‘Last Empress’ of Korea comes home once more

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‘Last Empress’ of Korea comes home once more

Historical tragedies often echo memorably in the theater. After more than five years of capturing audiences in New York, London and elsewhere, “The Last Empress” comes home to Korea for a series of 20 performances, beginning tonight and continuing to Sept. 20. This will be the 11th time Korea has hosted the musical, a testament to its success and the resonance of its story.
“The Last Empress” portrays the life of Empress Myung-sung, or Queen Min, whose fate marked the close of the Joseon Dynasty, making her Korea’s last queen. Married to King Kojong at 16, Queen Min’s life was a vortex of political strife. Her determination to enrich Korea through diplomacy and trade led political opponents to turn their backs on the throne, while her fierce insubordination to Japan aggravated Korean-Japanese relations. Eventually, she was murdered in a Japanese assassination plot, the precursory event to half a century of Japanese colonial rule.
The aching past of the Korean people comes through in this musical ― which premired on Dec. 30, 1995, the 100th anniversary of Queen Min’s assassination ― and the relations between Korea and Japan are integral to its plot. Its emotional impact is only heightened by its political and historical context.
The difficult feat of playing a queen with the might of a sergeant and the silent tenderness of a mother is handled by Lee Tae-won. The composer Kim Hee-gab is behind the operatic score, a mixture of both lighthearted numbers and somber arias. The director Yun Ho-jin has said this staging of the musical would be his “masterpiece version.”
“The Last Empress” boasts stunning, colorful sets and costumes throughout, from Queen Min’s marriage in the opening scene to the celebrated finale.
Many Koreans regard the Empress Myung-sung as a courageous queen who defied foreign threats and died to protect her son, her throne and her country. “The Last Empress” looks beneath the composed exterior of Queen Min to reveal that, despite her political aspirations, the last queen of Korea was just a woman.

by Kim Hyun-jung

“The Last Empress” will be staged at the Seoul Arts Center’s Opera Theater tonight through Sept. 20 (except Mondays). Tickets range from 30,000 won ($26) to 100,000 won, available on www.ticketlink.co.kr. For more information, visit the Web site www.sac.or.kr.
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