Acclaimed director stages Korean opera about love and marriage

Soul Mate aims to rekindle passion of Korean youth who have given up on love and marriage

Soul Mate, about a young couple due to wed in an arranged marriage, is an unusual take on the traditional art form of opera. -- PHOTO: KOREA NATIONAL OPERA/JD WOO
Soul Mate, about a young couple due to wed in an arranged marriage, is an unusual take on the traditional art form of opera. -- PHOTO: KOREA NATIONAL OPERA/JD WOO

In South Korea, there is a cohort of Korean youth who have given up dating, marriage and having children due to economic pressures. They are called the "Sampo generation", which literally translates to the "triple abandonment generation".

Opera director Seo Jae Hyung hopes to rekindle their passion with his new work, Soul Mate.

"The reason for me to create Soul Mate is to encourage a lot of people - not just the Sampo generation - to reclaim a positive attitude towards love and hope in life by exploring dating, marriage and childbirth," he says in an e-mail interview of the Korea National Opera production.

Soul Mate revolves around a young couple due to wed in an arranged marriage.

Wanting to learn more about each other, they disguise themselves as servants to spy on their intended partners. When they fall in love, they reveal their true identities and marry with the blessing of their family.

It premieres at Marina Bay Sands on Saturday, with Korean tenor Lee Seung Mook as the lead male Mongwan, and soprano Lee Hyun in the lead female role, Ippuni.

The opera is part of the two-month- long Korea Festival, which is organised by the Korean Embassy in Singapore. The festival, which kicked off last month, includes events such as a food fair, a K-pop dance competition and a beauty products exhibition.

Seo, 44, had recently staged another work here. The Chorus; Oedipus was a hit at the Singapore International Festival of Arts in August. Life! theatre reviewer Corrie Tan had described its unique take on the Greek play as "brutal and beautiful".

Although Soul Mate also presents an unusual take on a traditional art form, it is nothing like The Chorus; Oedipus.

Seo explains: "Unlike The Chorus; Oedipus, Soul Mate is an easy and funny opera. The Chorus; Oedipus kept close to the original ancient Greek play, but also expressed it in the most modern way possible. Soul Mate is meant for audiences to enjoy in a comfortable and relaxed state of mind."

The new show will also combine features of traditional Korean opera with elements from Western opera. Types of Korean performance used in the show include pansori, a genre of traditional musical storytelling performed by a vocalist and a drummer; and madangnori, a traditional Korean outdoor performance.

While Seo's last outing here was presented before a sold-out Victoria Theatre audience, this time around, he is worried that the unfamiliarity of opera may hinder its appeal to a Singaporean audience.

"I've heard that opera is not a familiar way of music performance in Singapore," he says. "To be honest, it was the same in South Korea. Even I was not familiar with it before I worked on it."

At the same time, he is confident in the story's ability to reach out to everyone, both young and old.

"Love and hope are always intriguing subjects for both audiences and performers. Soul Mate was created to be an easy love story and so various age groups can enjoy this opera."

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