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Pansori's contemporary spin in ‘Peerless Pansori’

April 16, 2023 - 22:46 By Hwang Dong-hee
Ahn Yi-ho (left) and Lee Kwang-bok pose for a photo after a press conference held at the National Theater of Korea, Wednesday. (National Theater of Korea)

"Pansori," or Korean traditional narrative signing, gets a youthful makeover in the third edition of the National Changgeuk Company of Korea’s pansori concert “Peerless Pansori” which will take place at the National Theater of Korea's Daloreum Theater in early May.

The "Peerless Pansori" project was launched in 2021 with the aim to create opportunities for young pansori singers to explore the music and mise-en-scenes with contemporary interpretations.

This year, a pansori singer who is not a member of the National Changgeuk Company of Korea will share the stage with a company member. Ahn Yi-ho from Band Leenalchi, a well-known alternative pop band, will take the stage with Lee Kwang-bok, a member of the National Changgeuk Company of Korea, performing “Sugung-ga” and “Simcheong-ga” with a contemporary twist.

To deliver the essence of pansori, the iconic parts of each piece will stay faithful to the original text. While the sound is close to the original, the story is reinterpreted to send a message that is meaningful to the contemporary era.

(From left) Lee Kwang-bok, director Lee Chi-min and Ahn Yi-ho pose at a rehearsal room at the National Theater of Korea. (National Theater of Korea)

“We have combined ‘Sugung-ga’ and ‘Simcheong-ga.’ Both pieces have one thing in common -- the main characters sacrifice themselves for the sake of others,” said director Lee Chi-min of the “Peerless Pansori III” at a press conference held at the National Theater of Korea, Wednesday.

Simcheong in “Simcheong-ga” throws herself into the sea to help her blind father, and Byeoljubu, a terrapin, in “Sugung-ga” goes ashore to save the sick dragon king of the underwater.

“(We) wanted them to choose their own path in life and their own desires. The underlying theme would be ‘a journey to find oneself.’ The two different stories will intersect and weave into each other at one point.”

Lee, Ahn’s partner on stage, said that when he was first chosen for this year's concert series, he couldn’t think of anyone other than Ahn. They hail from the same high school and have been acquaintances for some 20 years.

“There aren’t many opportunities to stage a pansori performance on a stage as large as this with your name in a title role,” said Lee.

Ahn, classically trained in "gugak," said although people recognize Band Leenalchi’s music, there is still little appreciation for traditional pansori.

“Thanks to Leenalchi, many people take interest in pansori (and gugak). But not many people know that I continue to perform traditional pansori. In fact, I don’t think I have been away from pansori (while doing the band music). Leenalchi’s music is also part of pansori,” said Ahn.

“We (Gwang-bok and I) have considered the messages and sounds of the pansori genre. Here, the two pieces talk about filial piety and loyalty. (We) thought this is a time to reinterpret original pansori to seek new values in the story and music,” said Ahn.

Peerless Pansori I (National Theater of Korea)
Peerless Pansori II (National Theater of Korea)

Previous editions of “Peerless Pansori” are also scheduled to be performed in late April.

The first edition presents “Sugung-ga” by the National Changgeuk Theater of Korea's star singers Kim Jun-soo and Yoo Tae-pyung-yang. The original four-hour-long pansori has been abridged to a 100-minute story. The pair will also perform in Miryang, North Gyeongsang Province, and Sejong, in July.

The second edition of "Peerless Pansori" performed by Min Eun-kyung and Yi So-yeon is a story of love and war interweaving songs from the pansori “Chunhyang-ga” and “Jeokbyeok-ga.”

The “Peerless Pansori” series will run from April 27 to May 7. The third edition by Lee and Ahn will be staged May 6-7.