about Chopin's life and music with deep affection.

"Chopin endured a lifetime of unhappiness (due to his poor health) except for his childhood in Poland. He was someone who found solace in dreams rather than reality," Kupka said.

"While an overarching sadness permeates his music, there are moments of joy interspersed. I hope the audience can feel those moments.”

“Chopin, Blue Note” runs until Dec. 31.