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Bangkok Opera: News

THE CENTRE OF GRAVITY - November 1, 2005

Asian art stepping in for tired old West

Published on Oct 30, 2005

“The centre of gravity for the performing arts has shifted to Asia,” said SP Somtow, novelist and founder of the Bangkok Opera yesterday at the 22nd annual Conference of the Federation for Asian Cultural Promotion (FACP). While the West has long set the standard for excellence in the performing arts, the conference marked a turning point in Asia for the arts, other participants said.

Christopher Hunt, arts administrator, festival director, writer, artist manager, opera critic and television producer in Europe and North America, echoed Somtow’s point, saying that, “Western culture has exhausted its traditional cultural life.”

He said that elements making the arts successful, such as originality, had been lost in the West but have not yet been lost in Asia.

China is one of the most successful Asian countries in giving consumers a fusion of contemporary performance and Western cultural arts, and catering to modern audiences while still being built around traditional Chinese culture.

“There is a need to change and transform traditional arts and relate them to contemporary life,” said Zhang Yu, chairman of the FACP board of directors and general manager of the China Performing Arts Agency.

Zhang talked about a new show in Shanghai called “Arrow”, with Chinese acrobatics, new choreography and modern elements – among them performers wearing casual clothes – to show the rise of fusion in the performing arts in China.

Thailand is home to some of Asia’s best and most original performing arts.

However, problems including lack of infrastructure and networking have long held back the growth of the performing arts in Thailand. Somtow said that while sponsorship is a desired factor in supporting the arts here, it should be free of any intrusion on the originality of the producer of the arts. Vararom Pachimsawat, artistic director of a Thai dance centre, also says that while it has many talented people, Thailand needs more proper theatre promoters.

Another issue for the emergence of performing arts is the audience – which is demanding more while also being more prone to accepting new technologies, which means Asian performing arts need to catch up. Hunt discussed changing consumer needs. He said that while the performing arts have always been a public activity, private activities like the Internet, mobile phones and television will consume the audience’s time.

Kwang Wai-lap, general manager of the City Contemporary Dance Company of Hong Kong, said there must be a change in thinking and attitude before more people watch performing arts. This includes creating original performances to attract audiences of diverse tastes and lifestyles.

Leow Siak-fak, chairman of the Lyric Opera in Malaysia, also said that “creativity in the absence of an audience is meaningless,” and there is a need to build audiences who will become more sophisticated by creating “good packaging”.

Lisnaree Vichitsorasatra

The Nation

Bangkok Opera News - July 5, 2005

Below you will find news about events and performances and information of ongoing interest. You can scroll down or click on one of the following links to go directly to an item.

Lead Story: Bangkok Opera announces first full opera season in Southeast Asia.

Ongoing Interest: Bangkok Opera's new home, the Bangkok Classical Music Calendar, Bangkok Opera DVDs, the inauguration of the Thailand Chapter of the Wagner Society.

Performances: "Aida" draws raves, inauguration of the Bangkok Opera House Concert Series, more House Concert news, performance of the Queen Sirikit Concerto, Trisdee presents the Sonata, Bangkok Opera presents Mozart's "Great" C Minor Mass.

Other Events & Miscellaneous: Bangkok Opera Foundation conducts a voice workshop, Results of Bangkok Opera Foundation's vocal competition, Somtow conducts in Hanoi.

First Full Opera Season in Southeast Asia! - June 30, 2005

Five years ago, the Bangkok Opera was founded with the vision of establishing a credible opera season in Bangkok by the year 2006. That plan is now about to come to fruition with the announcement of the first full-scale opera season in the Southeast Asian region.

From September 2005-June 2006, the Bangkok Opera will present a varied feast of five masterworks, including two new productions, two revivals, and one international co-production. This historic season will include the first Wagner production in the region, a three-country celebration of the International Mozart Year, the triumphant return of Somtow Sucharitkul’s Mae Naak, and the Thailand debut of Nancy Yuen’s world-famous portrayal of the title role in Madama Butterfly.

Spearheading the season on September 3 will be a revival of Somtow’s Mae Naak, an opera which prompted Metropolitan Opera conductor Frederic Chaslin to say “Somtow could be an important landmark in today’s music.” This setting of Thailand’s most famous ghost story, to an exotic blend of expressionist “horror-movie” music and sounds derived from Thai folk music, was designed by National Artist Sumet Jumsai and new direction will be provided by Henry Akina, director of the Hawaii Opera. Nancy Yuen will reprise the role originally created for her, while charismatic San Francisco Opera star Kyu Won Han will debut in the role of Maak.

February 5 will see the beginning of a five-year project to present Wagner’s entire Ring Cycle in Bangkok by 2010. Years in the making, Somtow’s interpretation presents a new Asian perspective on the opera rooted in Buddhist and Hindu mythology. Tickets for Das Rheingold are already being snapped up by Wagner fans as far away as the U.S., Germany, and Australia, and the Bangkok Opera hopes to open a new era of opera tourism in Thailand with this production.

Last year, Nancy Yuen’s portrait was plastered all over the London Underground when she starred in a high-grossing production at the Albert Hall. After performing the role of Butterfly in a dozen countries, she sold out the Esplanade in Singapore, a first for the Singapore Lyric Opera. The Bangkok Opera brings the SLO’s striking production, originally directed by Ivan Heng, to the Thailand Cultural Center on April 5 and 6.

The season will end with a celebration of the International Year of Mozart, with a revival of Bangkok Opera’s richly innovative Magic Flute and a new production of Mozart’s politically incorrect sex comedy Cosi fan Tutte, directed by Richard Harrell. Mozart lovers will have the chance to continue their Mozart opera journey in Singapore, where the SLO will perform The Marriage of Figaro at the Esplanade Theater. An arrangement with Lyric Opera Malaysia is currently being worked out in order to include all three countries in the Mozart Fest.

The cooperation between Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand’s three flagship opera companies is possible because their three directors got together to create an ASEAN Opera League in order to share information, productions, and expertise. Somtow Sucharitkul has been elected permanent chair of this league. “When all three opera companies start growing — and more regional companies join us — we will end up with one of the most vital and exciting opera communities in the world,” Somtow says. “It is a thrill that we are now being discussed and reviewed in the world’s opera magazines. This is an area where the Europeans have reached a decadent impasse and every production of a classical opera seems to be re-set in a Nazi concentration camp or otherwise be designed to shock. Here in the east, we have a new viewpoint, and while we may not be as technically adept as western opera companies, or have as much money, the west has now recognized that we have important things to say about this art form that forms part of the whole world’s shared cultural heritage. And they are looking to Asia for a cultural rebirth.”

New Home - June 3, 2005

The Bangkok Opera offices have found a larger and more attractive venue. The Somtow Center for the Performing Arts is now located at 28 Sukhumvit Villa, Sukhumvit Soi 36. A map with directions and telephone number is found here.

"Aida" Draws Critical Raves - May 1, 2005

On April 28 and 30, Bangkok Opera presented Aida, in what was our best production to our biggest audience to date. Critics came from as far as Canada (the Toronto Star), and some people flew in from Hong Kong to see this show. Starring Jessica Chen, with Mexican mezzo-soprano Grace Echauri and American tenor Todd Geer, and directed by San Francisco's Richard Harrell, with Maestro Somtow Sucharitkul conducting, this production used ancient Siam as a stand-in for Egypt.

The Nation called it "mind-blowing" and "gripping" and said that it "was put together with a vision and performed with an inspiration that are rarely found at the greatest opera houses in the world." The same review called Jessica Chen's singing "guaranteed to strike at the essence of the soul". It praised Todd Geer's "impassioned" singing and "compelling" acting. It called Grace Echauri's singing "more than stunning" and Ralph Schatzki's, "clear, biting, engaged, and alarmingly penetrating." And as if that's not enough, Richard Harrell's production was praised as "dazzling", the chorus sang "gloriously", and modesty only bars us from quoting what the Nation said about the music. But you can read it by going to the Press page.

House Concert Series Continues with Flute and Piano Recital - April 1, 2005

In 2001-2 a series of very popular house concerts was given at the Somtow Center in Sukhumvit Soi 69. Recently, the series has geared up again in the more convenient premises at Soi 36. Our first house concert at the new location was a smashing success, with over 50 people enjoying music played on an eclectic assortment of instruments, including violin, recorder, harpsichord, kazoo, cello, piano, and the featured instrument, the leaf (details below).

On Friday, April 1, at 8 pm, Bangkok flautist Sebastian Bhakdi and Raul Sunico, a prominent pianist on a visit from the Phillipines, continued the series with a delightful recital, featuring the following pieces:
W. A. Mozart, Sonata for Flute and Piano in F, K. 376
Frederic Chopin, Variations on a Theme by Rossini
Jules Mouquet, La Flute de Pan
Pietro Morlacchi, Il pastore svizzero

Information on the next house concert is available from The Bangkok Opera, 0 2661 4688-9.

Voice Workshop Conducted 14-18 January - January 21, 2005

The Bangkok Opera Foundation offered a voice workshop, conducted by well-known Dutch tenor Jan-Ate Stobbe, on the 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, and 18th of January. About a dozen students studied an average of two pieces each. On Thursday evening, the 20th of January, the students performed a recital. Performers included such established Bangkok favourites as Catherine Sam Harsono and Nadlada (Bow) Thamtanakom (Soontharee Srisang), as well as several singers making their solo debuts.

In addition, Jan-Ate sang arias by Rossini (the Largo al Factotum) and Wagner (Winterstürme). Moreover, accompanist Trisdee na Patalung appeared as a soloist in his own right, playing a composition by Hummel.

Bangkok Classical Concert Calendar - January 1, 2005

The Bangkok Opera is collaborating with the BMS and other institutions to put up the Bangkok Classical Concert Calendar as a public service to classical music lovers in Thailand. The purpose of this website is to present a single location in which the latest details of all classical music events in Bangkok can appear. The information comes from the organizers of the concerts themselves and every effort is made to ensure its accuracy. The aim is to present ALL public classical music concerts in order to be a resource for concertgoers as well as for concert organizers to better plan their own activities to avoid clashes.

If you are the organizer of an event that involves classical music, you can click the link on the website to send information to Ryan Bliss, who updates the calendar on a regular basis.

Queen Sirikit Concerto Performed - December 24, 2004

Somtow Sucharitkul's Queen Sirikit Concerto, composed by Royal Command of HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana as a special Sixth Cycle Commemoration for Her Majesty the Queen, was premiered on December 14 at a private event, graciously presided over by both Her Majesty the Queen and Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani. The romantic three-movement work was performed in a gala fundraiser for the Queen Sirikit Breast Cancer Center. The pianist was Serbian-born Aleksandar Serdar, with the Siam Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of the composer.

It was a very exclusive premiere — only 73 couples, one for each year of Her Majesty's Sixth Cycle and one extra couple for luck — were privileged to attend. HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana personally toasted the Queen, and there were many other intimate moments. In a rare departure from formal protocol, Her Majesty shook the maestro's hand warmly as she departed and urged him to encourage more young people to play classical music. A few photos taken at the event can be seen here.

The concerto received its first public performance on Tuesday, December 21, at the National Theater. It was performed publicly in response to HRH Princess Galyani's wish that the general public be treated to a live performance of the Queen Sirikit Concerto. The concert was the Bangkok Opera's year-end gala, and included performances by popular soprano Nancy Yuen, who sang the Strauss Four Last Songs, which she recently released on CD with the Siam Philharmonic and Maestro Somtow.

In addition, the orchestra's principal guest conductor, Leo Phillips, showcased the orchestra in popular works such as Sibelius' Finlandia, the Strauss Emperor Waltz, and Rossini's Barber of Seville Overture. This was a delightful evening of classical music for the whole family. Proceeds went to the Queen Sirikit Breast Cancer Center.

On the 23rd, Mr. Serdar gave an intimate solo recital at the Piyabhand Sanitwongse Foundation Auditorium in Soi Nana North, Sukhumvit. The program included works by Galuppi, Rameau, Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. Some of the pieces were familiar to his fans from Mr. Serdar’s EMI album, which has garnered rave reviews and is now in its second release.

DVD Editions - December 1, 2004

A DVD of Bangkok Opera's recent performance of the Mozart Great C Minor Mass, filmed and recorded at Assumption Cathedral, has now been published and is available along with a DVD of the Brahms Requiem and a double DVD set of Mae Naak.

These and other DVDs to come are professionally imprinted (on the DVD itself) and packaged in hard DVD containers with glossy color inserts. They are not commercially sold, but available only at our concerts or from the Bangkok Opera offices in Sukhumvit Soi 36 during its normal business hours, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. We will be making them available through this website in the near future.

Those who took part in a performance may buy up to two copies of each item at a special performers' price and may buy additional copies at the "friend of Bangkok Opera" price.

The prices (in baht) for performers, friends of Bangkok Opera, and others are, respectively:
Mozart (300, 400, 500)
Brahms (300, 400, 500)
Mae Naak (500, 600, 800)

We plan to have other concerts and opera performances edited and sent to the DVD manufacturer soon. We're working through all the tapes in our possession, so the next "batch" will probably includeThe Magic Flute.

Results of 2004 Vocal Competition - November 1, 2004

The Bangkok Opera Foundation is dedicated to finding and fostering local talent in the region, and in 2002 inaugurated its first International Vocal Competition in Thailand. That year's competition winner, Nguyen Bich Thuy from the Hanoi Conservatory, went on to make an impressive Thai debut as the Temple Dancer in Somtow Sucharitkul's opera Mae Naak.

This year there were prizes in two categories: one for singers 35 or under on November 7, 2004, and one for all other singers. The judges were entitled to select a Grand Prize Winner from either category, plus up to one additional prize-winner from each of the two categories. The Grand Prize Winner will, if practicable, be offered a role in a Bangkok Opera production during 2005.

The semi-final and final rounds of the competition were held in Bangkok, Thailand on Sunday November 7, 2004. A preliminary round was conducted by reviewing recordings submitted by the contestants.

Competition in the under-35 category excluded voice professors in institutions of higher learning, singers who had performed more than one leading role in a professional opera production, and former Grand Prize Winners. All competition was limited to either Thai nationals or non-Thai nationals residing in the Southeast Asian region. Officers of the Bangkok Opera Foundation could not compete.

This year, the Grand Prize winner was Khoo Siew Gim, a soprano from Malaysia competing in the under-35 category. The judges awarded a First Prize to Kho Mei Ling, also a Malaysian soprano in the under-35 category. Congratulations to both on outstanding performances.

Trisdee Presents "The Sonata" - October 16, 2004

18 year old Trisdee na Patalung, the young composer-pianist, is a Bangkok favorite after his two packed performances of the Bach Goldberg Variations earlier this year. On October 15, at the Thai-German Cultural Auditorium (Goethe Institute), at 8 p.m., the Bangkok Opera Concert Series presented another recital by Trisdee. Titled "The Sonata," the recital was a journey through the entire history of the classical piano sonata, from its beginnings in the baroque period to its crowning culmination in the late sonatas of Beethoven. The works included the Bach D minor sonata, BWV 964, the Scarlatti "Pastoral" Sonata, Haydn's emotional A flat major Sonata (No. 8), Mozart's popular A major sonata K. 331 (including the famous "Rondo alla Turca") and finally the searing and challenging A flat Sonata (Op. 110) of Beethoven, one of the most wide-ranging and intense works in the repertoire.

Trisdee followed the scheduled works with an encore featuring a newly discovered piece by one of J.S. Bach's lesser known sons, Karl Friedrich Christian Bach, or KFC Bach. A fugue based on an ancient folk melody that has been traced back to the Neolithic era, this piece was appropriately titled "The Fuguestones". As with all good fugues, a relatively simple main theme was repeatedly transformed and elaborated into a rich tapestry. The central melodic theme somehow suggested the common man's day-to-day struggles while also evoking feelings associated with childhood. The well developed elaborations created a dramatic tension: one can almost see this stone-age "Everyman" struggling to protect his family, to keep the sabre-tooth cat out of his home at night — and asking oneself, "Will he win the fight?" "Will that cat stay out for the night?". The resolution of the tension at the end of the piece almost made one want to bellow some primal totemic whoop.

House Concert Series off to Very Successful Start - October 12, 2004

The Bangkok Opera restarted its House Concert Series with a very well attended opening concert on Monday, the 11th of October. At least 50 friends and supporters packed the salon of the Somtow Centre to hear what had to be one of the most unusual concerts ever performed.

The concert began with our featured performer, Mr. Tadao Sugama, demonstrating the happy synergy between music and horticulture as he played a series of classic Japanese songs on a leaf, acompanied by Mrs. Harada on the piano. This was not a mere novelty act: blowing across the top of the leaf to create vibrations, Mr. Sugama was able to produce an octave and a half of notes with a lovely haunting, somewhat reedy quality.

The concert continued, following a theme of music played on instruments for which it was not originally composed. Young Shunsuke Takemura played the theme to a popular Japanese TV show on the violin. He was followed by Trisdee na Patalung and Somtow Sucharitkul playing the Andante movement from Vivaldi's Guitar Concerto in D Major on, respectively, the recorder and harpsichord.

Things took a slightly weird turn when Somtow and Trisdee then played Ecco la Primavera by Fancesco Landini, with Trisdee continuing on the recorder but Somtow taking up the kazoo. Somtow's stated original intention was to play his part on the crumhorn, but he was not able to obtain one in time for the concert. Fortunately, he explained, the kazoo produces a reasonable facsimile of the sound quality of the crumhorn. You may play a .midi file of the crumhorn by following the above link, and so judge for yourself. If you've never heard a kazoo (and you missed the concert), here is as good a place as any to get your first experience, although it should be noted that Somtow's technique is perhaps somewhat superior.

The evening regained a slight measure of decorum when Trisdee joined Very Young Kohsuke Takemura to tackle excerpts from J.S. Bach's Suite No. 3 in C Major for Unaccompanied Cello. Trisdee - recorder still in hand - took the lead with the Bourée I and II. Kohsuke - departing from the evening's theme by way of instructive comparison - then performed the Gigue on the cello. (N.b., not being well educated musically, your webmaster and reporter was curious about the sound similarity between "gigue" and "jig" and so googled them together; he discovered that they are indeed etymologically related, both referring to a form of folk dance and/or the music that accompanies it, which, based on what J.S. Bach considered a "gigue", led him to wonder whether Bach had ever actually attended a folk dance.)

The penultimate scheduled performance of the evening was by the soprano formerly known as Soontharee Srisang, now named Nadlada Thamthanakom (no information is available as to whether there is a symbolic form), and always known as Khun Bow, who sang "Batti batti" from Mozart's Don Giovanni. Translated as "Beat me, beat me", this is Zerlina's song of conciliation to the jealous Masetto. Imploring him to tear her hair, poke out her eyes, and toss her aside, she vows ever to love him. These are lyrics of which neither Gloria Steinem nor Gloria Gaynor would approve, but when delivered by the lovely Khun Bow, they make one want to sit that oaf Masetto down and explain to him how hard it is to be a woman giving all her love to just one man.

Mr. Sugama and Mrs. Harada then took the floor again with a rendition of Ave Maria by Caccini, followed by two encores in which they were joined by Somtow on kazoo and Trisdee on recorder.

We will continue the House Concert series with 1-2 events - generally following a somewhat more serious program - per month on Monday nights. Keep checking this website for information on the next house concert.

Bangkok Opera Presents Thailand Premier of Mozart's "Great" Mass in C Minor - Receives Positive Review in The Nation - September 29, 2004

One of the greatest masterpieces of the 18th Century, Mozart's unfinished "Great" Mass in C minor, received its Thailand premiere at Assumption Cathedral on September 27 and 28, under the baton of Somtow Sucharitkul and starring internationally renowned soprano Nancy Yuen. It also featured local opera stars Susheilagh Angpiroj, Catherine Harsono, Soontharee Srisang, Sigve Vidnes, and Korawij Devahastin na Ayuthaya as well as 40 members of the Orpheus Choir of Bangkok and the Siam Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Tasana Nagavajara.

The most spectacular of Mozart's settings of the text of the mass, the C minor contains virtuoso operatic arias and complex choral writing with the choir often divided into two choirs echoing each other from across the aisle of the cathedral. The aria "Et Incarnatus Est" is considered one of Mozart's most astonishing pieces, combining profound spirituality with voluptuous operatic coloratura.

This concert was the first in a series of great masterworks of sacred music that the Bangkok Opera will be presenting over the 2004/5 season at the Assumption Cathedral. Scheduled performances in the next year include Bach's St. Matthew Passion to be performed during Holy Week.

The review of this performance that appeared in The Nation newspaper described Somtow's conducting as "inspired" and "sensitive", presenting a "colorful and dramatic" reading of the mass. Nancy Yuen sang with "astonishing beauty" (as always, but we are partial). Read the review in the Press page.

Somtow Conducts in Hanoi - July 1, 2004

The fabulous Hanoi Opera House, built in 1911, was the setting for a performance of Somtow's Fourth Symphony "Pridi Gitanusara", Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto, and Phra Chen Duriyanga's "Sri Ayuthaya" film score, played by the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra with soloists Dusdi and Suda Banomyong, daughters of the celebrated Father of Thai Democracy.

The Thai party flew in on a Tuesday, Somtow rehearsed six hours a day with the orchestra, and the performance occurred on Thursday. The Vice President of Vietnam and other luminaries attended.

Inauguration of the Thailand Branch of the International Wagner Society - November 26, 2003

November 25, 2003, marked the inauguration of the Thailand branch of the International Wagner Society, the first Wagner Society branch in Southeast Asia. Wolfgang Wagner, the head of Germany's Bayreuth Festival and grandson of composer Richard Wagner, led a delegation to Bangkok to attend the opening ceremony, which featured a concert of music by Wagner, Puccini, Richard Strauss, and Somtow.

In 2006, Somtow will lead the Bangkok Opera in a production of Das Rheingold, the first of Richard Wagner's works to be performed in Southeast Asia.

Information about the Thailand branch of the Wagner Society can be obtained by telephoning Khun Ratana at the Bangkok Opera offices, 0 2661 4689, between 10:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. weekdays.

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