'Phantom' translates well onto Seoul stage

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'Phantom' translates well onto Seoul stage

Korea got its first look at "The Phantom of the Opera" when a rehearsal performance for the press was staged Dec. 3, initiating a planned seven-month run.

During that span the peninsula's theater world is expected to be focused on the production. The anticipated predominance of the musical, combined with the coming World Cup soccer games, will probably create a lull in other theatrical activity here until the summer.

About 10 billion won ($7.6 million) has been budgeted for the production and advertising for the musical, but can money buy artistic success? The answer so far seems to be yes, even if half of that staggering sum was eaten up by advertising costs expended before the first curtain went up.

The caliber of the Dec. 3 performance was on par with the original performances, true to the vision of the production team, Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Really Useful Group. As long as the reviews remain positive, insiders say, the risk of running a play seven months in a major theater is not very high; the economy is getting better, theatergoers have more disposable income, and "The Phantom" seems be on a smooth course.

With the entire production process under the strict management of foreign staff, the only wild card is the ability of the local actors to capably convey the spirit of the work. Two points are crucial: The acting must be crisp and inspired, and the lines the cast delivers must have been effectively and harmoniously translated into Korean. Accordingly, the critics will be paying particular attention to those two factors. The other facets of the show - the costumes, the music, the technical production - are in the experienced hands of the production team.

Because the implicit objective of the production is to faithfully replicate the original, and because the music, the extravagant set and the costumes are essentially taken care of, the question at the first showing was, "Will the cast come through?" Based on the debut performance, the outlook seems bright. Some of those in attendance described the actors' performances as superb.

The combustible love triangle of Christine (Lee Hye-kyung), the Phantom (Yoon Young-suk), and the phantom's rival Raoul (Ryu Jung-whan) had a high-voltage presence that was powerful enough to charge the expansive stage. During their numbers, the operatic training of the three came shining through.

Of all of Webber's works, including rock-based musicals like "Jesus Christ Superstar," the score of "The Phantom" is the closest to the classical tradition. The music and the singing make up the majority of the work; in their task of presenting a high-caliber musical performance, the cast was nearly flawless.

The only wobbly part of the play was Yoon's portrayal of the Phantom; although his vocals were strong, his acting lacked force at times. By contrast, Yoon Ina, playing the prima donna Carlotta, was a potent addition to the stage with her sophisticated vocal technique.

The librettist, Yang In-ja, who wrote "The Last Empress," was responsible for crafting lyrics that mesh smoothly with the music. It was quite a challenge to put Korean lyrics to rhythms originally composed for British English and then polish them to achieve a natural feel. Nevertheless, she managed to create graceful lines both for the actors to sing and the audience to enjoy.

"The Phantom" will be performed at the LG Arts Center through June 30. For more information call 02-2005-0114.

by Jung Jae-wal

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