Seoul opera sings praises of stranded Dutchman

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Seoul opera sings praises of stranded Dutchman

The latest event commemorating Dutch sailor Hendrik Hamel’s shipwreck, escape and subsequential memoirs of Korea is the opera “Hamel e Sanhong.” It had its world premiere Wednesday at Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, where it will be performed nightly at 7:30 p.m. until June 13.
The opera, which celebrates the life of the 17th century explorer, was written by Choi Jong-rim. It’s being performed by the Seoul Metropolitan Opera Company.
Hamel, who hailed from the city of Gorinchem, was one of the sailors on the ship de Sperwer, which ran into a storm off the coast of Jeju island in 1653.
Only 36 sailors survived when the ship crashed into rocks. They made it ashore, only to be bound by the Korean king’s edict to remain on the peninsula.
In 1656, the crew was sent to Jeolla province, where they lived in the village of Pyeongyong for seven years.
Famine hit Korea, and the crew was once again divided and sent to different villages. According to certain accounts, some of the men lived with Korean women and had children. They sold clogs to earn a living and shaped the walls on their property in the traditional Dutch method.
By the time Hamel escaped to Japan, he had spent 13 years in Korea. Upon returning to the Netherlands, he wrote an account of his experience, “Hamel’s Journal and a Description of the Kingdom of Korea 1653-1666,” the first written account of Korea to be published in Europe. The journal was translated in several languages.
His adventures are being hailed in the country that once held him prisoner. Pyeongyong is building a museum to commemorate its former Dutch residents. An 800-year-old gingko tree can still be seen where the crew used to gather. Last year, the Dutch Embassy in Korea celebrated the Year of Hamel with year-round festivities.
Renowned dance companies, artists and movie directors showed their works, while the embassy hosted tulip festivals and a variety of seminars.
“Hamel e Sanhong” has been invited to Berlin for the Year of Korea there in 2005. The opera brings together Korean culture with Western music in what organizers hope is a message of “love and peace.”

by Joe Yong-hee

Tickets are 30,000 won to 200,000 won. Students can get tickets for 10,000 won. For more information, go online to:
A map of the Dutch crew’s journey in Korea is available on the Web at: track.htm.
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