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Intangible Heritage of Humanity List print

'Pansori,' often referred to as Korean Opera, is a type of traditional Korean music which tells a themed story in the form of music theater, with two musicians sharing the spotlight- a singer ('sorikkun') and a drummer ('gosu'). The singer plays the central role through his singing, words, and body language while the drummer plays an accompanying role by providing the rhythm, and shouting words of encouragement to add to the passion of the performance. With a distinct, inimitable sound, rhythm, and singing technique, Pansori is truly representative of Korea's unique cultural landscape.

Pansori first emerged during the mid-Joseon era (1392-1910), when common culture began to evolve. The scribes of Pansori and the year of their origin are hard to pinpoint; it began as an oral tradition that was continued by professional entertainers. During the Joseon era, entertainers were regarded as lowly peasants, which explains why Pansori remained mostly in commoners' circles. But towards the end of the Joseon era, aristocrats took notice and the audience for Pansori operas increased.

Originally a collection of 12 operas, there are now regrettably only 5 that have been passed down to us today; Chunhyangga, Simcheongga, Heungbuga, Jeokbyeokga, and Sugungga. A Pansori performance is lengthy, some even taking up to 4 to 5 hours to complete. In 2003, Pansori was officially recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Pansori's 5 'Madang'
(* The 5 Pansori operas are called 'madang,' a word which literally means courtyard, but carries strong ties to traditions and folk games. In short, Pansori was considered a form of traditional play. The suffix of 'ga' at the end of each 'madang' name means 'song.'

Chunhyangga: The old novel 'Chunhyangjeon' in opera form. The love story of Sung Chunhyang, the daughter of a courtesan, and Lee Mongryong, the son of an aristocrat. Of the 5 Pansori 'madang,' it is valued the greatest in terms of musical and literary achievement. Famed portions of the opera include 'Sarangga' (love song), 'Ibyeolga' (farewell song), and 'Okjungga' (prison cell song).

Simcheongga: The old story of 'Simcheongjeon' in opera form. Simcheong, the daughter of a blind man who sought to regain her father's vision by offering rice at a temple, sold herself to a boatman as a sacrifice to the ocean in exchange for the rice. The Dragon King of the sea, however, was touched by her love and rescued her, reuniting her with her beloved father. A child's love for their parent is the central theme of this story.

Heungbuga: The old story of 'Heungbujeon' in opera form. The story features two brothers, Nolbu and Heungbu. Nolbu is older and wealthy, with a wicked heart. The younger brother, Heungbu, is poor but has a kind soul. When Heungbu comes into fortune by helping a swallow with a broken leg, the envious Nolbu purposely breaks the leg of a swallow and fixes it before setting it free in the hopes that he will be likewise awarded. The simple moral of the tale is that kindness is rewarded and wickedness is punished.

Jeokbyeokga: A portion of the Chinese tale 'Samgukjiyeon' transferred into opera form. Famous songs include 'Samgochoryeo' and 'Jeokbyeokgang River Battle.'

Sugungga: The old story 'Tokkijeon' in opera form. When the underwater Dragon King falls ill, he sends a sea turtle to land in order to find the liver of a hare to use as medicine. The opera contains much humorous banter between the characters.

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