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In Search of Korean Traditional Opera

In Search of Korean Traditional Opera: Discourses of Ch'angguk

Andrew Killick
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  • Book Info
    In Search of Korean Traditional Opera
    Book Description:

    This is the first book on Korean opera in a language other than Korean. Its subject is ch’angguk, a form of musical theater that has developed over the last hundred years from the older narrative singing tradition of p’ansori. Andrew Killick examines the history and current practice of ch’angguk as an ongoing attempt to invent a traditional Korean opera form to compare with those of neighboring China and Japan. In this, the work addresses a growing interest within the fields of ethnomusicology and Asian studies in the adaptation of traditional arts to conditions in the modern world. Ch’angguk presents an intriguing case in that, unlike the "invented traditions" described in Hobsbawm and Ranger's influential book that were firmly established within a few years of their invention, ch’angguk remains in a marginal position relative to recognized traditional art forms such as South Korea’s "Important Intangible Cultural Properties" after more than a century. Performers, writers, directors, and historians have looked for ways to make the genre more traditional, including looking outside Korea for comparisons with traditional theater forms in other countries and for recognition of ch’angguk as a national art form by international audiences. For the benefit of readers who have not seen ch’angguk performed, the author begins with a detailed description of a typical performance, illustrated with photographs and musical examples, followed by a history of the genre—from its still disputed origins in the early twentieth century through a major revival under Japanese colonial rule and the flourishing of an all-female version (yosong kukkuk) after Liberation to the efforts of the National Changgeuk Company and others to establish ch’angguk as Korean traditional opera. Killick concludes with analyses of the stories and music of ch’angguk and a personal view on developing a Korean national theater form for international audiences.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6080-6
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xxxii)

    The stage is suffused with a watery blue light. The set looks exotic, not just to Western eyes, but from any human perspective; and so do the characters. Great coral-like rocks loom up at the rear, and long strands of aquatic vegetation hang from the top of the proscenium arch. Evidently we are in the location referred to in the title of the show,The Song of the Underwater Palace (Sugung-ga). The lord of the palace, the Dragon King, is too magnificent to be represented by a mere costume: his body is constructed as part of the set, coiled around...

  6. CHAPTER ONE A Night at the Korean Opera
    (pp. 1-27)

    Asch’anggŭkperformances are rare outside Korea, and even video examples have only recently begun to be available (on the DVD accompanying the bookPansori;National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts 2008), I assume that not all readers of this book will have seench’anggŭkperformed. Before saying much more about the genre, therefore, it is necessary to convey concretely what a typical performance is like. In subsequent chapters I deal in detail with the history and aesthetics ofch’anggŭkand with existing discourses about both, but here my goal is to establish what it is that all these...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Origins and Origin Myths
    (pp. 28-72)

    The question ofch’anggŭk’s origins remains a subject of debate for two reasons: because it matters and because it cannot be definitively answered. It matters becausech’anggŭk’s claim to be “Korean traditional opera” depends on its claim to originate in Korean tradition, and for those with a stake in this claim, a particular view of the genre’s origins has been an important basis of its traditionality. However, research into primary sources has called into question some of the key historical points on which such a claim might rest, and as new sources continue to be unearthed, more fuel is added...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Ch’anggŭk in Colonial Korea
    (pp. 73-103)

    While there may still be room for differing opinions regarding the Japanese role in the original creation ofch’anggŭk, there can be no doubt that the genre as we know it today took shape, in all essentials, under Japanese colonial rule. Some of the performances given at the Wŏn’gaksa and the private commercial theaters before annexation in 1910 appear to have amounted toch’anggŭkinsofar as they involved multiple actors representing different characters and singing the dialogue inp’ansoristyle; but they probably lacked many of the features that later came to be regarded as essential inch’anggŭk, and it...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Women’s National Drama: Yŏsŏng Kukkŭk
    (pp. 104-123)

    The position ofch’anggŭkat the end of colonial rule in 1945 has been described by drama historian Suh Yon-Ho as an unenviable one:

    Ch’anggŭkreached liberation with a public image tarnished by many problems, such as the indiscriminate formation of too many troupes toward the end of the colonial period, the creation of rough-and-ready repertory on the basis of old legends, the neglect of the maintenance and transmission of a proper basis in traditionalp’ansorisinging, a deterioration to meet excessively vulgar taste, and a participation in the ranks of those who served the government in compliance with Japanese...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Inventing a Tradition? The National Changgeuk Company of Korea
    (pp. 124-149)

    From the beginning, it has been argued,ch’anggŭkwas intended at least in part as an attempt to establish a traditional theater form for the modern nation of Korea (Yi Sangu 2004). Over the years, however, this objective has coexisted and at times conflicted with others, such as the wish to developch’anggŭkas a modern rather than a traditional art form, to increase and exploit its commercial potential, and perhaps to make it a vehicle for self-assertion by women. Conflicting objectives were inevitable as long asch’anggŭkwas promoted and performed by multiple groups with different backgrounds and interests,...

  11. Plates
    (pp. None)
  12. CHAPTER SIX Stories and Themes: What Is Ch’anggŭk About?
    (pp. 150-175)

    In surveying the history ofch’anggŭk, I have been as much concerned with the discourses that have constructed that history as I have with the formation process ofch’anggŭk’s repertory and performance conventions. Because the question ofch’anggŭk’s traditionality has been so much bound up with particular views of its origins and history, historical discourses have been as crucial as the form and content ofch’anggŭkto the search for Korean traditional opera. I now turn from a diachronic to a synchronic approach, examining how the search is carried on through the performance practices of (more or less) contemporarych’anggŭk...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN Constructing the Nation through Sound: The Music of Ch’anggŭk
    (pp. 176-214)

    Whilech’anggŭkmay be defined as opera withp’ansori-style singing, the music ofch’anggŭkis by no means limited to that ofp’ansori. The production described in Chapter 1, for instance, featuredNamdo minyofolk songs,p’ungmulpercussion band music,sijoart song,Taech’wit’aroyal processional music and its stationary counterpartCh’wit’a, and court dance music. Over time,ch’anggŭkhas gradually expanded its musical resources to the point where anything within the realm ofkugakmight be used if it is deemed appropriate to the dramatic situation.

    This chapter examines the reasons forch’anggŭk’s musical eclecticism and its role in...

  14. CHAPTER EIGHT Conclusion
    (pp. 215-224)

    The question “What do you think of Korean traditional opera?” is just one form of the generic question “What do you think of Korean X?” which any foreign resident in Korea will frequently have been asked. When I taught English in Korea, I sometimes brought foreign visitors to the class to give students a chance to get to know someone from another country. I expected them to ask questions about the visitor’s own country, personal background, and interests, but it often turned out that the only aspect of the visitor they appeared to be interested in was his or her...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 225-228)
  16. Glossary
    (pp. 229-232)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 233-248)
  18. Index
    (pp. 249-254)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 255-256)