Beethoven’s only opera comes to Seoul’s stage

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Beethoven’s only opera comes to Seoul’s stage

Good news for Korean opera fans: If you’re tired of the regular performances of Seoul standards like “Carmen,” “La Boheme” and “The Magic Flute,” there’s a new show in town.

Seoul-based MuAk Opera will bring Ludwig van Beethoven’s one and only opera, “Fidelio,” which took the composer nine years to complete, to Korean soil for the first time in 17 years.

The very first performance of the Beethoven opera in Korea was back in the 1970s, and a revival was presented in 1992.

Two reasons explain the long gap since Fidelio’s last curtain. After its first performance, the opera was banned for political reasons under the harsh military dictatorship of the 1980s.

Set in 18th-century Spain, Fidelio centers on a story of human suffering. Its protagonist, Florestan, is wrongfully sent to prison after exposing corruption. To rescue her husband, Florestan’s wife, Leonore, disguises herself as a man named Fidelio. In disguise, Leonore becomes a guard at Florestan’s prison, saves him, and the two achieve freedom and reunite.

The opera also remained offstage because of its difficulty. “It’s just hard for opera singers to sing Fidelio. Only a handful of singers can perform these arias,” Music Director Choi Seung-han told reporters at a press conference in mid April in central Seoul.

Fidelio also features a mass chorus, but local opera theaters are often unable to hire more than 100 singers for such parts.

“It’s hard to hire more than 50 or 60 singers for economic reasons,” said Artistic Director Kim Kwan-dong. However, MuAk Opera has been able to engage a chorus of 120 singers.

“Opera should impress the audience with sound, not with sets or props. If the audience is moved by the magnificent sound of the mass chorus, we can say we did our part,” Choi said.

So with its serious subject matter, arduous arias and low name recognition, why did the MuAk Opera choose Fidelio as its debut?

“We believe we have a duty as an opera company to present something novel to the audience without considering mass appeal and other commercial factors,” said Director Choi Ji-hyung.

Na Kyung-hye and Susan Anthony will play Leonore, while Han Yoon-seok and Steven Harrison will take the stage as Florestan.

Unlike its two previous incarnations, this version of Fidelio will be presented in the original German on Friday and Sunday.

By Sung So-young []

“Fidelio” will run from tomorrow through Sunday at Seoul Arts Center’s Opera House, located near Nambu Bus Terminal Station, line No. 3, exit 4. Ticket prices range from 30,000 won ($23.60) to 150,000 won. For more information, visit or call 1588-1890.
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