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Changgeuk 'Lear' reimagines Shakespeare with traditional Korean splendor

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : March 6, 2024 - 15:56

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A scene from changgeuk A scene from changgeuk "Lear" (National Theater of Korea)

The National Changgeuk Company of Korea's "Lear" is set to make a comeback after two years.

Affiliated with the National Theater of Korea, the company will perform the changgeuk adaptation of William Shakespeare's tragedy "King Lear" at the Daloreum Theater from March 29 to April 7.

Changgeuk is a genre of Korean opera. It derives from pansori, a traditional narrative singing form involving a solo singer and a percussionist that is registered as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Following its premiere in 2022, the performance received critical acclaim for its reinterpretation of the English classic into the Korean language and traditional sounds.

Director Jung Young-doo, active in dance, theater and musicals, playwright Bae Sam-sik and pansori composer Han Seung-seok joined forces with composer Jung Jae-il, who is best known as the music director of the Oscar-winning "Parasite" and Netflix's globally popular "Squid Game."

A scene from changgeuk A scene from changgeuk "Lear" (National Theater of Korea)
A scene from changgeuk A scene from changgeuk "Lear" (National Theater of Korea)

Changgeuk "Lear" centers on King Lear and his three daughters, along with Lear’s loyal subject, Gloucester, and his two sons, as they struggle to avoid being swept away by desires and life’s tragedies.

While the production involves heavy sounds laden with tragic emotions, Gyeonggi "minyo," or folk songs from the Seoul and Gyeonggi region, bring vitality to the stage.

Composer Jung skillfully combined modern acoustics and chord progressions from Western classical music to enhance the unique rhythm and melody of pansori.

Leading stars in the changgeuk scene, Kim Jun-soo and Yu Tae-pyung-yang will take the stage as King Lear and his loyal subject, Gloucester.

Min Eun-kyung takes two roles: as youngest daughter Cordelia and the jester. Yi So-yeon and Wang Yoon-jeong take on the roles of the eldest and second daughters, Goneril and Regan, respectively, while Lee Kwang-bok and Kim Soo-in will portray Edgar and Edmund, respectively.