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Shimcheong-ga returns as changgeuk for Chuseok

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : Sept. 24, 2023 - 13:01

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Members of the National Changgeuk Company of Korea rehearse a scene from Members of the National Changgeuk Company of Korea rehearse a scene from "Shimcheong-ga." (The National Theater of Korea)

The National Changgeuk Company of Korea, which recently premiered its modern take on traditional changgeuk performances in “Jeong-nyeon” and “The Merchants of Venice,” returns with a traditional Korean pansori, “Shimcheong-ga” for the Chuseok holiday.

The production is based on the classic Korean pansori and folktale of Sim Cheong, a young girl who makes a selfless sacrifice to the king of the underwater world in a desperate attempt to restore her blind father's sight.

The cast and creative team of “Shimcheong-ga” emphasized the importance of "sori," or singing, of pansori.

"Shimcheong-ga" (The National Theater of Korea)

“The most important thing is the ‘sori,’” director Sohn Jin-chaek told reporters after a rehearsal that was opened to the press, last week. "This work was created with the idea of producing the most delightful sounds.”

Changgeuk is akin to a Korean version of opera, and is derived from pansori, or Korea's traditional narrative singing form that is registered as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.

In traditional pansori, the performer typically stands alone on stage with a "gosu" or drummer, while in changgeuk, multiple performers take on various roles. In some cases, a "dochang" assumes the role of the narrator.

Director Sohn said, "We are not simply adding Korean elements to Western plays; Rather, we are reimagining pansori within the original framework of changgeuk."

Director Sohn Jin-chaek (second from right) speaks to the press after a rehearsal of Director Sohn Jin-chaek (second from right) speaks to the press after a rehearsal of "Shimcheong-ga" on Sept. 18. (The National Theater of Korea)

The changgeuk production of "Shimcheong-ga" premiered in 2018, as part of the company’s initiative to modernize the Five Pansori classics. While maintaining the basic pansori structure, the five-hour-long narrative song was condensed to approximately two hours with a focus on the key narratives. Sohn wrote the script and directed the changgeuk, while master pansori singer Ahn Sook-sun composed the music. Ahn also performed as the dochang in 2018.

Some parts of the pansori performance are transformed into choral pieces.

The stage design is minimal, only featuring wooden benches, chairs and walls to highlight the singing. Performers sometimes incorporate fans into their acts, using them as boatman's paddles during the ensemble performances.

"'Shimcheong-ga' represents pansori itself. The power of pansori is tremendous and I have incorporated choral elements to amplify that power,” said Sohn.

Members of the National Changgeuk Company of Korea rehearse a scene from Members of the National Changgeuk Company of Korea rehearse a scene from "Shimcheong-ga." (The National Theater of Korea)

Notably, the narrator-like "dochang" character is performed by Kim Kum-mi.

“'Dochang' holds historical significance and carries substantial weight due to its performance by renowned singers. I approached the role with the goal of creating fresh sounds. Dochang never leaves the stage, so I've worked on smoothly connecting the narratives and transitioning from one scene to another."

“Shimcheong-ga” runs from Sept. 26 to Oct. 1 at the National Theater of Korea’s Daloreum Theater.