North Korea’s revolutionary operas

I was looking at the Koryo Tours web page and found the following information on North Korea’s revolutionary operas:

In the DPRK there are five revolutionary operas, all created in the early 1970s, which have been termed in North Korea as ‘immortal classics’.  In order of production date these are; Sea of Blood, The Flower Girl, A True Daughter of the Party, Tell O’ the Forest! and The Song of Mt. Kumgang. These operas are still performed to this day and on the occasions that performances take place it is even possible for tourists to attend the shows, the performing language is of course Korean but when foreigners are in attendance English language supertitles are beamed onto a wall beside the stage so that the narrative can be followed by visitors. All operas are full-scale, large cast efforts with amazingly high production values and these 5 shows have sustained their popularity over the decades. All of them of course contain strong political messages that reflect the issues concerning the country at the time of their writing up until the present day and people of all ages attend the shows frequently. For complete information on what comprises and constitutes a Revolutionary Opera and what characteristics and values it must have then there is only one book to read; On the Art of Opera by Kim Jong Il.

I have posted descriptions of the five operas below (each also from the Koryo Tours web page):

The following descriptions are taken from official DPRK publications 

The classic drama was adapted into a revolutionary opera in 1971 and premiered at the Pyongyang Grand Theatre in the presence of President Kim Il Sung and Leader Kim Jong Il. In August of the same year Kim Jong Il said that the application of Pangchang to the revolutionary opera “Sea of Blood” was a great discovery as it broke with the outdated style of opera and developed Juche-based opera to meet the need of the era. Noting that the opera is a masterpiece not because of its big scale but because of its rich and profound content, he highly praised actors and actresses for their truthful representation and successful singing.

The opera was adapted from Kim Il Sung’s immortal classical masterpiece ‘Sea of Blood’ created in the period of the anti-Japanese revolutionary struggle in reflection of realities in Korea at that time. It was Kim Jong Il who discovered the original work of ‘Sea of Blood’ and developed it as a model revolutionary opera. He set it as the germ of the idea of the opera to turn the victims to the bloody repression into brave fighters and provided meticulous guidance to the creation of the opera.

‘Song of the Sea of Blood’ reflects the burning hatred of the Korean people against Japanese imperialists which turned the country into the sea of blood, their firm determination to revenge upon the enemies a hundred and thousand fold, their confidence in the revolutionary victory and their ardent aspiration after building a new society.

The revolutionary opera ‘Sea of Blood’ opened a new history of creation of genuine operas.

[Koryo Tours’ Note – Many Chinese were brought up watching North Korean films and have a very soft spot for this piece. The Chinese have revamped many of their revolutionary operas of the Cultural Revolution period as they are popular to both an older audience, who remember them, and a young audience fascinated with their country’s past. Whereas contemporary Chinese revolutionary operas are a pastiche, North Korean Revolutionary Opera is the real thing. The North Korean Opera troupe came to tour China in 2007 with a production of Flower Girl and it was extremely well reviewed and received]

As it teaches the truth that the exploited and oppressed should turn out on the road of struggle and revolution in order to carve out their destiny, the revolutionary opera has gripped the hearts of the people for its ever-increasing attraction and vitality.

The opera is based on the profound seed theory that a flower girl selling flowers out of sorrow and filial piety eventually emerges in a struggle and revolution. It raises the serious socio-political point that any amount of devotion and sympathy can’t save the destiny of the poor in a society where exploitation and oppression prevail.

Watching the opera, the audience grasps the truth that the people of a stateless nation who have been deprived of their own sovereignty are more dead than alive, and only when they set out on the road of revolution to fight can they defend the sovereignty of the nation and enjoy a genuine life as an independent people.

Produced under the Direction of The Leader Kim Jong Il for the purpose of equipping people with a communist outlook. It tells impressively of the heroic exploits of Nurse Kang Yon Ok, a woman fighter who devoted her youth and life without hesitation to the Party and the Leader and to the revolution during the Korean War against the U.S. imperialist armed aggressors. ‘Dear General, Where Are You’, the theme song of the revolutionary opera ‘A True Daughter of the Party’ represents ‘the mental world of the heroine and servicepersons of the Korean People’s Army who believed and followed only General Kim Il Sung in any adversity. It is thus loved by the officers and men of the Korea Peoples Army and people as a song of their conviction’.

One of The Great Classic Revolutionary Operas produced under the Direction of The Leader, Kim Jong Il for the purpose of equipping people with a communist outlook.

The story follows the courageous and epical struggle of Choe Byong Hun, a member of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army who fought heroically during the anti-Japanese armed struggle in the 1940’s. Choe Byong Hun carries on underground political work, under the cloak of a ‘village head’ serving the Japanese imperialists in a mountain village in the northern border region of Japanese-occupied Korea. In this situation of acute contradictions, he suffers from unbearable mental pain. He burns with the hatred and vengeance against the Japanese imperialist aggressors, but he does not allow himself to reveal his feelings before the enemy and appears indifferent to the suffering of his countrymen. When he forces the villagers to build the barracks of the knavish Japanese garrison he becomes the object of wanton abuse, contempt, and scorn. The villagers heap insults on Byong Hun, calling him “puppet village head,” because he “obeys” orders of the Japanese imperialists and “forces” them to submit to them. His in-law Song Myong Sik, gets into a rage and spits in his face. His only dear daughter Bok Sun, no longer able to endure the shame of a “daughter of the puppet village head,” attempts suicide by throwing herself into Flower Lake.

[This opera] deals with the dramatic story of Hwang Sok Min’s family who were separated by force as stateless and moneyless people during the Japanese military occupation of Korea (1905—1945) and reunited 20 years later in the embrace of the socialist country. The opera represents the transformation of the mountain area, once worthless under the Japanese oppression, into the people’s paradise through the portrayal of the local girls’ joyful life and the hero Hwang’s personal experience.

Though with no news from her father, Sun I lives happily together with her mother under the socialist system. Still, she more eagerly longs for her father, and her mother, too, longs for him. The Mother and Daughter are members of an amateur artistic circle and they visit Pyongyang to participate in the artistic festival. The father hears the news of his daughter after recognizing his old flute, the circle members do well at the festival, and Hwang and Sun I have an emotional meeting. After their country was deprived of by the Japanese imperialists, almost all Korean people experienced the same heartrending separation as Hwang’s family’s. Numerous Koreans left their home for alien lands to seek a way to make a living or were drafted for military service and hard toil. Only when President Kim Il Sung, the hero of the nation, liberated the country and established a new system for the people, could those who had suffered hardships of life in alien lands return home and enjoy a happy life under the new system whose master is the people.


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