[KS] Finding a videotape of NK opera?

Jim Hoare jim at jhoare10.fsnet.co.uk
Wed Jan 14 07:19:19 EST 2004

In a sense, I suppose all opera is zany. How often does one go down the
street and come across people conducting their affairs in song? And if one
is going to conduct a sensible enquiry, perhaps it is better to start off
without the assumption that the subject is in some way odd or different.

That said, I actually enjoyed the revolutionary operas that I saw during my
time in Pyongyang. The plots were no more odd than in Western opera, or for
that matter in Chinese opera or kabuki. The performances themselves were
excellently done, with stunning stage sets and effects. The standard of both
acting and singing was high.

Some of this has been attributed to Kim Jong Il's personal interest in the
this medium, and perhaps the fact that the settings were often very
cinematic indicated this. I do not know enough to be able to make a
judgement one way or another. But these were good public entertainment.

As Keith Howard has said, videos of some operas are on sale in the bookshops
in Pyongyang, including hotel bookshops. It might also be worth writing to
Ms. Ryom Mi Hwa of the Korea Film Import and Export Corporation, Central
District, Pyongyang, or faxing her at 00-8502-381-4410. In my experience,
she was helpful and delivered not just to me but to others outside the DPRK
as well.

Jim Hoare
----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Tatiana.Gabroussenko" <Tatiana.Gabroussenko at bigpond.com>
To: "Korean Studies Discussion List" <Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
Sent: Wednesday, January 07, 2004 7:55 AM
Subject: Re: [KS] Finding a videotape of NK opera?

> Are the revolutionary operas zany? It is an interesting question. Many
> years ago, being a fresh student of Korean studies, I attended "Kot
> ch'onyo" at Moscow Bolshoi Theatre--mostly, for educational purposes. It
> given by a North Korean group on tour. Since the very beginning it became
> clear to me that it would not be the best time in my life. Three or four
> hours of loud cries, stilted sentimental garbage and blatant propaganda,
> time, which I prepared to spend yawning and giggling. But I then looked
> around and found something unexpected. I was,probably, the only non-Korean
> person in the whole theatre, most of the public constituted middle-aged or
> old Soviet Koreans. And those people around took the opera deadly serious!
> They were fully attentive, they cried, not giggled, at the pathetic
> And they were too numerous to be just paid agents of Pyongyang.
>  It made me reconsider the situation. I still did not like the opera. But
> came to me that it must be much more than simple propagandistic exercise
> Stalinist type. Surely, the opera evoked some essential cultural images
> touched the Soviet Korean public so much. The images which I, as an
> barely familiar with Korean culture, just did not sense.
> Best regards,
> Tatiana.
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Keith Howard" <Kh at soas.ac.uk>
> To: <Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
> Sent: Tuesday, January 06, 2004 2:32 PM
> Subject: Re: [KS] Finding a videotape of NK opera?
> John,
> On watching CCTV the other night, and quite by accident, 'Spring Comes
> Year', one of the pangch'ang from Kkot panun yoja/The Flower Girl came on.
> This served to remind me that not just in North Korea, but in China as
> people remain very fond of 'revolutionary operas' and 'people's operas',
> in no way consider them, or the speech that supposedly led to them, as
> Videos are available, as are some old LPs (CDs also show up in the
> catalogues, but I have never seen them for sale in Pyongyang), from the
> North Korean state film distribution company. Getting hold of them is
> particularly easy. At SOAS, I have LPs, scores, and a couple of videos of
> revolutionary/people's operas, but that doesn't help much since I won't be
> in my office for the next four months or so, I can't access them.
> Keith Howard
> -----Original Message-----
> From: john at gorenfeld.net
> To: Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws
> Date: Mon, 5 Jan 2004 14:25:43 -0800 (PST)
> Subject: [KS] Finding a videotape of NK opera?
> Dear Korean Studies List,
> Hi, I'm a journalist writing an article on the tradition of North Korean
> revolutionary opera (as promoted in Kim Jong-Il's zany 1970s treatise,
> "Kim Jong-Il On the Art of Opera.")
> I'm interested in seeing the production values first-hand, and was
> wondering if anyone could offer advice on how one might go about finding a
> tape of "Sea of Blood," "Flower Girl," or the like.
> sincerely,
> John
> www.gorenfeld.net
>  LPs, scores, and a couple of videos of revolutionary/people's operas, but
> that doesn't help much since I won't be in my office for the next four
> months or so, I can't access them.
> Keith Howard
> -----Original Message-----
> From: john at gorenfeld.net
> T
> Dr Keith Howard
> Reader in Music, SOAS; Director, AHRB Research Centre for Cross-Cultural
> Music and Dance Performance

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