Chunhyangga is the most famous pansori in Korea, having had considerable popularity in the country for the past century. Chunhyangga is considered to be the best pansori musically, and as a work of literature and play.
There are no records confirming the exact time when Chunhyangga was written. Chunhyangga can be found in Manwhajip written by Yu Jin-han during the Joseon Dynasty, as well as in Mugeukhangrok of the same era written by Juik-Yang. Therefore it supposed that Chunhyangga has existed since before Sukjong of Joseon (1661–1720).
The Chunhyangga is not only a story about a woman of chaste reputation, but also about resistance to the aristocracy. The story stars Chunhyang, the daughter of a gisaeng, who becomes the wife of a district magistrate. This indicates that the story's writer denied the status system. In Chunhyangga one can find an expression of the common people's wish for truth and human freedom.
The story has various scenes: one is peaceful, one sad, one humorous, and one serious. The music changes with the scene, story and themes. The diverse pansori singers who have performed it over time have contributed famous deoneum, so it is valuable musically and historically.
Chunhyangga is the longest among the five pansoris. In 1969, master singer of pansori Park Dong-jin sang Chunhyangga for eight hours (surprising his audience). The original version of Chunhyangga was not that long, but has been greatly developed over time. The singers of pansori added new techniques, melodies and stories to Chunhyangga.
Chunhyangga is one of the five surviving stories of the Korean pansori storytelling tradition. The other stories are Simcheongga, Heungbuga, Jeokbyeokga and Sugungga. Although based on older traditional songs, it was composed in its present form in the 1870s by the pansori writer Shin Jae-hyo. Chunhyangga tells the story of love between Chunhyang, the daughter of a kisaeng entertainer, and Yi Mongryong, the son of a magistrate. After the two are illegally married, Mongryong goes to Seoul and a corrupt local magistrate attempts to force Chunhyang to be his concubine. She refuses and is faced with death, but is rescued at the last minute by Mongryong returning in his new role as a secret royal inspector.
The Chunhyangga is composed of six parts:
- Mongryong Lee and Chunhyang's first meeting at Gwang Hanru.
- Mongryong Lee and Chunhyang's love.
- Mongryong Lee and Chunhyang's parting.
- The Vicious Byun's tyranny and Chunhyang's imprisonment.
- Mongryong Lee wins first place in a state examination and meets Chunhyang again.
- The Vicious Byun is punished and Mongryong Lee and Chunhyang live a long and happy life.
It has also been converted to a successful children's musical, performed in English by Theater Seoul entirely by children and youth. This show has been brought to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival twice, once to the Underbelly (2006) and once to C venues (2007).
- The Ch'unhyang Story - from Instrok.org, created by East Rock Institute
- National Changguk Company of Korea