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[Herald Interview] Opera ‘Red Pants’ to sing of housing bubble

KNO to showcase new original Korean-language opera online

Composer Na Sil-in poses for photos before an interview with The Korea Herald on Aug. 18 in central Seoul. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Composer Na Sil-in poses for photos before an interview with The Korea Herald on Aug. 18 in central Seoul. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)


Property prices in and around Seoul have been hitting record-high levels for the past few months, even as the government has declared war on the region’s housing bubble.

That housing bubble first began to form about 50 years ago. In the 1970s and ’80s the Gangnam area, an affluent neighborhood in southern Seoul, started to fill up with massive apartment blocks.

“Red Pants,” a new Korean-language opera that will be presented by the Korea National Opera on Friday and Saturday, depicts the development of the Gangnam area at the time. The work was commissioned by the state-funded opera troupe. 


The “Red Pants” cast rehearses at the Chungmu Arts Center on Aug. 15, wearing protective gear. (KNO)
The “Red Pants” cast rehearses at the Chungmu Arts Center on Aug. 15, wearing protective gear. (KNO)

The opera was to be staged at the National Theater of Korea in central Seoul in March, but was postponed to August due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“It is an issue that everyone can relate to. Whether you are rich or poor, you are interested in real estate,” Na Sil-in, 41, the composer of the opera, told The Korea Herald during an interview in Seoul on Aug. 18.

“My wife and I went to a community swimming pool two years ago. My wife learned that in the shower room, old ladies were always talking about apartment prices. We were shocked at the time, wondering, ‘Why do people always talk about apartments whenever they meet?’”

The title of the opera refers to the women of the ’70s and ’80s who actively engaged in real estate speculation. At the time, most women in South Korea wore skirts but these speculators wore pants as Gangnam was mostly farmland.

“Perhaps Gangnam’s development could be similar to how cities in the western part of the US developed in the 1910s and 1920s,” the composer said.

Na insisted that though the need to find a home and own land may be universal, Koreans’ desire for land is unique in its desperateness.

“Koreans have this unique desire for land. Koreans, regardless of their social status, have a desire to own land, deeming it to be a path of wealth accumulation. Everyone is desperate,” the composer said.

“This opera is not about judging the morality of real estate speculation. It is to show the history of the housing bubble, which is now making young people give up their hopes of homeownership.”

For the new original opera, Na tried to make the music easy for a broad audience to enjoy. He also used popular music from the ’70s and ’80s.

Na believes original Korean operas can take the country’s cultural status to another level.

“Though things may change and media art may take over the entertainment scene, ‘La Boheme’ is eternal. Italian composers made it possible for Italian singers to perform around the world through their operas, shaping the overall image of Italian opera,” he explained.

“Though we have outstanding opera singers, not many have their signature repertoire. Korean opera composers should dream of making Korean operas that can be performed across the world,” Na said.

Due to tighter social distancing guidelines, the opera will be livestreamed via Naver TV on Friday, and aired on KBS1 on Saturday with no in-person audience.
By Im Eun-byel (silverstar@heraldcorp.com)
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