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Byunsatto’s Birthday, a Korean Classical Opera

One Saturday night while strolling around the Jeonju Hanok Village, I was drawn by the festive sound of musical instruments and people cheering. I found out that the sound was from “Byunsato’s Brithday”, a Korean classical opera being held in the courtyard of the Jeonju Hanbyuk Traditional Cultural Center. Byunsatto (Governor Byun), is a famous villain from Chunhyangjeon (the Story of Lady Chunhyang), a Korean classic.

The next Saturday, I attended the “Byunsatto’s Birthday.” The opera started at eight in the evening, but there were also preliminary events. There already were many people in the courtyard who were playing with the props from the opera.

This bracelet is the special ticket for those who’ll attend “Byunsatto’s birthday dinner” program. I joined the queue to receive the traditional Korean birthday dinner dish. It wasn’t luxurious, but traditional. The dish included boiled pork slices, marinated skate ray slices, a rice ball, a bowl of noodle, fruits and rice wine. I felt full after finishing the dish.

As the opening of the opera drew near, the seats were almost full. The preliminary events heightened the festive mood by distributing souvenirs through games and quizzes. The audiences were from all over Korea and even from Japan. This proved the popularity of Jeonju’s classical courtyard opera. For the last six years, around fifty-thousand people have attended the opera. Jeonju is surely the city of Korean traditional culture!

Byunsatto’s Birthday is the interpretation of the part of Chunhyangjeon’s plots from the perspective of the villain, Governor Byun (or Byunsatto). This shows how the Governor Byun came to be obsessed with money and power, how he came to belittle Lady Chunhyang’s love and fidelity. Although this is a modern retake of the classic, the original lesson on the value of love is still there.

Here are my thoughts on what makes Byunsatto’s Brithday so attractive!


1. Unrestrained atmosphere

Unlike other shows, you may freely take photos of the opera. However, it’s advised that you refrain from using flash.

Also, Byunsatto’s Birthday doesn’t have a designated stage. I could closely observe the facial expressions and gestures of the actors. Also, some actors happened to rise among the audiences, which was amusing and surprising.


2. Audience participation

Jeonju’s courtyard classical opera such as Byunsatto’s Birthday is different from other operas where audiences have to stay quiet throughout the show. They participate in the creation of the festive atmosphere of the opera by giving rejoinders like “ulssoo” (aha), “jotta”, or “jalhanda” (good/nice). Also, I could see that the opera is loved throughout the generations, from children to elderly.


3. Location: Jeonju Hanok Village

Byunsatto’s Birthday is an outdoor opera, held in the courtyard surrounded by hanok buildings. It boasts its peculiar atmosphere: the harmony of the gentle summer breeze, subtle moonlight, elegant hanok buildings and the cheerful people. Thanks to the natural light and effects, I was overwhelmed by the festive air throughout the opera.

At the end of the eighty-minute performance, the audiences were able to take photos with the actors. They seemed very friendly.

Byunsatto’s Birthday started in last May. The opera will be held at eight in the evening every Saturday until the 6th of October (no performance on the 28th July, special performance in 23rd September). The venue is Jeonju Hanbyuk Cultural Center. The ticket including both opera and dinner is 30,000 won and the opera-only ticket is 20,000 won.


Tickets can be booked on-line, at Interpark and Auction. You may also call 063-283-0223 to book a ticket. Discounts may apply if you reside in the Jeonbuk Province, your birthday coincides with the performance day, or if you have tickets for the Hanok Village.

When you visit Jeonju, I recommend Byunsatto’s Birthday to immerse yourself in a festive mood!



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  • Aysha

    What an interesting interpretation of such a classical piece. I love how the main character is actually the villain of the story!