Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Dies Illa

Okay, I'm not exactly glued to the TV, but all the staff in my office are. As of a little while back, they had been announcing the verdict for several hours, but had only disposed of the Democratic Party's alleged peccadillos; they absolved them. Those of the TRT remained a suspenseful subject. It's now quite late at night, however, so I would like to assume that the likelihood of riots is quite small at the moment.

Now it's around eleven pm and I'm checking on google news. Well it seems not to be going that well for the TRT. Maybe the morning will bring riots, but somehow I doubt it. I saw another interesting piece of news on google news, however. It said that the Thai government was now planning to ban blogspot. I'm not making this up! It's on a website called "" or something. I wonder if it's a reliable source.

Maybe this will be the last entry you see in my blog!!!! Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh. Better push the publish button now ... just in case....


Well, the Bangkok Post's "Breaking News" website has revealed that the TRT will be dissolved. Well, it's certainly true that that election was pretty bogus. And yet the hysteria seems misplaced; it's not as if elections were pure before.

So it's time for more serious issues. I have been whiling away the time waiting for this verdict by dashing off some scurrilous sonnets and working on my long overdue novel, "The Stone Buddha's Tears." I shall now return to those labors, if you can call them that.

It's 4 in the morning and Trisdee, from Holland, has emailed me an astonishing pop song that he wrote. It seems he has quite a gift for tunes and lyrics. Perhaps, once he's conducted Mahler 3, he will turn to becoming the next Barry Manilow....

Dies Irae

Well, folks, today is the Big 30th. For days now I have been told that the country is going to erupt in an orgy of street violence and the country's political system will fall apart. Or won't, as the case may be. It depends on who you listen to.

To quote the sorceress from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas — depicted here in a murderously vile performance by Pitchaya Kemasingki — "Ha, ha, ha."

On the one hand, I am fascinated by the endless speculation on how the government is going to get out of this no-win situation. On the other, I would have to say that the no-win situation seems to have become the situation of choice for the powers that be here.

I've never been that good at predicting political outcomes. I predicted that Gore would win the election. Well, of course he did win, but heaven and earth were moved. and divine powers called into play, just to invalidate my prediction....

So perhaps I'll resume this post when I know the answer.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Dead Bunnies

The above picture has engendered two comments. One said "You look like a terrorist," and the other said "You look like Jesus."

As I've said in a previous post, dreaming about dead bodies is supposed to be harbinger of good fortune in Thailand. So far, it's taking a while ... indeed, after loaning out more money to the opera for a few incidental expenses, I am the proud possessor of a bank account worth 241 baht. Perhaps if I sell someone the cervical cancer treatment I won at last night's raffle....

Money is all relative anyway. If you count various assets that are in my name, and all the money owed me by the opera company, and so on, I'm not particularly badly off. But one of the joys of being a freelance artist, never to be understood by the 'gentleman artistes' so frequently to be found in the upper echelons of Thai society, is that the occasional descent into Hell is an absolutely necessary and inescapable part of the artistic journey.

About twenty years ago, I experienced another such moment of drama in my life when I discovered I only had $52.33 left in my bank account ... in those days I was living in Virginia, sharing a house with Tim Sullivan, a fellow science fiction writer. I decided that the best solution was to follow the advice of a certain Holy Book and "cast my bread upon the waters." I wrote a check for the entire balance of my account and mailed it to the St Joseph's Indian School in South Dakota, a popular charity. According to the theory propounded in the Book of Ecclesiastes, I would soon be repaid for my selflessness. Sure enough, a check for $1,000 showed up on my doorstep, completely out of the blue and from an unexpected source. There was a catch, though. It was addressed to Tim Sullivan!

One shouldn't, you see, bargain with the Almighty (or any other god, for that matter.)

Still, the dreams of corpses continue apace, though they've become increasingly whimsical. For instance, last night I dreamt that I was sharing an upstairs flat with Trisdee, living in utter squalor, surrounded by mounds of trash. Rooting through the trash in search of a the source of a hideous stench, I find a dead rabbit. In horror, I put the rabbit in a trash bag, go out to the balcony, and hurl it onto the courtyard below. As I reenter the apartment, I realize that the stench has not gone away.…

If it's true that dreams of death mean that money is on the way, I think you'll agree that these dreams imply that there will be strings attached....

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Thoughts About My Cervix

Last night I attended a major social event, a party thrown by In Residence magazine at the home of the absolutely fabulous M.L. Poomchai. This is a huge mansion in traditional Thai style done up in the most stunning taste. It was certainly great to hang out with ambassadors like the New Zealand ambassador, an avid opera fan who's just become an advisor to the opera company, and other assorted celebs. I thought I was just going to "drop in" on the event but I ended up being the last person to leave!

But perhaps the most astounding thing about this party was the raffle. Great prizes were being given out that night, and I won one of them. It was a free HPV vaccine treatment for prevention of cervical cancer, worth an amazing 21,000 baht.

The likelihood of my needing a vaccine for cervical cancer is about as reasonably close to zero as one can get and the receipt of this pretty valuable gift ($600!) strikes me as a supreme example of novelistic irony.

It might be seen as a metaphor for my entire life, thus far.....

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Do I Have the Guts?

Yesterday, I had a chance to examine the Thailand Cultural Center's latest contract. It seems that that clause, the one created specially as a result of their attempts to censor my opera last year, has not yet been removed from the contract. It states that if anything in their production violates Thai culture or morals, the police can close down the production in mid-performance. Left carefully unsaid is the question of who is to determine whether such a violation has occurred, but one assumes than any bureaucrat could hold the fate of the opera in his hands.

If I sign this, am I selling out the cause of artistic freedom? Would any bureaucrat actually have the nerve to act on such a clause, knowing that the wrath of the entire international press would descend on this benighted government? After all, two hundred papers and newsmedia wrote about it when they merey threatened to close us down but didn't actually do it ... including Fox News, the Sunday Times, ABC News, the New York Times, and so on ad infinitum. Would refusing to sign it simply be an empty gesture? This is a matter of some angst to me.

In fact, this seems to be a bit of a game of chicken. Who will blink first?

While it is extremely unlikely that anything in a Wagner production would fall into the cultural crimethink they have envisaged here, what about the principle? Last time, an attempt was made to censor my opera on a completely arguable point of tradition. However, it never occurred to anyone at the ministry that such opinions were arguable. That is the danger.

Apichatphong told me in a recent email, writing to me from communist Vietnam, "it is becoming harder for me to work in Thailand." It is true that there is something very disturbing going on. Just when things were opening up, when this city was turning into a major beacon for cultural renewal, the Renaissance seems about to be interrupted by a Dark Age.

I know that the forces of ignorance cannot win, in the end, but I do have a problem seeing myself in the role of the messiah. I absolutely and wholeheartedly support Apichatpong's refusal to compromise. Perhaps he will be The One. I wonder if I have the guts. Would I be willing, for instance, to be jailed or shot for my artistic freedom? It's a question I never dreamed I would have to ask myself, but now, I see the big black ? looming in the distance.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Somtow's Lost Children

More than a year ago I was working on the score for a film called Buddha's Lost Children. It came out recently and won all sorts of awards. I had this idea that the entire score would be founded on a single 17 note motif, so that the entire movie would seem to be a long meditation, revolving around a single still center. I didn't compose all of the score; basically one very long meditation music which was played by members of the Siam Philharmonic, a few shorter segments, and some musical sketches of the rest of the score. Somehow, during post, I had a few "creative differences" with the director which might well have been ironed out with time, but there wasn't any. So a couple of other composers are credited beneath my credit. Still, I don't mind; they've done an excellent job matching my style and they haven't deviated from my themes. So, all in all, a gorgeous flick and very moving; I've met many of the kids that it's about, troubled youths who were taken in by this wild boxing champion monk in the mountains of northern Thailand.

Is this movie one of my lost children? Hardly … I'm proud of the work everyone did on it.

Many creative artists are married to their work, and I've had no biological children so far, though I've rather successfully brought up two kids, Johnny who became legally mine and Trisdee who is the true child of my intellect. They are mine in every sense (but the biological one).

But twenty years ago, I had a foster kid who lived with me for a few months. I haven't thought about him in a very long time; he went up north. (Northern California that is, not Laos!). As this is a public blog I'll just call him J. I dreamed about him and I guess this blog is turning into a dream diary as well as a sonnet posting place.

So here goes: there's a huge mansion with many rooms that often figures in my dreams, it holds vast ancient treasures, sculptures, golden artifacts. I'm wandering in the mansion and in one corner I come across a stack of holy books. They're all in Greek, all matching green volumes like the Loeb classical library editions. Each one is a book from the Bible, but the stack is much higher than it should be because there aren't that many Greek books in the Bible and Hebrew is not mentioned. There must be other gospels, secret gnostic texts, I don't know.

I look up and there's a sort of pavement outside, and two guys are talking and sipping coffee under an umbrella, like in a French streetside café. But we're separated from the main street by a chainlink fence that stretches as far as I can see in both directions. So, suddenly, there's J. on a bike, riding alongside the chainlink fence, outside the mansion. And he takes a left turn and circles back so he seems to be riding in a great circle with our chainlink fence as part of its perimeter. He's riding in a fury, I don't know why, in a heightened emotional state.

Then, I lift up this grating on the floor of the room I'm in (looking out at the sort of sidewalk cafe) and find myself descending into a basement. It's green, plush velvet, sort of American colonial in style. There are some children playing but I ignore them. I head into an inner room where J. is lying on a bed or couch and he's very sad; I know twenty years have gone by but he is always, forever, a ten-year-old kid with blonde hair, bangs, and an upturned nose. I don't know what to say so I just comfort him as best I can.

I wonder whether this dream is telling me that it's about time for me to reproduce biologically. People are constantly telling me what a genius I could produce (though I daresay it's recessive.) You know, at New Year's I made a resolution that I would reproduce, but that does require at least two persons and the right candidate doesn't seem to have magically appeared. Oh well, perhaps someone reading this blog will be a potential candidate.…

Monday, May 21, 2007

Why I Missed the Memorial Service

Yesterday I was about to set off for the memorial service for Thanpuying Poonsuk, but I was overcome with sadness, so much so that I couldn't get in the car.

Instead, I ended up having a late lunch with writer-producer David Giler (I'm sure everyone in the world has heard of Alien) who's back in Thailand after a round of Hollywood.

When I got home from lunch and several cups of high-octaine coffee, I was energized, perhaps overly so; anyway I drowned my depression by producing several pages of my novel The Stone Buddha's Tears, which is only about a couple of years late getting delivered to the publisher.

I hope the depression ends soon....

For your amusement, here's a photograph of me in the sterling role of Bob Beckett, the Carpenter, in HMS Pinafore in approximately 1969.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Tinky Winky at the Televangelist's Tomb

An Elegy

When Tinky Winky to the funeral went
He kissed th’ embalmed, rouged corpse upon each cheek.
Flexing his pink purse, by the bier he bent
And in limp-wristed googoo tones did speak:

“O, Jerry, Jerry, some have called you bigot
For outing me. And yet, to me, ‘tis fate;
Once on, one cannot just turn off the spigot
Whence flows oppression, scorn, distrust and hate.

You gave me too much credit. It’s their genes,
And not the influence of my vile skulduggery
Upon the minds of pre-pre-pre-pre-teens
That turns those British babies’ thoughts to buggery.

You’ve made a noble effort to forestall hell:
In life you soared — in death, you did not fall well.”

from S.P. Somtow's book in progress, Sonnets about Serial Killers, in which tabloid headlines become fodder for poetic license. More excerpts can be read at The Sonnet Project.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Seeing Dead People

It's important to understand that in Thailand, when you dream of the dead, it means there's money coming. Seeing a dead person is the same. That's why there are lottery ticket vendors working the crowd at every funeral here.

I've just had a dream that was packed with the dead people and that presumably means my fortunes are about to change. It couldn't come too soon as I'm down to my last few shekels at the moment.

So, this dream begins at the world premiere of a Harry Potter movie. Johnny has bought me tickets for the best seats. I have the seat number: D 336. It's a huge theatre with giant corridors, red velvet everywhere, and box seats with adjoning VIP rooms. I wander down the lower orchestra stalls where I'm sure my seat is, but I find myself entering a side room with black armchairs where two ladies in 1950s pink suits are sitting, with those elegant hats they used to wear, rather noirish-looking; they're having their tea. A young one and an old one. So elegant. Now the important thing is that despite their fashionable clothes, they are also nuns. I don't know how I know this.

Well I get on my cell phone with Johnny and it seems I'm in the wrong place so I leave the room and look around and I discover I'm not in the theatre at all. I'm in an "ossuary train". That is what it's called in my dream. A train that transports dead people's bones and it's absolutely packed with them. I'm a little confused, I start to say goodbye to the ladies, but of course I am on the train too and it's pulling away, and I wake up realizing the train is on the way to the real Hogwarts ... that it's not a movie I'm seeing.


Well, the Bangkok Opera is about to split into two -- a money making part and a money-losing part -- a real world and a fantasy world. I suppose this is part of the meaning. The bones do suggest money to a Thai, even lots of money.

Or else it's some weird Freudian thing....


Now, the photograph above was taken at a rehearsal of the 2003 production of "Mae Naak". You will see something that many people claim is a ghost in this picture; some swear it is Mae Naak herself....

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Pridi Banomyong

When I heard that Thanpuying Poonsuk had died I was really depressed. It seemed as though a thread that connected me to my roots and to the agonizing birth of democracy in this country had snapped.

I have always thought of Pridi Banomyong as a grandfather because he was a frequent visitor to my maternal grandmother's house and a lot of history was made there. I remember that my Uncle Eed, who has also passed away, always regaled us with stories of how the police came to arrest my grandmother, accusing her of concealing some great cache of arms for Pridi's revolution. I did not know the Thanpuying that well but I last saw Pridi in the Netherlands when I was a teenager.

Pridi was an exile living in Paris and all he wanted was a piece of paper from the Thai Embassy there affirming that he was still alive so that he could collect a small government pension. Certainly a small enough favor to grant the father of democracy, but the ambassador was too scared to provide the affidavit. Instead, Pridi took the train to the Hague, where my father, then ambassador to the Netherlands, wrote the letter. When he came to my house, my mother said, "You must always call this man grandfather. He's one of the most important people you will ever meet and he is very special to our family."

But this man did not exude any sense of self-importance. He was a gentle white-haired man and he and I went for a little walk around the streets of the Hague one afternoon. He radiated a kind of saintliness that I have rarely seen in any human being and it amazed me that a person who had once held the fate of a nation in his hand found time to talk to me about my teenaged aspirations.

I have thought of him recently because it has occurred to me that Thailand is a country that rarely rewards those who give their all to her. Bad things have happened to many of our country's most talented people; they have often become consumed in petty little turf wars or jealous bickerings. Terrible things happened to my father and, in a smaller way, they are happening to me now just as they did in 1978, the last time I came back to this country. At least I have had another chance to finish the work I started thirty years ago; many others never came back.


Speaking to the Gods is a peculiar thing, but when they speak to you, it can get even weirder. This is especially true if, on some level, one feels oneself to be, on some level, a doubter. Whether they are manifestations of the collective unconscious, or even merely aspects of oneself who have somehow become personified, one can never entirely explain it away; one is always left with a bit of magic in the air, a glint of fairy dust.

Most of my friends know I've been in something of a depression since last December. It's perhaps partly natural after such a huge production as "Ayodhya" ... the fallout from the little censorship debate never seems to cease ... and then there was all the hate mail. But mostly I suppose what depressed me was the fact that I've dedicated almost seven years of my life to the cultural awakening of this community, only to be attacked as a venal monster by some of the very people whose careers were made possible by my efforts.

At first I thought that the only solution to all this was going to be to become completely evil ... go over to the Dark Side... as did Anakin Skywalker. But a solution did present itself and it came from the still small voice of Ganesh, patron of poets.

Well, I have a very special Ganesha statue in my house. Years ago, I saw this beautiful 14th century statue in an antiquities auction catalogue and I was drawn to it. I knew I could never afford such a rare piece but half jokingly I put the minimum bid on it and sent iit in. I did not get the statue of course; it went for much more.

Months later, however, I received a call from the auction house in New York. The winning bidder's check had bounced. Something else was wrong with the next bidder. And so on down to me. It was clear that this statue wanted to reside in my home. (The lady on the phone from the auction house began going on and on about one of my books, too, oddly enough. She had actually read one.)

When the Ganesh arrived, a Bengali friend of ours immediately went into a strange sort of trance, claiming that she could feel that her ancestors had stood before this very statue. She swayed and babbled in a way I'd never seen before. And things began to change around the house. It was around that time that music returned to my house. Around 1979 I had left Bangkok in a funk, completely burned out as a composer. Of course I had then gone on to have an entire career as a novelist, but something was missing. In the old days, there was music playing in my house 24 hours a day ... LPs stacked up on the record changer, a classical radio station ... but there hadn't been music in my house for a decade. I had stopped listening. But when the statue arrived, music came back as well. I composed the ballet "Kaki", and eventually went back to opera; miraculously, I found that I still remembered every note of every opera I had memorized 20 years before and not thought about in all that time.

When my Ganesh was shipped back to Thailand, we would sometimes bring out the statue on Wednesday mornings, present offerings and so on. On one occasion, Trisdee was playing a Haydn sonata. The housekeeper went into a wild trance, murmuring and singing in what appeared to be Sanskrit, and dancing around the statue, weeping incontrollably, and finally vomiting in the kitchen sink. Our guests, sober members of the Dutch opera studio, had of course never seen anyone be possessed before, so they immediately whipped out their mobile phones and started to videotape the proceedings. When it was all over, I asked the maid (who is a muslim, so getting possessed by a Hindu god is quite a trick!) what it was all about. She said, "You forgot the sugarcane." It's true. The offerings had not included the customary sticks of sugarcane. She then added, "Play some Indian music. He doesn't want to listen to that. I put on a CD of Shobha Gurtu, drowning out the Haydn. The housekeeper then calmed down.

Being a vessel for the gods may have its advantages, but this particular maid didn't last too long at my house; she left shortly thereafter.

Humor aside, it is a Ganesha statue of immense power. Because since settling into my home, it has been a magnet for high creativity. I've managed to compose more music than in the last twenty years put together and it almost seems like taking dictation sometimes. And then all these great artists seem to feel nurtured and comfortable in the statue's vicinity and so we've had dozens of them come through our doors.

Ours is a Ganesh of creativity, not of financial gain. We've had years of incredible artistic achievements and have ended up in quite a financial crisis. I decided to ask the God to give me some pointers about balancing creativity with survival. And so it was that I a dream. (One of those "waking dreams" -- I've only had them a few times in my life, most frequently during my time as a Buddhist monk." ) It seemed to me that Ganesh spoke to me in a voice somewhat like that of a small boy. The playful Ganesha is always the one who resonates with me the most.

This is what he said. "You will never get money by going after money directly. It is not your nature to attract money. But money will come by sharing the creative spark that I have awakened in you." He said, "In your world, too many people think only to profit from creativity and inasmuch as they do so, creativity begins to die." Ganesha then instructed me to use a few particles of the dust from the powerful ancient sculpture, say a mantra of blessing and blend those particles into the material to make a number of amulets. He said that the amulets would be like windows through which creative energy can flow into people's lives. He said that the money raised by these amulets must go only into creative enterprises: singing, dancing, poetry, and music. He said that those who hold the amulets, if they make their hearts pure and their minds open, will also open themselves to his creative power.

This dream, replete with playfulness and irony, has to me all the hallmarks of "truth" (insofar as we humans can perceive truth.). The shortest path to what we desire in life is often not the obvious road, but another. Therefore, though I am in many ways a skeptic, I know that power resides in words and in images.

As skeptics go, I seem to have more supernatural experiences than most believers....

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Alive and, indeed, kicking

Going to the Fiftieth Anniversary Ball of the Bangkok Patana School was an oddly disorienting experience. I was at this school in the early 1960s. It was a completely forgotten part of my life in a way, and then in the 1990s I began thinking about those days again because I was writing "Jasmine Nights". And the school was transformed into the "Schola Britannica" in my novel, really Patana with an odd dash of Ruam Rudee School thrown in. And many real events became (in a thinly veiled way) immortalized in that novel:my discovery of how babies are made, and how Mrs. De Ferranti slapped my face when I tried to explain it in biology class; Mrs. Vanit's life-changing lecture on rotten paper-mâché; and the surreal production of my play.

On arriving at the Hyatt Erawan ... and this hotel did exist in the 1960s, so is as much a part of my childhood as Patana is ... I once shoplifted a copy of Euripides from the arcade bookstore ... I was just about as "fish out of water" as you could be, because I had neglected to find out that the evening was black tie. Not that I would have come in a tuxedo, but I've got several outlandish variations on "national costume" that I produce for such occasions. Instead I came in a blue suit with a Marvin the Martian necktie. I therefore felt quite stupid.

I looked in vain for someone old enough to have actually been at school with me. You see, I had with me a copy of the play we produced, which I believe to be the first "world premiere" ever staged in Patana, and I was hoping to find someone who had been in the cast. This was "Electra" starring Chao, Fawzia, John Murphy, Cheemah, and many other names to conjure with....

Mrs Queckett gave a speech and I have to say sounded and looked exactly the same. She asked me whether I wrote fact or fiction. I asked her exactly what she meant by that. She told me that fiction is things that aren't true (something I would strongly and passionately dispute!) ... and then she said, "You always told the most appalling stories as a child."

I do remember that she once berated me for adding a cymbal clash into a string quartet. "That just isn't done, Cookie," she said, "that's an important lesson you simply must learn." I didn't answer, but I stubbornly held on to my notions of artistic integrity.

Alas, I haven't learnt it yet. I believe that is why I may have become famous, but I've completely failed to become rich.

Anyway, it was extraordinary to see her. And extraordinary how she was able to reduce me to an eleven-year-old again with a few simple utterances.

Andrew Homden, the new headmaster, said to me, "So you see, she is not only alive, you might even say she was kicking!" How very true.

I do believe that for me the high point of the evening was seeing my childhood family doctor, Dr. Dickson (who used to sell chemicals to me, Ozzie, and Rama for our evil scientist experiments) dancing wildly to a Pink Floyd cover!

It was also great to see people like Catherine, Ariane, and so on. And oddly enough, the table I was at, where I didn't know the people that well -- they were all second generation and third generation Quecketts and Stuetzels! -- I thought it might be ghastly but it turned out to be absolutely rollicking and brilliant.

This is the footage (taken with my phone) of Dr. Dickson's terpsichorean brilliance.

The Dark Side

I decided to begin this blog after a week of epiphanies, disillusionments, and retrenchments. I don't intend to disguise any of my innermost thoughts, but perhaps, as of this moment, I won't name any names. Or I'll name some names and disguise others, for their own protection as much as for my own.

On Sunday at my uncle's cremation, I happened to mention to my mother that one of my many sworn detractors had obtained a 40 million baht grant for his orchestra (part of which he used to try to crush my orchestra). My mother said, "It's impossible for you ever to get that kind of money, because you're not evil."

I've always had a bit of a messiah complex about this whole Bangkok Opera thing. M.R. Sunida says that it's the pernicious influence of British public school and I can't easily escape that. But it became completely clear to me that sacrificing everything I own, living from hand to mouth in a way that my rich socialite friends can barely imagine, promoting the careers of dozens of young artists at the expense of my own, and putting lucrative career choices on hold have been all very well, but hasn't prevented me from being seen as arrogant, narcissistic, self-aggrandising and venal. And telling people the truth in the sincere hope that they will benefit from it has earned me many more enemies than lying to people would have.

What is the point of being Captain Vere when everything thinks you are Claggart? Conversely, is it not "better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven?"

Sometimes I like to think of myself as the Roger Corman of opera. Why? Because Roger (whom I worked for on one picture) paid people virtually nothing yet gave major stars their first break, cobbled together productions from odds and ends yet at his best, he produced films that genuinely mean something, a real legacy. There is only one major difference between Roger and myself and that is that Roger always, while doing all these things, made money, lots of money. I on the other hand have lost everything I own.

So, in short, I have come to this conclusion; if half the world sees me as the Evil One anyway, why not try on the role for size? I have been spending the week discussing the options of how to become a proper "Evil One" with some of my closest friends and they're giving me very good advice on it.

I'll be reporting from time to time on the results of my quest. It is possible that my altruistic aims will ironically be achieved quicker if I go over to the Dark Side.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Appeal to Wagnerites

This is the letter that Bill Condie, secretary of the Bangkok Wagner Society, asked me to send to all the world's Wagner Societies. I'm posting it here. Who knows? Perhaps a Wagnerite will pass through....

232/14-16 Ruam Chit Village, Sukhumvit Soi 22, Bangkok 10110
(02) 663-3236, fax (02) 663-3237

General and Artistic Director Somtow Sucharitkul

To Wagner Societies around the World
By Mail

May 7, 2007

Dear friends and Wagner lovers,

The secretary-general of the Richard Wagner Circle Bangkok, Mr. William Condie, has asked me to write a brief note to members of Wagner Societies around the world.
As many of you may have read, the Bangkok Opera, which is only six years old, mounted a five year plan to produce a complete Ring by the year 2010. The idea was to do a Ring that was a truly Asian interpretation, showing the universality of Wagnerís vision of karma and redemption. Our Rheingold, premiered last year, received a lot of international coverage and I am attaching some of the articles that have appeared around the world. We felt that, despite our distance from the Wagnerian centres of the world, that we actually had something new to say, and I think that the world of Wagner critics also saw this.
Since Rheingold last February, I have mounted a number of large projects, but the Bangkok Opera itself, in spite of enormous critical attention, has found itself under attack; odd attempts at government censorship, a huge amount of “attack spams” directed against us by local claques, even anonymous faxes sent to members of the Thai royal family trying to say that we are somehow destroying the fabric of Thai culture. Indeed, the kind of “battle” we are fighting is not dissimilar to what Wagner himself must have experienced in the 19th Century.
Despite more interest in the continuation of our Ring Cycle from music lovers in Thailand and around the world, therefore, this trailblazing Asian Ring is having a lot of difficulty. The secretary of our local Wagner Society has suggested that we write to sister societies around the world for help.
The reality is that the amounts we try to raise are laughably low by European or American standards. Our entire annual budget, with which we put on five full scale productions each year, would only pay for the first act of Walküre for one night at the Met. Singers around the world have slashed their fees because of the artistic interest of appearing in this Ring. if we can’t find help, our vision of a Southeast Asian Ring Cycle may die.
Mr. Condie calculated that if every member of the world’s Wagner Societies donated only 10 Euros to the Bangkok Opera’s Ring project, Die Walküre could be mounted without a single further sponsor or a single cent of government support. Of course, I do not expect that the world’s Wagner Societies would be the only financial supporter for this production. But I would like to urge all of you to consider making a donation, joining one of the tour groups that is coming to Bangkok for this production in July, and telling all your friends that there is still new territory left for Wagner to conquer.
We want to make it as easy as possible for people to contribute, so attached to this letter you’ll find that Mr. Condie has drawn up all the information you will need. We will list everyone who donates 100 Euros or more in the programme book, and we will list every Wagner Society who helps us as a co-sponsor of the Bangkok Ring.

Thank you so much for your attention and your support.

With best wishes

Somtow Sucharitkul
Artistic Director

The info on how to help is located at and I think also at

And here is a little teaser from the 2006 production of "Das Rheingold"

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Whose Tube is it Anyway?

I've been saddened about the youtube flap, because I really want to give this Thai government as much encouragement and good will as I can.

Many people who complain about this lot have forgotten that in the previous administration, it was okay for the government to shoot suspected drug lords on sight and though the press was free in theory, libel laws were distorted in order to file frivolous lawsuits to stifle dissent.

The Bangkok Opera has its own youtube channel; scenes from our productions are continually posted and it's a splendid chance to show off one of our most unexpected cultural achievements ... that despite minimal government support Thailand has managed to become the acknowledged trendsetter and leader in opera in this entire region.

We, like thousands of other people here who use youtube for thousands of innocuous reasons, have had our hands tied for no real practical reason, since any minimally computer literate person knows that all youtube videos have a unique ID and therefore any commputer wiz kid over the age of about eight should have been able to tell the ministry's cybernetic experts how to unobtrusively take care of the offending videos.

Now there's a ludicrous flap and more and more people's attention is being drawn to the far more serious issue of freedom of expression.

I warned officials of the ministry of culture months ago that, with a military regime in place, the international press is just going to be watching to pounce on anything that smacks of the abridgment of freedom of expression. They didn't believe me then, and their bungling was reported in hundreds of newspapers and websites worldwide.

I think bungling is the operative word here. They mean well, they really do. The attempts to censor Apichatpong's movie again show that they simply don't understand that the primary purpose of art is the elucidation of the human condition which, naturally, means that art exists to tell the truth. They don't understand that showing, for instance, a monk breaking the rules of monkhood is not a criticism of the institution of monkhood at all; it's an insight into human nature.

Suing youtube was always a silly idea and I really don't know how anyone in our ministry cooked it up. It's true that "foreigners can't understand" why that video was so offensive to Thai sensibilities. But you know, it's also true that "foreigners can't understand" why in Saudi Arabia women aren't allowed to drive, yet the Saudi government doesn't go around suing women for driving in Thailand! No one who is not a member of that culture will ever understand (on a gut level) such a prohibition. It could equally be said that many people in power in Thailand don't understand the incredibly powerful gut feelings that the phrase "first amendment" arouses in people raised within American culture. The cultural insensitivity has been on both sides, I'm afraid.

Of course, the only real way to censor the internet is to cut it off altogether. If you don't do that, there is always a way around it. In the last month, the Bangkok Opera's youtube channel has taken off -- for instance, 20,000 people viewed a clip from one of our recent productions, The Rape of Lucretia. We have had no problem posting the clips, and no one in Thailand who wanted to watch them has had any trouble doing so. There is absolutely nothing illegal about circumventing the youtube ban as it is not being done for any illegal purpose. The ban itself is, in the opinion of every constitutional expert I have talked to, not legal anyway. There has never been a legal right to censor granted to any ministry. It is in any case not enforceable.

You know, there is far more draconian and consistent repression in places like Singapore. But in Thailand, they have chosen to apply repression in silly ways, and they've only succeeded in making the country look far worse than it should.

Anyway, do check out the Bangkok Opera's youtube channel ...