The invention of traditional Korean opera and the problem of the traditionesque: chʾanggûk and its relation to pʾansori narratives
The musical story-telling form p'ansori is prized in the Republic of Korea as chont'ong yesul or 'traditional art'. Throughout the twentieth century, attempts have been made to develop the repertoire and singing style of p'ansori into a uniquely Korean form of opera, now known as ch'angguk. Though not recognized as chont'ong yesul, ch'angguk is sometimes described as chont'ong-jogin yesul, a phrase that suggests 'art with an air of tradition about it' rather than 'art with a long tradition behind it'. I see this distinction in usage as reflecting the separate existence in Korea of a second category, the 'traditionesque', related to the 'traditional' in basing its appeal on a valued past, but distinguished from it (and also from 'invented traditions') by the absence of a commitment to protection from change. The 'traditional' category appears to admit only those art forms that are believed to have arisen within Korea, or been taken there from Korea's acknowledged cultural source, China, and reached a stable form before the fall of the last Korean dynasty to Japan in 1910. Ch'angguk does not meet these criteria since it was initially modeled on Japanese shimpa ('new-school') drama and has always been eclectic and changeable in its performance conventions. Hence, the 'traditional' category in Korea does not include a form of musical theatre that Koreans are willing to hold up before the world as their equivalent of kabuki or Peking opera, and this has been felt as a regrettable deficiency. The drive to 'invent' such a tradition of Korean opera by making ch'angguk more 'traditional' has included the government sponsorship of a National Ch'angguk Troupe and the promulgation of an 'origin myth' claiming a Chinese rather than a Japanese influence; but it remains inconclusive because of a local definition of the 'traditional' that relegates ch'angguk to the continuing instability of the 'traditionesque'.
- Ethnomusicology