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Rising pansori stars bring 'Chunhyang' to 'Peerless Pansori'

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : May 13, 2024 - 14:48

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Cho Yu-ah (left) and Kim Soo-in (National Changgeuk Company of Korea) Cho Yu-ah (left) and Kim Soo-in (National Changgeuk Company of Korea)

The fourth installment of the National Changgeuk Company of Korea's "Peerless Pansori" series returns this weekend with emerging "pansori" performers Cho Yu-ah and Kim Soo-in.

The shows, scheduled for Friday and Saturday at the Daloreum Theater, were sold out soon after tickets sales opened.

The "Peerless Pansori" concert series was launched in 2021 to create opportunities for young and emerging pansori singers to explore the music and mise-en-scenes with contemporary interpretations.

Star pansori singers Kim Jun-soo and Yu Tae-pyung-yang (2021), Min Eun-kyung and Yi So-yeon (2022) and Ahn Yi-ho from Band Leenalchi and Lee Kwang-bok (2023) have previously performed in the series.

Cho and Kim, the first mixed-gender duo in the series, will provide their own spin on the pansori "Chunhyang-ga," a love story between Chunhyang, a courtesan's daughter, and Mongryong, a son of a nobleman, that transcends the strict class system of the Joseon era.

Cho is well known to "changgeuk" fans for her scene-stealing roles as Madame Bbaengdeok in the changgeuk "Shimcheong-ga," and the titular role in "Jeong-nyeon" last year.

Kim, who joined the company in 2020, has portrayed characters such as Edmund in "King Lear" and Bassanio in "The Merchants of Venice." Last year, he participated in JTBC's audition program, "Phantom Singer 4," taking third place as a member of the crossover group, Crezl.

Speaking to a group of reporters last month, the two singers expressed their keenness to showcase their pansori vocals and emphasized their "roots" as pansori singers.

"After joining the company, I don't think I've had a chance to perform 'authentic' pansori. Usually, we play a character in a changgeuk, and the solo part is very short, or we sing in chorus. I am excited to participate in 'Peerless Pansori' as I miss traditional vocal performances," said Cho.

"The 'Peerless Pansori' series is my favorite among the company's productions. I try not to forget that I am a pansori singer rather than a changgeuk actor," said Kim. "Since it is a performance that clearly shows the qualities of a singer, I have wanted to try it and avoid it at the same time," he added.

From left, music director Park Seung-won, pansori singers Kim Su-in, Cho Yu-ah and director Lim Ji-min (National Changgeuk Company of Korea) From left, music director Park Seung-won, pansori singers Kim Su-in, Cho Yu-ah and director Lim Ji-min (National Changgeuk Company of Korea)

In their rendition of "Chunhyang-ga," Cho and Kim will condense the pansori, which typically spans over six hours when performed in full, into approximately 100 minutes, selecting famous segments.

Notably, Cho and Kim will incorporate two different styles of pansori.

Cho will perform the version by Kim Se-jong, a famous Joseon-period pansori singer who hailed from Damyang, South Jeolla Province.

Kim, meanwhile, will perform the Dongcho version, named after the penname of well-known pansori singer Kim Yeon-su (1907-1974). This comparatively later version from Gwangju is characterized by precise narration and emphasis on theatricality.

"The longest solo in this performance is about 12-13 minutes, and it is quite challenging because we focus only on the sound. I've been singing for about 25 years, and if singing for 10 minutes is very challenging, I am in awe of how master singers manage to sing for five to six hours," said Cho.

Kim said, "When practicing changgeuk, the script and character are already set and we rehearse within that framework. With 'Peerless Pansori,' I participated as a co-creator from scratch. The collaboration between the singers, writer and director is fascinating."

National Changgeuk Company of Korea Artistic Director Yu Eun-seon emphasized the importance of discovering pansori stars through projects like "Peerless Pansori."

"I think it's important to expand the spectrum of pansori. (Changgeuk is gaining popularity) but I believe there are still many people who have yet to experience pansori or changgeuk," Yu said.