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[Herald Review] ‘Pansori Les Miserables,' blend of pansori, band music and theater

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : April 23, 2023 - 15:35

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Lee Seung-hee (left) and Kim Hong-sik perform Lee Seung-hee (left) and Kim Hong-sik perform "Pansori Les Miserables" at the Doosan Art Center in Jongno-gu, Seoul. (Ip Koa Son)
Lee Seung-hee (left) and Kim Hong-sik perform Lee Seung-hee (left) and Kim Hong-sik perform "Pansori Les Miserables" at the Doosan Art Center in Jongno-gu, Seoul. (Ip Koa Son)

A pansori adaptation of Victor Hugo’s timeless classic “Les Miserables” performed by Ip Koa Son, a pansori creative group, ended its 13-day run at Doosan Art Center’s Space 111 in Seoul on Saturday.

A seamless blend of old and new, “Pansori Les Miserables” follows the general plot of the original narrative, but reconstructs it with the traditional form of pansori, in which a “sorrikkun” (vocalist) and “gosu” (drummer) lead the story. Set inside a ship in an unknown period, the world is submerged in water and there are only survivors wandering the vast ocean in search of land.

Aboard the ship, social conflicts, poverty and harsh realities prevail. It’s apparent that the tale remains relevant even in current times.

Pansori singer Lee Seung-hee led the show, masterfully switching between the narrator and other major characters -- mainly, Jean Valjean, Fantine and Javert. Lee’s powerful performance of storytelling and singing filled the stage. With a chair as a prop, she portrayed the different characters through subtle changes in voice, facial expression and body language, bringing each character to life onstage.

Lee Seung-hee performs Lee Seung-hee performs "Pansori Les Miserables" at the Doosan Art Center in Jongno-gu, Seoul. (Ip Koa Son)
Pansori singer Kim So-jin (left) and actor Baek Jong-seng perform Pansori singer Kim So-jin (left) and actor Baek Jong-seng perform "Pansori Les Miserables" at the Doosan Art Center in Jongno-gu, Seoul. (Ip Koa Son)

The show incorporated a contemporary mix of theater, band music and folk music, creating a multifaceted experience. There were play-like scenes where pansori singer Kim So-jin and actor Baek Jong-seng took on the roles of Gavroche and Marius, respectively. Meanwhile, a three-person band hidden behind an opaque curtain, playing the role of Marius’ friends, performed contemporary band music, adding a modern touch to the traditional pansori performance.

The 100-minute “Pansori Les Miserables” employed a creative process similar to that used in traditional pansori, where separate scenes are created and performed first before they are gathered together to form a complete piece.

The troupe has created three parts so far, starting with Fantine in 2020 and Marius and Gavroche in 2021. All three pieces premiered together in 2022. The group continued to revise the performances before putting on the full-length pansori production. Audiences may be excited to know that this is not the final version -- Ip Koa Son plans to add more scenes inspired by Javert and the Thenardier couple in the future.

“Pansori Les Miserables,” which ended its run in Seoul on Saturday, will be staged in Gyeonggi and North Gyeongsang Provinces in September.