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Korea Opera Festival aspires to go beyond Seoul

April 26, 2023 - 16:55 By Park Ga-young
The Korea Opera Festival Organization's Chairman Shin Sun-seop (second row, fifth from left) and representatives of the participating opera companies of the 14th Korea Opera Festival pose for photos after a press conference held at the Seoul Arts Center on Tuesday. (Korea Opera Festival Organization)

The upcoming 14th edition of the Korea Opera Festival will feature a mix of old and new repertoires, extending beyond Seoul for the first time to include performances in Daejeon, in an effort to bring opera to different parts of the country.

The Daejeon Opera, with the DCMF Orchestra, will stage Pietro Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana" and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” in one performance from June 9 to 11 at the Daejeon Art Center in Daejeon.

“The festival has always aspired to become a nationwide event and share its offerings with audiences throughout the country,” Shin Sun-seop, the chairman of the Korea Opera Festival Organization, told reporters on Tuesday. However, he acknowledged that budget constraints have limited participation by regional opera companies. Participation by Daejeon Opera this year was possible because the regional opera company decided to take part in the festival without much financial support from the organizer.

"If the budget had been more generous, we could have reached out to many organizations in the region, but unfortunately we were unable to do so,” he noted. This year, the festival is running on a budget of 450 million won ($336,000).

Despite the limited budget, the festival will run for 38 days from May 4, offering a classic repertoire including G. Verdi’s “La Traviata” by the Gloria Opera Company and Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” by the Seoul Opera Ensemble, among the eight productions to be introduced during the festival.

Italian composer G. Donizetti’s opera will be performed for the first time in Korea when "Roberto Devereux" takes the stage on May 26, 27 and 28 at the Seoul Arts Center. Tickets for the May 26 performance are available for only 18,000 won ($13.5), to make it more accessible for younger generations who are not familiar with the genre.

“I asked young people how much they would be willing to pay for an opera ticket and they said about 20,000 won and I decided to offer 18,000 won,” Lee Gang-ho, chief of La Bella Opera Company, said.

To pique the interest of the younger generation, the festival offers two family operas -- “Lump Grandpa’s Song Pouch” and “Little Red Riding Hood.” “Little Red Riding Hood,” based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale of the same title and composed by Seynour Barab, premiered in 1963 at the Music Theater for Children in New York. “Lump Grandpa’s Song Pouch” is inspired by a Korean fairy tale and composed by Hyun Suk-joo.

“A child actor who has a disability is part of the cast and I hope her participation will be an encouragement to other children,” said Yook Sung-ho, CEO of Atro, which created “Lump Grandpa’s Song Pouch,” adding that he thinks "operas for children and original operas are important to promote the (opera) ecosystem in the country."

"Children's opera can expand the audience base by allowing those who have been exposed to works at a young age to later see large-scale operas,” said Park Kyung-tae, the artistic director of the Opera Factory.

The Korea Opera Festival was launched in 2010 with the goal of providing local opera companies with a consistent platform to perform.

Until last year, a total of 29 opera companies featured 252 performances of 55 operas, playing to a total of around 340,000 people.

After kicking off the festival with the Opera Gala Concert on May 4, featuring highlights of nine operas at the Lotte Concert Hall, the rest of this year’s festival will take place at the Seoul Arts Center’s Opera Theater and Jayu Theater, as well as at the Daejeon Arts Center. The annual festival is run by the Korea Opera Company Association and the Korea Opera Festival Organization.