Ch'angguk Re-Making P'ansori As 'Korean Traditional Opera'
Because the usual term for ch'angguk in the post-Liberation years was kukkuk, that term was attached to the new all-female variant, which came to be known as yosong kukkuk or 'women's national drama'—the name it still uses today. The immediate sensation created by this first complete all-female opera led to a spate of new productions and new troupes. As in mixed-cast ch'angguk of the time, the stories were mostly romantic 'historical dramas' about princes and princesses threatened with separation by wars and treacherous intrigues. The principals' royal rank provided a pretext for gorgeous costumes and sets, while the militaristic (19-3, p. 11) background gave an excuse for exciting battle scenes and sword dances. Not only the cast, but most of the audience was female, and the spectators may have found in the performers both a stimulating new role model and a portrayal of masculinity that, however brash on the outside, was felt to be feminine, hence approachable, at the core. Thus, as in Takarazuka, it was always the players of male roles, stretching their voices note by note toward the bass, who had the most ardent following.
Like its mixed-cast progenitor, yosong kukkuk was thrown into confusion by the outbreak of the Korean War, but managed to pick up the threads and resume performance even under wartime conditions. Subsequently, until the late 1960s, all-female troupes were constantly forming, disbanding, and snatching each other's stars, and even the mixed troupes started converting to an all-female lineup, with their male performers restricted to playing accompanying music, in the effort to capitalize on the new craze. Leading stars were able to sustain a career through this period with loyal fans, but others fell as quickly as they had risen, and the sudden advent of so many new performers inevitably meant that not all could be equally talented or trained, and that standards were uneven. Still, the temporary demise of the genre was probably caused less by its own aesthetic weaknesses (as has usually been claimed) than by the rise of new media with which live performance in general could not compete.
Whatever the reason, there was a fifteen-year hiatus in yosong kukkuk performance until around 1983, when a number of stars from the heyday of the genre began to make a comeback, raising funds for each production from corporate and government sources, reviving some of their old repertoire, and eventually even commissioning new works. This revival has been an outstanding success, filling not only Korea's largest theaters but some major venues abroad —including, in April 1996, the Sydney Opera House.16
In some ways, the revival has adopted a different tone from the performances of the 1950s and 60s, with the return of the original stars bringing both an element of nostalgia and a generation gap in the cast. When yosong kukkuk made its debut, all the performers were young women, but today, it is the veterans who take the important male roles, their voices often ripened into a rich baritone, while newcomers make up the rank and file or play the female characters. Difficulties in casting young male leads may have encouraged a move away from the far-fetched romances of the old repertoire, toward stories revolving around the fate of nations rather than of individuals, in which older men could be the prime movers. This has made yosong kukkuk truly a 'national drama' as it takes on heavy national themes, especially since the fiftieth anniversary of Independence in 1995, when the nation's history of suffering at the hands of powerful neighbors became virtually the only theme to be treated seriously on Korean stages. If the genre continues to valorize itself through the appeal to solemn patriotism, there will surely be those who miss the naivety and camp of the earlier fairy-tale approach.
Jockeying for tradition: The checkered history of Korean Ch'angguk Opera by Andrew P. Killick
But it was not until after liberation that they developed a fully fledged all-female opera form inspired by Japan's Takarazuka Revue but using traditional rather than Western-style music (Color Plates 2-3). Since the usual name for ch'angguk at the time was kukkuk, the all-female version was dubbed yosong kukkuk (women's national drama). (11)
But for some in Korea's patriarchal society, "women's national drama" seemed almost a contradiction in terms--or at least a threat to the assumption that whatever is "national" ought to be defined and controlled by men. This point of view was expressed by Pak Hwang, whom we encountered earlier as the author of the first published history of ch'angguk. Pak saw the new subgenre as inimical both to artistic standards in ch'angguk and to proper gender relations in society. The audience for yosong kukkuk, like that of Takarazuka, has always been predominantly female, and the advent of the new theatrical sensation drew crowds of married women whose lives (as Pak rather wistfully observed) had been largely restricted to the home (Pak Hwang 1976, 189). For these women to identify with female actors, cast in the roles of brash and vigorous male heroes, seemed dangerous enough to provoke Pak into some remarkable rhetorical flights. After quoting a Korean proverb, "When the hen, crows, the house is ruined," he compared the all-female troupes with the mythical creatures called pulgasari that were said to eat metal and tried to overthrow the ancient kingdom of Koryo (p. 229).
Travestir's page about them.