Pansori Choonhyang-ga by Kim So-Hee: Korean Solo Opera Music
This album leads to the wonderful world of Pansori, a traditional Korean art form combining storytelling and music, through the magnificent performance of legendary Pansori singer Kim So-Hee. She particularly presents Choonhyang-ga (the love story between Choonhyang, the daughter of a kisaeng entertainer, and Yi Mong-Ryong, the son of a magistrate), one of five extant Pansoris.
Among the extant Pansori classics Choonhyang-ga is not only known for its outstanding artistic qualities, it is also performed most frequently. If we were to connect the musical and dramatic structure and examine the entire piece, the four distinct portions are discernable. Choonhyang's falling in love, the lover's separation, and her trials, and rescue. Despite the fact that Choonhyang does have a "happy ending," each school of this particular Pansori shares in common tragic portions of musical intensity. The tragic elements begin with the separation of the lovers and come to a climax in Choonhyang's imprisonment. However, Choonhyang's separation from her lover is generally considered to be the most detailed and sophisticated musical passage in the entire piece.
According to Kim Myong-Hwan (outstanding drummer whose talent merited the designation as an Intangible Cultural Asset), Myongchang (prominent singers), in order to sing these tragic passage, would bolster their strength by surreptitiously tightening the bands that served as belts for their clothing. After they finished these portions, they would loosen their bands. They understood the importance of these passages with the purpose being to give additional support to their stomach muscles so that they could put their entire might into the presentation.
There was another reason that Pansori master put so much emphasis on the tragedy in their performances. From the end of the 19th century on, audiences have exhibited a marked preference for tragedy over comedy. This phenomenon also appears to be true in western opera. One may surmise that human beings share this interest in the aesthetics of tragedy in common.
Pansori is one genre of traditional Korean performing arts. In Pansori, one singer, accompanied by a drummer, presents a long story in the form of a dramatic narrative generally sung with spoken commentary interspersed. The stories do not lack for dramatic climaxes. In fact these "high points" serve to give the stories their dramatic structure and to maintain audience interest.
The audience can enjoy the combinations of rhythm, beat, and phrasing and intonation of vocal in Pansori. Although the ways of arrangement are basically established in Pansori performance, they feel a kind of spontaneity or improvisation.
Of the 12 lyric dramas, currently there are only five Pansoris still being performed which include Sugung-ga (the journey of the rabbit and turtle to the underwater kingdom), Simcheong-ga (the story of Simcheong and her blind father), Jeokbyeok-ga (the story of the big battle at Red Cliff), Choonhyang-ga (the love story between Chunhyang, the daughter of a kisaeng entertainer, and Yi Mongryong, the son of a magistrate), and Heungbo-ga (the story of two brothers, Heungbo and Nolbo). "Ga" means a "song." Even the shortest one lasts 4 hours and the longest one lasts as long as 8 hours. The singer continues to perform without intermission.
The singer must portray the personalities of all the characters in the story through Chang (song), Aniri (spoken song), and Ballim (gesture). And the drummer joins in with Chuimsae which is decorative vocal adorations and sounds of encouragement given to the singer.
In a musical world that seems intent on blowing an audience's mind with epic productions that can last eight hours, this virtuoso Korean classical vocalist might just be the supreme being. Her legend begins at the age of 19, when it is said she reduced an audience to a plate of pickled cabbage with ...