Ssibaji, An Opera in Two Acts for 9 Characters, Percussion and Piano
Suh, Ye Sook Lee
Wilson, Mark E
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The SSIBAJI (translation: The Seed-Bearer) examines an aspect of Korean culture which in not widely known in the United States. And, even though the subject matter is little known, it is a story of universal appeal. The complexity of emotion for every character and the mythic overtones are what drew the librettist, composer, and director to this unique story. In Korea, in the 18th and 19th centuries, a high born family whose eldest son's wife was barren, often turned to a surrogate mother to bear a son. Carrying on the family lineage was critically important. These arrangements were carried out in secret. The surrogate, impregnated by the husband, would live in hiding in the servants' quarters while the wife lived out a sham pregnancy. If the surrogate gave birth to a son, she was paid, usually in farmland, and chased away. If she gave birth to a daughter, she was paid half, and kept the child. These girls often became surrogate mothers themselves, prized for descending from a high-born father. SSIBAJI is both a love story and a tragedy. The husband, who initially refuses to go along with this practice, falls in love with the surrogate. The wife risks the love of her husband in order to maintain her status in the family and provide an heir. Ssibaji, 17, falls in love and is foolish enough to believe that she can defy convention and keep her child, her lover and her own life. The story line is simple while the emotions are complex and difficult. The formality of Korean culture, the dramatic class distinctions, the beauty of the setting, the fascinating rituals, all add sub-text, texture, and fascination to the story. The libretto was written by an Emmy Award winning playwright Laura Harrington.