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In Search of Korean Traditional Opera

Discourses of Ch'angguk

Andrew Killick

Publication Year: 2010

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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

In Search of Korean Traditional Opera

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-x

List of Illustrations

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xiv

"The problem with acknowledgments is that the more comprehensive one tries to be, the worse the unintended slight to those who still inevitably get left out. Without, therefore, making any attempt at a comprehensive list of names, I must first thank ch'anggu­k artists in general, who have been, without exception, cooperative and helpful with my research. I have received..."

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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..."

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Chapter One

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pp. 1-27

"As ch'anggu­k performances are rare outside Korea, and even video examples have only recently begun to be available (on the DVD accompanying the book Pansori; National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts 2008), I assume that not all readers of this book will have seen..."

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Chapter two

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pp. 28-72

"The question of ch'anggu­k's origins remains a subject of debate for two reasons: because it matters and because it cannot be definitively answered. It matters because ch'anggu­k'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..."

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Chapter three

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pp. 73-103

"While there may still be room for differing opinions regarding the Japanese role in the original creation of ch'angguk, 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 Won'gaksa and the private commercial theaters before annexation in 1910 appear to have..."

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Chapter four

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pp. 104-123

"While ch'anggu­k performers struggled on, chiefly presenting the romantic 'historical dramas' of the previous few years, it would have been difficult in 1945 to foresee the major resurgence of ch'anggu­k that would take place a few years later. But by the mid-1950s, ch'angguk was even more popular than it..."

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Chapter five

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pp. 124-149

"From the beginning, it has been argued, ch'anggu­k was 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..."

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Chapter six

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pp. 150-175

"In surveying the history of ch'anggu­k, I have been as much concerned with the discourses that have constructed that history as I have with the formation process of ch'angguk's repertory and performance conventions. Because the question of ch'anggÅuk's traditionality has been so much bound up with particular views of its origins and history, historical discourses have been..."

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Chapter seven

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pp. 176-214

"While ch'anggu­k may be defined as opera with p'ansori-style singing, the music of ch'anggÅuk is by no means limited to that of p'ansori. The production described in Chapter 1, for instance, featured Namdo minyo folk..."

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Chapter eight

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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..."


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pp. 225-228


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pp. 229-232


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pp. 233-248


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pp. 249-254

About the Author

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pp. 255-256

E-ISBN-13: 9780824860806
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824832902

Publication Year: 2010