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Pibada Opera Company

Posted May. 07, 2010 07:21,   


North Korea has five official “operas of revolution” -- “Flower Selling Girl,” “Pibada (Sea of Blood),” “Genuine Daughter of the Workers’ Party,” “Song of Mount Kumgang,” and “Tell Story, Forest.” Of these, Pyongyang hails “Pibada” is the best and says it perfectly embodies the cultural philosophy of “juche (self-reliance)” of the late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung. This opera was allegedly created by Kim in Manchuria in 1936, and Pyongyang often invites visiting foreign guests to watch it.

The title “Pibada” sounds scary and is close to a propaganda tool for the North with hardly a hint of artistic value. Not only operas but other artworks of all genres in North Korea look too childish in the eyes of people with refined tastes. China, which considered plays and movies as propagandistic tools during the Cultural Revolution, now emphasizes artistic and commercial value after its market opening led by the late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. Art in North Korea remains at the level of stuffing and framing aimed at justifying the rule of Kim Il Sung and his son Kim Jong Il, however.

The 380-member Pibada Opera Company is the North’s representative artistic organization. The (North) Korean Opera Company formed in 1946 renamed itself Pibada Opera Company after it first staged the opera “Pibada” in 1971. Incumbent North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and Chinese President Hu Jintao watched the Chinese opera “Dream of the Red Chamber” performed by Pibada at the Beijing TV Grand Theater Thursday evening. The opera is based on an ancient novel from China’s Ming Dynasty that deals with the luxurious life and joyful and sad stories of noblemen of the time. The novel is considered a de facto textbook on socialist philosophy since it advocates the abolition of feudalism.

Pibada’s performance of “Dream of the Red Chamber” is considered a symbol of friendly ties between Beijing and Pyongyang since the North’s top opera troupe adapted the representative novel of ancient China. In 1961, Kim Il Sung and Deng watched the opera together in China. The work was reinstated as a modern opera at the instruction of Kim Jong Il on the occasion of “DPRK-China Friendship Year” last year. Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao watched the opera at Pyongyang Grand Theater while visiting the North in October last year. Together with Hu, Kim Jong Il watched “Dream of the Red Chamber” staged by Pibada in smiling confidently. Hearing the phrase “Pibada (Sea of Blood)” is very disturbing in the wake of the 46 South Korean servicemen killed in the sinking of the naval patrol ship Cheonan.

Editorial Writer Park Seong-won (swpark@donga.com)