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Foreign pansori singers share their sounds, stories on stage

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : Feb. 7, 2023 - 17:39

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(From left) Anna Yates-Lu, Garance Cachard, Min Hye-sung and Victorine Vlavo pose for a group photo after (From left) Anna Yates-Lu, Garance Cachard, Min Hye-sung and Victorine Vlavo pose for a group photo after "My Pansori" at Seoul Namsan Gugakdang, Saturday. (Beondi, Seoul Namsan Gugakdang)

Commemorating the 20th anniversary of pansori being registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, four pansori singers -- three foreign singers and their teacher Min Hye-sung -- performed at Seoul Namsan Gugakdang on Saturday.

Min, a certified trainer of pansori, National Intangible Cultural Heritage No. 5, has been holding a month-long pansori workshop each year at Korean Cultural Centers across Europe since 2007.

On the stage with Min on Saturday were her students Anna Yates-Lu from Germany, and Victorine Vlavo and Garance Cachard from France -- who all came to Korea to learn and explore pansori in depth.

Anna Yates-Lu performs at Seoul Namsan Gugakdang, Saturday. (Beondi, Seoul Namsan Gugakdang) Anna Yates-Lu performs at Seoul Namsan Gugakdang, Saturday. (Beondi, Seoul Namsan Gugakdang)

When Yates-Lu sang “One Hundred Years of Life,” the audience reacted with interjections of various "chiumsae," or exclamations, such as "elsigu," meaning "hooray," and "jalhanda," meaning "good job," during the performance.

Yates-Lu, 34, who has been an assistant professor of Korean traditional music at Seoul National University since 2020, introduced herself as “an educator, a researcher but today I am a pansori singer,” in fluent Korean.

She fell in love with music after watching a pansori performance in London and decided to study culture through the medium of music. In 2014, she started learning pansori from Min.

The performance of "One Hundred Years of Life" was followed by a farewell song from "Chunhyangga," which she sang eight years ago, in the summer of 2015, at a pansori competition for foreigners held in Paris.

“Back then, I was still in my 20s with long braided hair tied with a ribbon. … Now I am married, I have a child and I am in my 30s with my hair worn up. I will perform a 'Chunghyang' that is different from the 'Chunghyang' back in 2015,” she said.

Victorine Vlavo performs at Seoul Namsan Gugakdang, Saturday. (Beondi, Seoul Namsan Gugakdang) Victorine Vlavo performs at Seoul Namsan Gugakdang, Saturday. (Beondi, Seoul Namsan Gugakdang)

Watching her performance from the sideline were Vlavo and Cachard, shouting chuimsae for their friend.

Vlavo, a translator from France, said she had first heard of pansori about 10 years ago while learning Korean at the Korean Cultural Center in Paris.

“I attended a pansori performance and immediately fell in love with it. I enrolled in a pansori workshop at the center (in 2014), where I met Min.”

Vlavo sang "Jeokseongga" from “Chunhyangga” -- a scene where Mong-ryong comes to Gwanghallu and looks around, leisurely singing about a man's joyful heart.

“I had heard ‘Chunhyangga’ is difficult, so I didn’t want to learn it,” Vlavo said with a laugh. But Min recommended this repertoire and it has become my favorite part of 'Chunhyangga.'”

She said pansori is a vehicle for expressing all human emotions -- joy, anger, sorrow and happiness -- through the plot and the stories of the characters.

“Like Chun-hyang, I also have people I miss but cannot meet. I also had miraculous days like Heung-bu,” Vlavo said.

“'Heungbuga' is my favorite pansori. I particularly like the parts with Heung-bu’s wife,” said Vlavo before singing a part where Heung-bu’s wife prepares food from “Heungbuga.”

Garance Cachard performs at Seoul Namsan Gugakdang, Saturday. (Beondi, Seoul Namsan Gugakdang) Garance Cachard performs at Seoul Namsan Gugakdang, Saturday. (Beondi, Seoul Namsan Gugakdang)

Cachard, who just graduated from Sookmyung Women’s University, where she majored in Korea history, attended a pansori performance while learning Korean and participated in a pansori workshop in Paris in 2015.

“I wanted to study more about what the lyrics mean. … And hanbok is so pretty. The lines and colors are elegant and go well with pansori,” Cachard.

Cachard sang a song about silk from “Heungbuga” and Chun-hyang’s swinging scene from “Chunhyangga,” a scene in which Mong-ryong falls in love with Chun-hyang at first sight.

(From left, second row) Garance Cachard, Min Hye-sung, Victorine Vlavo and Anna Yates-Lu perform (From left, second row) Garance Cachard, Min Hye-sung, Victorine Vlavo and Anna Yates-Lu perform "Boating Song" at Seoul Namsan Gugakdang, Saturday. (Beondi, Seoul Namsan Gugakdang)
Min Hye-sung performs at Seoul Namsan Gugakdang, Saturday. (Beondi, Seoul Namsan Gugakdang) Min Hye-sung performs at Seoul Namsan Gugakdang, Saturday. (Beondi, Seoul Namsan Gugakdang)

Min took to the stage after watching her students shine.

“With each year, the number of foreigners showing interest in pansori is increasing. … It is not an easy choice for foreigners to come to Korea and learn pansori,” she said.

“When I first went abroad in 2007, it was like planting an invisible seed called pansori. Now I am grateful to see that the seeds have sprouted.”

She then sang a part from “Heungbuga” in French and Korean.

Min has been working on translating pansori to French while maintaining pansori’s theatrical elements.

“They are still first steps but I am thrilled and excited to see how they will turn out.”