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National music groups to bring Korean opera 'Tcheo Yong' to Europe in June

May 27, 2024 - 17:24 By Park Ga-young
The French poster for "Tcheo Yong" (The Korea National Opera)

The Korea National Opera, together with the Korean National Symphony Orchestra and the National Chorus of Korea, will embark on their first joint international tour to showcase the Korean opera “Tcheo Yong.”

The three national music organizations will bring the opera to Paris, Germany and Austria in June in the form of a concert opera, featuring selected major scenes such as "A Warning : The Song of Lamentation for the Kingdom" from Act 1 and "The Song of the Buddhist Sage" from Act 2.

“Tcheo Yong,” based on a Korean folklore, follows Tcheo Yong, the son of the ruler of Heaven and all realms of existence including the mortal world, who descends to Earth to save the corrupt Silla Kingdom. However, he falls in love with a mortal woman named Ga-sil and becomes corrupted himself. Deceived by the demon Eok-Sil, who covets Ga-sil, Cheo Yong loses both his love and his kingdom.

The opera was composed by Lee Young-jo, known for skillfully blending traditional Korean musical elements with Western operatic structures. For instance, he used instruments like the gayageum, a traditional Korean zither-like string instrument, alongside a full Western orchestra and incorporated Wagner’s idea of "leitmotifs," recurring musical themes associated with a particular character, object, place, or idea.

The combination drew significant attention from Korean audiences back in the 1980s.

The Korea National Opera, which commissioned the work in 1986, explained that while Wagner's leitmotifs often undergo chromatic changes, Lee's themes are generally simpler and more firmly established, making them easier for listeners to understand and grasp their symbolic significance.

"Through the combination of these themes, Lee expresses psychological conflicts and connections between characters. Furthermore, assigning themes to the characters' personalities is considered a novel approach," a KNO official said.

Lee showcased his skill of weaving together traditional Korean stories and sounds with modern music through works based on Korean traditional culture such as "Seungmu,” a Korean dance performed by Buddhist monks," "Yongbieocheonga," the first work written in Hangu” and "Hwang Jini,” a professional entertainer who was highly trained in the arts of poetry, music, dance, and other forms of social or artistic diversion.

Starting on June 9 at the Opera-Comique in Paris, the tour will continue at the Berlin Philharmonic Concert Hall on June 11 and conclude with a finale at the Golden Hall of the Musikverein in Vienna on June 13.

The concert opera, directed by Lee Gina, will feature tenor Alex Kim, soprano Yoon Jung-nan and bass Kwon Young-myoung and baritone Kong Byung-woo. Korean conductor Hong Seok-won will lead the KNSO.

Opera "Tcheo Yong" (The Korea National Opera)