produced by Chon Wolson

Opera “The Last Queen”

The Chosen Dynasty's last Crown Princess, Yi Bangja

Trailer

Brought back by popular demand

Media(TV newspaper)

 

Opera Creation “The Last Queen”
The Chosen Dynasty's last Crown Princess, Yi Bangja

Major staff
Princess I Bangja: Chon Wolson (soprano)
Composer: Son Donghoon and Ryu Getsu
Libretto: Nobuko Kinoshita and Chon Wolson
Production: Kim Su-jin (Theater Shinjuku Ryozanpaku)
Orchestra: NEAR Music Ensemble (Shun Tominaga, piano)

 

 

Costume Sponsorship: Educational Foundation Bunka Gakuen, with the cooperation of the Chojun Textile & Quilt Art Museum

 

Overview

Today, June 22, 2015, Japan and the Republic of Korea celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations, yet one could say that relations between the two countries have never been worse. Still, amidst the stong anti-Japanese attitudes that prevailed in Korea after the war, one women stood out in trying to achieve a reconciliation between the countries. Queen I Bangja (Lee Masako) became a bridge between Korea and Japan. By creating and staging her life as the opera "The Last Queen," we want to re-examine the relationship between Japan and Korea.
The lead role will be played by Chon Wolson, the only singer to have sung before the leaders of Japan, North Korea, and the Republic of Korea (South Korea), and has herself served as a bridge between Japan and Korea.
The team writing the script has been analyzing newly discovered materials, including a handwritten diary, photos, and video recordings.
Also, the production makes use of a restored Korean-style ceremonial wedding costume worn by Princess I Bangja in during her wedding to Crown Prince I Eun, which adds to the uniqueness of the performance.

This work, set in the narrow space of Japan and Korea, is a mono opera based on the life of Yi Bangja (Li Masako, 1901-1989), who devoted herself to peace. The part of Princess Masako Li will be played by Chon Wolson, the prima donna who has been bringing Japan and Korea together through song. A few years back, Princess Masako’s hand-written diary and many of her letters and photographs were discovered, and these are being used as sources to construct the story.
The performance also makes use of the special “chogi” costume warn by Princes Masako at the time of her wedding at the palace of the Chosen Dynasty. The chogi was sent by Japan to the Republic of Korea as a gift in 1990, and it is being housed in the National Palace Museum of Korea. Currently it is not viewable by the public, but with the cooperation of the Educational Foundation Bunka Gakuen), which houses the reproduction created by the Chojun Textile & Quilt Art Museum, a replica for use on stage is being made.
The music for the opera is also original and modern and makes use of Korean and Japanese rhythms. Diva Chon Wolson is committing her body and soul to bringing the untold story of Princess Li Masako to stage. We can expect artistic expression as she gives voice to the Princess's spirit.

 

 

Supporters

 

Okimitsu Hirohashi (Princess I Bangja's nephew)
I Weon (Jeonju Isshi Daedong Imperial Family Association President)
I Gongjae (I Bangja's former secretary)
Bak (Park) Hasun (Director, Jahaenghoe Association慈行会)
Kang Seongsuk (Former Executive Director, Myeonghwi-won 明暉園facility for the handicapped)
Sunao Onuma (President, Educational Foundation Bunka Gakuen)
Kim Sunhi (Soonhi) (Curator, Chojun Textile & Quilt Art Museum)
Fumio Samejima (Chairman Japan Korea Cultural Foundation)
Masatoshi Muto (Former Japanese Special Ambassador to the Republic of Korea/Executive Committee member)

 

Synopsis

My two beloved homelands
Have good fortune, motherlands. Together, forever

 

 In the summer of 1916 the barely 15-year-old Masako, the daughter of Imperial family member Prince Nashimoto, learns of her own engagement in the newspaper. Her groom is to be Crown Prince Yi Un of the former Korean Empire. While it was conceived of as a politically strategic marriage, the couple comes to truly love each other. The couple suffers from a string of hardships, including the death (perhaps poisoning) of their first son Shin, but through it all Masako is understanding and supportive of her husband Prince Yi Un. However, with the end of the Pacific War, the couple loses everything, including their royalty and their citizenship. Prince Yi Un dispaires at being neither Korean nor Japanese. Masako, who until then has followed her husband, results to take it on herself to protect him. She tries to get him back to his homeland, but difficulties arise. At long last, the couple receive permission to embark for Korea, almost 20 years after the war and on the eve of the normalization of relations between Japan and Korea. However, the Prince is terribly ill.
Following her husband's death, Masako stays on in Korea, vowing to do everything she can for Japan and Korea. At first she is viewed with cold eyes, but she devotes herself to the welfare of the unfortunate children of Korea. She is eventually called the “Mother (Omoni) of Korea.” She was the last crown princess, the last queen, of the Chosen Dynasty. When she died at age 87, the Korean people sent her off with tears, and her funeral percession stretched for kilometers.

Yi Bangja (Li Masako) 1901-1989

She was born into the Japanese Imperial Family as the daughter of Prince Nashimoto, and had been considered a candidate to marry then-Crown Prince Hirohito (later the Showa Emperor), but in 1920 she married Crown Prince Yi Un of Korea, the heir to the former imperial thrown of Korea, which was now incorporated into Japanese royalty. Following the annexation of Korea by Japan, this marriage was seen as strategic in promoting harmony between Japan and Korea.
However, with Japan's defeat in World War II, the couple lost their imperial status, their Japanese citizenship, and their assets. They originally sought to move to Korea, but were rejected as “Japanese collaborators.” At long last they received a permit to move in 1963, just prior to the normalization of relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea. However, Prince Yi Un was already ill.
Even so, after her husband's death Princess Masako did not return to Japan. Moreover, amidst the prevailing anti-Japanese sentiment swirling in Korea and a less than warm view of her as a Japanese, she contributed to Korean society by putting her energy into the education of handicapped children. Eventually she was accepted and came to be called Korea's “Omoni,” or mother. When she passed away at age 87 she was given a semi-state funeral as Crown Princess, and her percession of greaving Koreans stretched for kilometers.

Chon Wolson and the original opera “The Last Queen”

“The Last Queen” is an original creation that Chon Wolson has been planning for the past ten years, and it is coming to fruition to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the normalization of relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea.

In the more than 30 years since her debut, Chon Wolson has not only performed operatic arias, but also has introduced audiences to songs from Japan and the Korean peninsula, to much critical acclaim. She performs Korean and Japanese songs regularly alongside operatic arias at her recitals. She methodically seeks out songs to do this. She finds songs immersed with history, listens to what people connected with the song have to say, imagines the feelings of the people included in the song, and then gives it her own interpretation.

What motivated her to start seeking out these songs was a Japanese song she was to sing in 1998 when Japanese cultural goods were liberalized in South Korea was forbidden. Before that, she had already uncovered the song “Korei Sanga, Waga Ai,” which led her to seek out other banned songs. Then in 2006, she published her non-fiction book “Aria of the Straits,” drawing on the lives of the people of in the narrow space of Japan and the Korean Peninsula her own impressions. The book received an award, and she followed it up with a history of musical exchange between Japan and Korea called “The Forbidden Songs” (published by Chuo Koron) and another about deep connections between K-pop and Japanese songs called “Distant memories of K-pop” (published by Shogakkan), both of which viewed the two nation’s history from a musical perspective. Even historical witnesses who are usually tight-lipped opened up to Wolson, who has lived a life straddling Japan and the two Koreans.

And this year she carries this work forward to culmination in the original opera “The Last Queen.”

The libretto for “The Last Queen” is based on lost sources that were dug up as well as new information acquired by actually walking around various locations in Japan and Korea in order to paint an accurate picture of Masako Lee. As for the costume, it is being made realistically based on a reproduction of Masako Lee’s actual gown that cost tens of millions of yen to produce following the return of the original gown by the government of Japan to South Korea in 1990. (The original relic is stored in the National Palace Museum of Korea and is closed to the public.) Access to the reproduction was secured with the cooperation of the Education Foundation Bunka Gakuen. The music for the opera is also original and modern and makes use of Korean rhythms and Japanese melodies.

Date of performance:
1,2, Nov 2016
Place of performance:

Sakura Hall ( Tokyo )

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Chon Wolson hopes opera will bridge South Korea-Japan ties

JAPAN NEWS The Yomiuri Shimbun




Soprano Chon Wolson shows the costume she will wear in “The Last Queen.”


To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties between Japan and South Korea, soprano Chon Wolson, a second-generation South Korean national living in Japan, will star in a new opera titled “The Last Queen.”

The opera will depict the volatile life of Princess Masako (1901-1989), a member of the Japanese Imperial family who married a prince of the Korean dynasty.

Princess Masako, who hailed from the Nashimoto imperial family, married Lee Eun of the Korean dynasty. Though it was a marriage of expediency, the couple nurtured a genuine love. However, the two lost their nationality following Japan’s defeat in World War II.

After her husband’s death, Masako focused her efforts on welfare activities for physically disabled Korean children and began to be called the “Omoni (mother) of South Korea.”

Now that Japan-South Korea relations are thawing, Chon has special hope.

“I want people to learn about Princess Masako, who desired harmony between the two countries, through this opera,” she said.

The story starts with a scene in which Masako is shocked to find her engagement to the Korean prince in a newspaper report. The initial highlights of the opera are scenes of her marriage and the sudden death of her first son at a young age.

Chon sings about the princess’ agony after her happiness turns into a deep pit of sorrow.

The soprano will wear a reproduction of a dress from the Korean dynasty, which Princess Masako wore for her wedding. The dress was specially re-created for the upcoming performances.

Chon said she is doing her best to delicately express scenes in which the princess has lost everything in Japan’s defeat in the war and the death of her husband.

She dramatically sings such arias as “Kutsujoku ni Taete” (Enduring the disgrace) and “Mamoru no mo Watashi” (I will also defend).

The music in the opera is fundamentally based on Western-style melodies, but there are also works that incorporate melodies and rhythms distinct in Japan and South Korea. The lyrics are all in Japanese.

Though the opera consists mostly of Chon’s solo performance, it will also feature a chorus and a ballet dancer and uses video footage.

The production team, including the composer, director and orchestra, is a mix of Japanese, South Koreans and South Korean nationals living in Japan.

Chon started planning the project about a decade ago. However, she almost gave up once due to obstacles she felt in terms of both funds and productions.

However, she was motivated by her desire to achieve harmony between her two home countries — Japan and South Korea.

“I’ve engaged in music with the hope of serving as a bridge between Japan and South Korea,” Chon said.

She also hopes she will be able to express the untold feelings of the tragic couple, who had no choice than to suppress their emotions as victims of history, through the opera.

“I thought the audience would be moved by my speaking to them through an opera [an art form in which] people’s emotions are strongly expressed from the bottom of the heart,” she said.

Through a desire to better understand how the princess had lived and felt, Chon visited people close to her, including the princess’ former secretary, in Seoul and elsewhere. Everywhere she went, people were well aware that Masako had helped underprivileged children in South Korea.

Some of them encouraged Chon in her efforts, saying: “I respect Princess Masako. I hope the people in Japan learn more about her.”

“The Last Queen” will be staged at the Playhouse of the New National Theatre, Tokyo, in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, on Sept. 27, 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. For more information, please visit lastqueen.net/2aboutE.html.Speech