Uproar over artistic access in SeongnamSeongnam Art Center seems to have it all: elegant performance halls for opera, classical music and small recitals, an art gallery and an atrium for outdoor concerts. The only thing it lacks is world-class performers.
That’s because the Seongnam City Council effectively outlawed them.
The local politicians are so proud of the elaborate facility, which opened in October, that last month they made a new rule requiring all shows in the center to include the Seongnam Symphony or the Seongnam Metropolitan Choir.
The immediate result was the cancellation of the opera “Magic Flute,” which was scheduled for April, starring soprano Jo Su-mi. The show was arranged by the center to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Ms. Jo’s debut as the Queen of Night in “Magic Flute” in Europe.
The show, which has never been staged in Korea, was to include supporting roles for Korean opera singers Ms. Jo had worked with in Europe.
However, the city, which owns the center, objected, stressing that musicians and conductors who perform in the center should be based in Korea, and questioned whether it’s necessary “to pay for a flight for a Korean musician living abroad.”
“The center was built by the city using Seongnam citizens’ taxes, and there should be admission discounts to the city residents,” said an official of the satellite town southeast of Seoul. “It’s only reasonable to have performers based in Seongnam for shows staged at the center.”
The city also questioned the use of an orchestra and a choir funded by Bucheon City in November for a performance of the opera “Faust.” The center replied that Seongnam Symphony lacked opera experience, being just three years-old. The Seongnam Choir, the center added, didn’t have enough time to rehearse.
The resulting controversy forced the city council to hold a press conference earlier last month, explaining that it only “encouraged” the center to consider the arts troupe funded by Seongnam City for major shows, as it harms the city’s pride when its symphony is excluded from such shows at the city’s art center.
But public has a different view.
Lee Seong-bok, Seongnam citizen, said on the council’s Web site that he is outraged by the council’s “narrow mind.”
“It’s absolutely parochial that the council made an issue out of using musicians outside of Seongnam,” he wrote. “It doesn’t make them less Korean just because they were trained abroad. It makes no sense that we celebrate ‘the Korean wave’ overseas, but treat people outside of our town as strangers. It doesn’t matter whether the center was built from citizen’s taxes or not.”
“The center is the second largest performing hall outside of Seoul next to Jeonju,” said a spokesman at Seongnam Art Center. “We’ve spent 760 billion won on construction fees. But it seems unlikely that we fill the space with compelling performances.”
As the news spread, the council’s actions were criticized in the local music industry for being protectionist, while pandering to voters ahead of the upcoming election in May.
Others accused the council of changing the rules after key members were denied free tickets to shows at the center. For the past 20 years until the new facility was established, VIPs had received free tickets for performances by the Seongnam Metropolitan Arts Troupe. The council rejected such accusations.
by Lee Jang-jik, Park Soo-mee