Venture to bring ‘pansori’ to the world

By Park Min-young
  • Published : Mar 29, 2011 - 18:53
  • Updated : Mar 29, 2011 - 18:53

Opera director Achim Freyer leads The National Changgeuk Company’s ‘Mr. Rabbit and the Dragon King’

The National Changgeuk Company of Korea has joined hands with Achim Freyer, the world famous German opera director, to introduce “pansori,” or Korean traditional narrative singing, to the world.

Freyer, known as one of the best stage directors today, is in charge of the directing and stage/costume/light design of the company’s world-touring “Changgeuk,” or Korean traditional opera based on pansori, “Mr. Rabbit and the Dragon King.”

The company’s ambitious global project is in commemoration of the 110th anniversary of Changgeuk. The show will be staged at the National Theater of Korea in central Seoul from Sept. 8 to 11 and at Wuppertal Buhnen in Germany from Dec. 22 to 23. The company plans to stage it in many more European cities through 2014.

“Western opera is all exhausted now, in the cultural sense. Pansori is not known in countries other than Korea yet, and I have been told that it is a genre that only a small number of people enjoy in Korea. Korea has a great number of traditional cultures to maintain and promote. They should not stay in museums but come out and live,” said Freyer at the press conference held Monday.

Yoo Young-dae, director of the company, said it was the first time the company had tried to promote pansori overseas.

“We chose Sugungga because it is full of humor and also metaphors sharply criticizing society. It is receiving attention from Korean academia as well. We decided to call pansori ‘Korean pansori opera’ in English,” said Yoo. 
(From left) Opera director Achim Freyer, singer Ahn Suk-seon and Lim Youn-churl, president of the National Theater of Korea, sit in front of a painting of Ahn by Freyer at the Press Center in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap News)

Suggungga is one of the five surviving pansori, along with “Simcheongga,” “Heungbuga,” “Jeokbyeokga” and “Chunhyangga.” It is about a wily rabbit who manages to return home safely using clever tricks after visiting the Dragon King’s palace under the sea. The Dragon King had called the rabbit to his palace to eat its liver after being told it is the only cure for his illness.

Freyer has staged more than 150 operas throughout his 50-year career, including the acclaimed “Magic Flute” which has been staged in six different European cities since 1982. He was known as an abstract artist before debuting as an opera director. For this show, he painted abstract patterns onto every single costume and stage setting himself.

“Pansori talks about our life, dreams, anxieties, fears and beauty. Those are things that all artists talk about, or should talk about. Pansori has strict rules and forms but I am going to express those features freely,” said Freyer.

He was captivated by pansori after watching the company’s “Chunhyang 2010” last year during a personal visit to Korea with his wife, Esther Lee, who is Korean. Recognizing his interest, Lee and the company persuaded him for months to take the job. Lee is currently the assistant director of the show.

“One person leads the story and the janggu (Korean traditional drum) follows. This form is the charm of pansori. I am going to expand the show without destroying this form,” said Freyer.

He kept the details secret but said that it will be totally different from European shows.

“Pansori is an individual culture, and it should be kept that way. I am going to show something very Korean through the show. No Western musical instruments will be used and it will not be in a similar form as an opera or a musical,” said Freyer.

“Mr. Rabbit and the Dragon King” will run at The National Theater of Korea in Myeong-dong, central Seoul, from Sept. 8 to 11 and continue at Wuppertal Buhnen in Germany from Dec. 22 to 23. For more information, visit www.ntok.go.kr.

By Park Min-young  (claire@heraldcorp.com)