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Merrill Markoe

Merrill Markoe

Posted: July 28, 2006 06:11 PM

Kim Jong Il on Opera: A Book Report


Well, with all the nasty apparently ceaseless activity in Lebanon and Iraq, I thought now would be a good time to do a little research in to Kim Jong Il, while there is a temporary lull.

I am kind of fascinated by Kim Jong Il. But of all the details in his official biography, I was especially taken by this sentence: "In 1964 he graduated from the Kim Sung Il University where legend has it he wrote 1,500 books, all of which are stored in the state's library. It is also said that he wrote six operas, all of which are better then any in the history of music."

What better way to gain insights in to the man than by studying his literary and musical canon.
So I checked to see if any of his books were available on Amazon. And Lo and Behold, a mere 3 alphabet letters away from my own listings I found four of his books for sale.

While I am waiting for the other 1496 to be made available, (or ANY of his operas) I thought I would summarize the one book I just finished reading: "Kim Jong Il On The Art Of Opera." For those of you who haven't already read it, here is what I learned:

1. Oddly enough, Dear Leader does not appear to employ the services of an editor when he writes. MY editor is fond of writing GWS on manuscript pages where he thinks I am overstating my case. It stands for "Goes Without Saying." I suspect these words have never been uttered anywhere near the writings of Kim Jong Il whose insights in to the creation of opera often run along the lines of this exerpt from Chapter 6:Opera Stage Representation. "In the first place, an opera singer must sing well. A stage actor's main task is to speak well and act well. While an opera singer's main task is to sing well. The opera singer has to sing while acting and act while singing. This is similar to the method of depiction used by stage and film actors who speak while acting and act while speaking....If singing is to be supported properly by acting, the distinctive features of opera acting should be understood. It is easy to act while speaking but it is not easy to act while singing."

By the way, the aforementioned is just Mr. Il getting started. Stylistically speaking, Kim Jong Il does quite a bit of writerly padding by stating the obvious. He frequently makes points like "The orchestra must accompany songs skillfully." Or "Excellent lyrics are a prerequisite for excellent music." In this way I confess that Kim Jong Il kind of reminds me of my father, Gerry Markoe, who once, while telling me how to carry out his wishes, actually said "And here, where it says YOUR NAME, you write YOUR NAME: Merrill Markoe."

I was about 40 at the time

2. Kim Jong Il's main point is that he thinks Korean opera should shed the "unattractive and incomprehensible" model of classical operas. Over and over again he states that "For an opera to be popular, arias and recitatives must be replaced by popular songs and orchestral music which are comprehensible to everyone and capable of being sung by everyone. " Dear Leader wants all Korean opera to be full of "stanzaic songs, which can be understood easily and loved by the people."

At first glimpse, this sounds a lot like "Mama Mia." But lest you think that Kim Jong Il is using "Mama Mia" as his best case scenario, he goes on to explain that "the seed of an opera must be capable of providing a solution to the problem of the destiny of the popular masses who are struggling for an independent and creative life and to the problems of national liberation, class emancipation and man's freedom."

I haven't SEEN Mama Mia, but from what I hear it skirts those issues entirely.

No, no... When Kim Jong Il is talking about popular songs capable of being sung by everyone, he is referring to songs with titles such as "Avenge the Punitive Expedition " Other hummable favorites he mentions are "Its an Honor to Be Alive Or Dead on the Road to Revolution" " You Have Brought Medicine For Your Mother." "I Shall Remain Singleheartedly Loyal" and, ofcourse, the crowd pleasing ""Do not Cry, My Dear Ul Nam", a song in which " the audience boils with resentment at the Japanese imperialists who have plunged the whole country in to a Sea of Blood."

What we can learn from all this about how to negotiate with him is not clear. I have a feeling George Bush also probably prefers operas full of stanzaic songs. Maybe somewhere within an evening of "Mama Mia" there lies some kind of an unexplored middle ground.

Next on my Kim Jong Il reading list: "Our Socialism Centered on the Masses Shall Not Perish." I think I'll take this one along with me to the beach.