The Musical Empress Myungsung
The Musical Empress Myungsung
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  • 승인 2006.11.11 00:00
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Revises Korean History
▲ Kim Sun-hyoung InstructorDept. of Beauty ScienceKwangju Women's University

There is a Korean proverb saying that "Things go badly in the house where the hen sings and the cock is silent." Many women would say this is ridiculous. However in the past, every housewife was forced to be passive and obedient. When a woman did not conform to the social norm, she used to be called even a witch.

In the early 1990s when I attended my university, a woman who was stubborn and independent was deemed a 'hen'.Wasn't Empress Myungsung a typical 'hen'?

She was the queen of King Gojong and had excellent political abilities. She has not been known as the queen of the Joseon dynasty, who was brutely murdered since she was an obstacle to the occupation of the Korean peninsula by Japan. Instead, she has been known as a bad daughter-in-law, jealous wife, and typical 'hen' that ruined Korea.

The musical 'Empress Myungsung' has helped the distorted facts and misconceptions on the tragic queen to be corrected and has contributed to publicizing the tragic history of Joseon to the world. 'Empress Myungsung' shows the real Empress Myungsung in a new light based on the historical facts in order to disclose a true history distorted by Japan, to cherish the empress's death, and to think about the future of Korea.

It is no wonder that the musical was successful. It was performed 700 times, drawing an audience of 9.2 million, the largest audience in Korean theater history. 'Empress Myungsung' has corrected the distorted history. The behavior of Empress Myungsung known among the Korean public has been distorted and exaggerated by the Japanese on purpose to conceal and rationalize their sin and cruelty. They have distorted the brightness of Empress Myungsung into the mere jealousy, unreasonableness, and arrogance of a woman in order to cover their atrocities. The musical has corrected the distorted facts and resolved some issues of mystery related to her death.

Secondly, the musical had fantastic visuals to attract the audience. Anyone who saw the musical was probably captivated by the spectacular shaman dance. He would have an illusion that he or she was on the stage at the scene where Western ships appear. Also, the revolving stage is good for space saving and for adding dynamic energy. The streets surrounding Gyeongbok Palace about a century ago, battlefields with Western ships, 600 suits of the costumes of the Joseon dynasty, and stage devices set along with traditional elements and appropriate make-up which express the personality of the characters in addition to well-choreographed group dancing were all worth seeing. Fast-changing lighting created the suspense and mystery of the musical as well.

Thirdly, the harmony of oriental and Western music was created by the music director, Kolleen Park. Traditional musical instruments of Korea such as gongs, drums, and double-headed drums were used along with the orchestra. The rhythmic effect made only by percussion instruments and dancing reminded me of the musical, 'Nanta', which had an attraction like a raw incantation.

Artistry was added to the musical whose goal was excellent quality by continued modification and improvement. The best Korean staff in each field were hired to improve the artistry of stage performance, and the recognition of this musical was improved through media publicity. These are some reasons why 'Empress Myungsung' was successful.

In 1995 when the musical market had not yet been created in Korea, ACOM (CEO: Yoon Ho-jin) started 'Empress Myungsung', which is a large-scale original musical. However, it was not a box-office hit. Since the performances at Lincoln Center in New York City in 1997, the musical has become popular in Korea.

I think that the musical had not been popular due to Koreans' low cultural level as well as its poor quality and artistry. We always say that our culture is precious; however, we do not have interest in our productions until they are recognized by foreign reputable media and critics. It seems that Korea is still a child in terms of culture one who is not relieved until its cultural products are recognized by foreigners.

Anyway, I am happy for the fact that I can continue to see a good performance of Empress Myungsung in 2006. I can see a musical that can create sympathy among the Korean public since it is about Korean history, while entertaining my eyes and ears.

Do you know the fact that dawn comes when the hen sings?

Do you know that many countries have greeted dawn when the hen has sung?

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