This evening's performance of L'Orfeo by the Seoul Metropolitan Opera was a historic production in the operatic culture of Korea, as it marked the very first full production of Monteverdi's famed opera in Korea.

Seil Kim (Orfeo) © Sejong Cultural Center
Seil Kim (Orfeo)
© Sejong Cultural Center

There are a few notable aspects to this production that should be mentioned. Firstly, the cast: this production alternated tenor and baritone for the role of Orpheus every other night, and this evening's Orpheus was played by tenor Seil Kim. Active in the Netherlands and praised for his aristocratic voice, Kim brought a superb personification of the mythic poet whose singing could calm the beasts and underworld spirits. Unlike many male singers from Korea whose stock trademark is a deliberate mountain-man atmosphere with shouting insensitivities, Seil Kim shone and rose high in his beauty of voice, clear diction, and dramatic, atmospheric acting. His wife Eurydice, who soon dies in the drama, was sung by Jin-ah Huh, a lovely presence on stage. Mezzo soprano Bo Hae Kim appeared twice with her deep, full voice as The Messenger (of Euridice's death) and later as Proserpine, Pluto's abducted wife. The only curiosity was just that her "messenger" and Proserpine were characterized more like Bizet's femme fatale Carmen, with burning lust through and through. However, her voice was indeed of high quality.

La Musica was sung beautifully by soprano Ju Hee Jung, and other male voices had their share of substantial presence on stage: bass Jun Hyuk Park (Charon), baritone In Hui Kim (Pluto) and tenor Seok Neuk Lee (Apollo). In this production, Apollo appeared to be more like Nero than Apollo in his figure and presence, but at least that added more fatherly authority to Apollo's character. Countertenor Hee Sang Lee sang La Speranza (Hope) with deep voice but in an obviously middle-aged-woman-like make-up and hair-do. In fact, gender-bending must have been the intention of the director for this production, because even with Orpheus' garment, in the style of Roman senator, had a touch of real female dress.

Jin-ah Huh (Eurydice) and Seil Kim (Orfeo) © Sejong Cultural Center
Jin-ah Huh (Eurydice) and Seil Kim (Orfeo)
© Sejong Cultural Center

Costumes were charming. They were basically finely-made dresses in thin, crinkled fabric in different pastel-tone colours, so were easy on the eye. Certain consistency was missing in costume design, as there were cases of Roman senator style (Orpheus/Eurydice), 17th century Madame Pompadour (but a lot more modest) style (La Musica) and the 20th century cabaret style (Proserpine).

One small mention of dancing and choreography: extreme refinement was missing, but like some jovial country dances, there was great joy and fun in the dancing aspect of the show. With abundant running and hopping in all directions, probably due to the small size of the stage, the result was a combination of a certain naive joy and genuine charm. One particular dancer stood out, Jae Yong Han, whose smile brightened the stage greatly. He was often near Orfeo, adding to the shining aspect of the poet himself.

Historical verisimilitude and stylistic consistency might have been somewhat wanting in this production, also the instruments used were not following the archeological exactitude. But the trumpets were placed at the balcony seats in opposite sides, creating a special sonic effect, and the daring spirit and high artistry prevailed in this historic night of operatic scene in Korea.