Pansori series provides performances in English
A woman swayed her hands and chanted to the beat of the barrel drum as she sang lyrics from a song from “Chunhyang-ga,” which is part of the pansori (narrative singing) repertoire.
“The words were hard to pronounce, but I found the story most interesting and very emotional,” Luth Bohler, a Swiss woman who was attending her first pansori performance, said after the show. Her daughter’s husband is here in the military, and she was here on her first visit.
Pansori, a form of entertainment especially popular in the 19th century, features a sorikkun (singer) and a gosu (drummer) and invites the audience to chime in with chuimsae, or short phrases shouted out during a performance to encourage the performers.
The production, “Chunhyang’s True Love,” presented on Nov. 21, was interpreted in English by storyteller Kim Seung-ah. It is part of the “Pansori Storytelling” series of English-narrated pansori performances sponsored by the Seoul Global Culture & Tourism Center in Myeong-dong, central Seoul. The series is part of efforts to make pansori more accessible.
During the performance, gosu Yoon Chun-shik kept time on the drum, while sorikkun Kim Hyeong-chul lent his voice to songs from “Chunhyang-ga.” Kim Seung-ah, who served as interpreter, narrator and visual representation of the heroine Chunghyang, transitioned fluently between English and Korean to relay the story. Many members of the audience, some of whom did not speak a word of Korean, interjected during the performance, as coached by the sokikkun to say phrases such as “Eolssigu jalhanda” (“You’re doing well”).
The most popular of the five remaining pansori tales, “Chunhyang-ga” tells the story of two lovers separated by class. It has been adapted for television dramas, novels, comic books and film. In the story, Lee Mong-ryong, the son of a district magistrate, falls in love Chunhyang, who is the daughter of a gisaeng courtesan, and the two get married in secret. Shortly after, Lee is called back to Seoul. Meanwhile, a local magistrate decides to make Chunhyang his concubine. When Chunhyang resists, the corrupt magistrate sentences her to death. Lee, now a royal inspector, returns in disguise to save his beloved from execution, and Chunhyang is reunited with her husband.
Kim Seung-ah said she presents a condensed version of the piece.
“I edited the story myself and kept what I thought were the highlights,” Kim said. “Don’t expect to see the full production in one hour. What I was trying to express was the emotions and integrity of the story.”
At the end of the performance, the audience was provided with an opportunity to learn one of the songs.
“I’m very thankful for this experience,” said Eva Schwitzgold-Stromberg from Sweden, who was in her second day in Seoul on a visit to see her son, who is here studying economics. “We were walking around when someone from the tourist office gave us a pamphlet, and we decided to take a look. It’s wonderful. Why don’t we have something like this in Stockholm?”
Urban Stromberg, her husband, said, “I’d heard of pansori before, but this is definitely my first time seeing a performance.”
The Swedish couple was given an opportunity to portray Chunhyang and Lee and sang to each other in the first Korean words they had ever learned, “Nae sarang-i roda [It’s my love], Amado nae sarang [Perhaps my love].”
Kim said that she was glad foreigners were so easily able to pick up the songs. “We’re trying to show a representation of pansori by repeating the main parts of ‘Chunhyang-ga,’ almost like a movie soundtrack, so that even those who don’t speak Korean can follow along,” Kim said.
Lee Suna, general manger of the Seoul Global Culture & Tourism Center, said that she “hopes more people can come and learn about pansori.” For foreigners, the show provides a glimpse into a part of Korean culture they would not be able to experience otherwise, whereas for Koreans, it’s an innovative retelling of the traditional Korean folktale in a different format and language.
The “Pansori Storytelling” series alternates between “Chunhyang-ga” and “Heungbo-ga,” another story in the pansori canon. Performances are at 3 p.m. on Mondays through Dec. 12 at the Seoul Global Culture & Tourism Center’s Haichi Hall, on the fifth floor of M Plaza in Myeong-dong. Admission is free.
By Sarah Kim [firstname.lastname@example.org]