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Had Puccini known `The story of Simcheong`

Posted September. 10, 2014 04:46,   


A period from the end of 19th century to early 20th century is called an era of exoticism in music history. Puccini composed “Madame Butterfly” using Japan as the background and “Turandot” based on China. Mahler composed “Das Lied von der Erde,” a piece based on Chinese poems written by Wang Wei. If Europeans had paid attention to Korea during the period, they could have created a famous opera or a ballet about Korea. It was abuzz when it was found that a ballet on Korea was performed in Europe a hundred years ago. But it is regrettable that no major art piece about Korea is a standard repertoire today.

I was startled while reading “Puccini: A biography,” written by Mary Jane Phillps-Matz, an American music scholar, a few years ago. The author wrote about “Madame Butterfly” and compared it with Pietro Mascagni’s “Iris,” an opera based on Japan, and suddenly described that the “storyline of Iris is similar to Korea’s story of Simcheong.” She introduced the Korean story for a third of a page in a section where it seemed unnecessary at a glance. Though the author did not write so, she seemed to imply that “Shimcheong has a touching and interesting storyline for an opera but it is regrettable that it was not made into an opera (by westerners).”

What kind of opera is Mascagni’s Iris? As Phillips-Matz said, it has a lot in common with “Simcheong.” The story goes that the daughter of a blinded man is kidnapped and jumps off to kill herself but she revives surrounded by flowers. The “Hymn to the Sun,” a part sung by the choir at the scene where Iris revives, could have been nice to the scene where Simcheong revived in a lotus flower. If Mascagni had known the story of Shimcheong, he would have made Shimcheong into an opera.

The Universal Ballet Company will perform “Simcheong,” the standard repertoire of the ballet company, at the grand hall of the Sejong Art Center on Sept. 27 and 28. The music was not written by a famous foreign composer. Whenever I hear that the piece is performed, however, I think of the music of Mascagni or Puccini. Hopefully, “Simcheong,” a piece that was well-received in New York, Washington, and Los Angeles, can further grow into something that can fascinate people all around the world.