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[Newsmaker] NK troupe performs Tchaikovsky, South Korean songs at historical performance

By Claire Lee
  • Published : Feb 9, 2018 - 02:16
  • Updated : Feb 9, 2018 - 09:51

GANGNEUNG, Gangwon Province -- South Korea’s well-known pop-songs, Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” and Secret Garden’s “You Raise Me Up” were among the pieces performed by North Korea’s art troupe as part of the pre-Olympics celebrations in the sub-host city of Gangneung on Thursday.

Despite being met with public protests on their arrival earlier this week, the communist state’s well-known troupe, the Samjiyon Orchestra, was met with a full audience at the Gangneung Art Center.

Some 150,000 South Koreans had previously applied in an online lottery for some 560 available tickets to see the historical performance. Thursday’s concert was the troupe’s first performance in the South since 2002. 

North Korean performers sing "Nice to Meet You," a well-known North Koraen song, at a speical performance held as part of pre-Olympic celebrations in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, Thursday. (Ministry of Culture and Welfare)

“We are overjoyed to meet you here,” said a member of the troupe before the show. “It’s as if we are being reunited with our separated parents and siblings. We share the sentiment that we (South and North Koreas) are one country and one people.”

The all-female troupe began their 90-minute performance by singing “Nice to Meet You,” a well-known, cheerful North Korean number. The song, which is known among South Koreans for being performed often at North Korean restaurants abroad, was performed by a total of eight female singers, all donned in pink and white “hanbok,” the traditional Korean dress.

The troupe sang at least eight South Korean songs, including South Korean singer Lee Sun-hee’s song “Dear J,” which was first released in Seoul back in 1984. Lee performed the very song, a ballad about lost love, back in 2002 in Pyongyang, North Korea, in a concert which was organized as part of the celebrations of the Asian Games which took place in Busan in the same year.

North Korea had sent a 606-member delegation to the Busan Asian Games at the time, including 184 athletes.

Other South Korean songs performed by the troupe include Shim Soo-bong’s “A Man is a Ship, a Woman is a Port”; Wax’s “Journey”; and Choi Jin-hee’s “Maze of Love.”

According to local reports, the troupe also gave a performance of a medley consisting of at least 20 Western classics and pop numbers, including Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” Mozart’s Symphony No. 40, an aria from Bizet’s opera “Carmen,” and numbers from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “The Phantom of the Opera.”

They also performed Irish-Norwegian duo Secret Garden’s “You Raise Me Up,” which is also known for American singer Josh Groban’s version released in 2003.

The show also included a number of North Korean numbers, including “My Country is the Best,” which praises the North Korean state and its nature.

The last number was a song titled “Let’s Meet Again,” which included a line that said: “Come, unification, as (separated) parents and siblings are desperately calling for one another.” One of the troupe members reportedly became tearful while singing the last song of the performance.

Park Yeong-jeong, a researcher who has been researching extensively on arts and culture in North Korea, told a local media outlet that it is notable to recognize that the troupe included pieces from the U.S., and Russia, as well as South Korea, rather than choosing to perform North Korean songs only.

The choice of music may reflect the isolated state's willingness to accomodate the Olympic spirit, which values diversity and peace, Park added.

“At the same time, a lot of things about the performance, including their facial expressions and way of singing, remained distinctively North Korean,” the researcher said.  

The Samjiyon Orchestra is scheduled to hold their second and last performance in South Korea at the National Theater of Korea in Seoul on Sunday. The troupe returns to North Korea on Tuesday.

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)