The small city that has a big passion for opera

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The small city that has a big passion for opera

At a rehearsal in the Suncheon Arts Center, Hamlet and Gertrude were on stage but few fans of the traditional Shakespeare characters would have recognized them. In this operatic interpretation, Hamlet is a maniac and Gertrude is the owner of a brothel.
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The 30th production of Suncheon City Theater Company is a modern version of Hamlet by director Kim Min-ho, who studied in Russia for 10 years.
The “Mad Hamlet” will be performed in Seokhyeon-dong, Suncheon city, South Jeolla province, from Nov. 22 to Nov. 24. It is typical of the groundbreaking work done by the Suncheon Arts Center.
Despite being just a small city of 270,000 people, Suncheon has produced one major opera every year since 1999 and smaller theater performances twice a year since the early 1990s. Most recently, the city staged Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” from Nov. 7 to Nov. 10. It is one of Puccini’s masterpieces with a cast of more than 50 on stage, an orchestra of 50 and a chorus with 40 voices. Suncheon city council spent 100 million won of its own money to stage the performance along with another 100 million won from government subsidies. It was directed by Jeong Gap-gyun, 44, who took part in the Puccini Festival in Italy in 2004 with “Madama Butterfly.”
“For large projects, they are usually produced in Seoul and the performance team starts touring the country from Seoul,” Mr. Jeong said. “For a decade Suncheon has been doing something that even big metropolitan cities have been unable to do”
Suncheon has a highly educated workforce serving the industrial park in Yeosu and steel mills in Gwangyang and thus there has been a high demand for culture.
“The demand for high culture and arts by residents was growing and the city was determined to make an investment,” said Yu Yang-jun, 57, the culture and economy director in Suncheon city.
In 1999, the city staged the musical “Sound of Music” and it attracted 21,763 viewers over 21 performances. Since then the city has had an opera every year. Those that Suncheon has enjoyed so far include “La Traviata,” “L'elisir d'amore” and “Rigoletto,” all staged at the city’s art center.
Ticket prices for “Madama Butterfly” were 15,000 won to 30,000 won. For small cities like Suncheon, this is not cheap. However, 70 percent of the 3,500 tickets for the four performances had been sold by Nov. 6. “Only 20 percent to 30 percent of the production cost is covered by ticket sales, but we have continued productions to serve the residents,” Mr. Yu said.
In October 2000, when Suncheon produced “La Traviata,” 15 officials of small and midsize companies and educational foundations purchased 60 million won worth of tickets and distributed them to Suncheon residents. Later these companies formed the Suncheon culture and arts sponsorship foundation, which has helped put on opera productions. Since then the foundation has been buying a large number of tickets for every performance.
“The number of the foundation members increased to 25, and they have contributed 600 million won to many events including arts exhibitions and poetry readings,” said Kim Jong-won, 51, the chief executive officer of Strong Chemical. For next year, Suncheon has tentatively decided to produce Puccini’s “La Boheme.”


by Lee Hai-suk,Limb Jae-un

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